I've not written much about my dad here. Our relationship has been, for as long as I can remember, complicated by our similar natures - emotional, prickly, invested. Most of my memories of my dad from my late teens through my early twenties involve yelling and tears. Neither of us seemed able to stop trying to be "right" louder than the other long enough to listen to what the other was saying.
Dad is larger than life in a million different ways. People don't meet him without being impacted by his huge personality. I like to think I take after him in that way, but for both of us this is often as detrimental as helpful. He is deeply emotional, and most of his words and actions bear testimony to it.
Dad grew up dirt poor. The youngest of six, he was born to working class parents in Ononta, MI on the Upper Peninsula in 1927, just before the onset of the Great Depression. Dad recalls never having new clothes, only hand-me-downs, and when the weather was warm they went barefoot. When dad was still very young, his family left Michigan on a train bound for Idaho. Like many depression-era families, his parents hoped to find work, and a better life.
After the family settled in Post Falls, Idaho, my grandfather did find work, on the CCC and WPA government projects. He drowned while working on a WPA project on the river in Post Falls . My father was only 12 years old.
Loss, poverty, hard work - these things shape a person. Dad is one of the hardest working men I have ever known. He dropped out of high school at 16 to start earning a living wage in order to help out his family. He served one tour as an enlisted marine. He worked on Foss tugs in Alaska, earning his captain's license. When he met and married my mom he already had a decade behind him as a fireboat captain for the Seattle Fire Department. In those days, firemen didn't make a terrific living, and so he worked weekends too, taking carpentry and painting jobs to supplement his income so my mother could stay home with my brother and I.
Before he retired from the SPD he and mom bought some acreage on Marrowstone Island. He built a house there, working on it on his days off. Retirement didn't last long, however, and it was not long before he started a second career, working on the decks of the Washington ferry system.
Whenever I recall my dad during the years of my childhood, I picture him working constantly. If he wasn't at his job, he was fixing a car, putting up fence, building a barn.
I will never in my life hear the phrase "Hard Working Man" without picturing my dad.
I spent most of my childhood thinking that my dad was angry. It is only with the perspective of a working adult that I realize he was probably more tired than anything. He was also a man of strong conviction about how people ought to treat other people, about doing the right thing, and those beliefs drove almost everything about him - and to others, often translated into orneriness. He had no patience for cheaters or people who took the easy way out.
There's another word that comes to mind when I think of my father: Love.
My dad has loved me unwaveringly for my whole life. Even though I can think of only a handful of times he has said so in words, he has spent my lifetime showing me his love by giving of himself. Anyone who knows my father knows that his family is the most precious thing to his heart. He gave me endless hours of his time, teaching me to drive, teaching me to change my oil, driving me to horse shows and basketball camps, coming to my musicals and plays and games to cheer me on. He valued education, particularly because he had to interrupt his own, and he and my mother put a priority on making sure my brother and I would have a college education available to us.
Dad has always seemed larger than life to me, and in retrospect maybe I argued with him so much because if I could convince my Dad that I was right about something, nothing else would ever again seem difficult or impossible. He was that stubborn. Earning his approval has driven me for nearly all of my life. It wasn't until I was in my forties that I realized I didn't need it. Having his love was always more important, and his love was always unconditional.
Dad's in the early stages of dementia now, but he's still larger than life and his love for his family is undiminished. He's difficult, to be sure, but then again, he always has been - another trait he so generously passed on to his daughter. Living with his difficulty was the worthwhile price for being one of the people he loves.
The relationship between a father and his daughter is the relationship by which she will judge all other men. If our relationship was somewhat codependent, it was also resilient. I could always, always trust that my father would love me and that he would be there for me, and that trust has been the rock solid foundation I could rest on. No matter what goes wrong in my life, my Dad still loves me. That is a priceless gift to give your child.
I owe him far more than I could ever repay. Happy Father's Day, to the first and best man in my life.