There’s so much unsaid in the definition of “father”. Whether the word is defined as “any male ancestor” or “a man who has a child”, each person fitting these broad strokes adds his own unique qualities, good or bad. We murmur “what a good father” when we see a man playing with or tending to his children. We criticize if we think a dad doesn’t pay enough attention or spend enough time with his son or daughter. We can do all this without even knowing the person involved. Why? Because we tend to judge others by the same standards our parents had for parenting, good or bad. It happens.
It’s much the same with daughters. How many times have you heard “She’s her father’s daughter” because a female child has shown characteristics, interests, and ambitions close to her dad’s rather than closer to what her mom’s goals might be? Good or bad, we make the comparison and then go our own ways never bothering to wonder if someone is saying the exact same thing about us.
Sometimes I wonder how people would characterize me. It’s Father’s Day and I’m thinking about my dad and how much I miss him. We used to talk every Sunday, him in Florida and me in my kitchen. Before cell phones. We might not talk for long, but I always felt better afterwards. I was his first child, the one that came after so many tries and sadness, and I look like him. I have no problem with that. He was quite the good looking man back in the day, and I have a picture of him in his slacks, suspenders and jaunty hat that always makes me smile.
He put on some weight as he got older, seemed to shrink a little, but was forever cheerful in our presence. His parents came over from Germany (or Poland or Russia, depending on who was ruling at the time) before he was born, at the beginning of the 20th Century. He was born in 1913, the third oldest of eleven children and spent most of his time helping his family farm before leaving school at 15 to go to work in the Big City as a teller for First National Bank of Chicago.1929. I can’t remember whether the First closed its doors on black Friday, but I know my dad was working there three days afterwards so my bet is no. It was his only job and he retired at the age of 62 having worked in most areas of the bank. Monday through Friday he’d ride the old Rock Island commuter line from the station at the end of our block down to the old LaSalle Street Station and then walk the few blocks to Clark and Dearborn where the old bank building stood tall. There is no more Rock Island (Metra), no more LaSalle Street Station (Randolph Street) and First National has over the years become a different entity altogether (JP Morgan-Chase), but I remember going to visit him at work with a clarity that amazes me. It’s more than likely why, even after going to college to become a teacher of Spanish, I got a job at a bank after I got married. So did my sister once she graduated from high school. Our father’s daughters? I’ve since found out that somewhere in our ancestry banking was a family profession.
Every summer, especially in June, I think about the vacations we took. Always Wisconsin, at least when we were small, right after school let out in June, when the fish in the Northern lakes were biting. Dad was a sportsman in his younger days. We have pictures of our uncles and him pheasant hunting in the west, but after we came along he stuck to fishing. The only proof we had of his prowess with a rifle was a stuffed pheasant that perched on one of the end tables in the living room. As kids we were bored, but fishing was a way to spend time with both mom and dad so we learned early on to bait hooks and sit quietly in boats, our bamboo poles over the side, our eyes fixed on red and white bobbers. I don’t think I’ve fished since I was eighteen, but I have some good memories…even if we did end up wearing winter coats one June.
Mom might have been the disciplinarian but you didn’t want my dad to be angry with you. He didn’t have to say much to let you know how disappointed he was in you. And he didn’t forget easily either. But he did forgive, and he was as supportive as he could be when he believed you’d acted in the right way, even if it wasn’t the most popular one. He always somehow had our backs.
The autumn after my mom died I went off to college, at his insistence because education was so important to both my parents. I didn’t see him every day. And when I did come home I spent more time with my friends than with him. He was forever going to be there, right? And he was. He was there through my wedding, the birth of his only grandchild, and all the ups and downs of my life. He was as close as a 2 hour car ride. It was easy to take it for granted that he would always be that close. And then one night he called to tell me he was getting re-married. And moving to Florida. Wow.
Our stepmom loved to travel, and got my dad back in the mood as well. Two or three times a year they would hop in their car and come north to visit. They always stayed with my sister…she had more room and most of the family was still in the suburbs…but we managed a few visits coming and going. It was good to see him happy again. And during that time, he got to know my daughter as she grew up into a fantastic young woman and married a wonderful man. More memories and more trips. One or two medical issues, but never really serious. It was my stepmom who passed first, and for three years he was alone in Bartow. We still talked, but we saw each other far less. My sister finally convinced him to move back up north. He never did.
Dad lived to be 91 ½ years old. From the time we knew there was something wrong until the day he died was a period of three weeks. And we got to be there to say we love you, goodbye and god-speed. He still lives on in us though….we are proud to be our father’s daughters and granddaughter. He taught us much, and I hope I’ve passed it on.
One last thing. In October, 2013 we met at my sister and brother-in-law’s Florida home. On the 11th, we went to my dad’s favorite restaurant on the outskirts of Bartow Florida, Catfish Country. To celebrate his 100th birthday. His picture graced the table, we ate catfish, and we celebrated the man who had given us so much. Love you Dad. Always.