Elders: My Father
My father was the parent I was closest to. As noted in a previous post, my mother and I had some difficulties, so it was natural to gravitate toward Dad. Besides, he was usually in good humor, whereas Mom could be moody and unpredictable.
He was born in Gardner, Massachusetts but lived most of his growing-up years in Portland, Maine. At 19 he left college to enlist in the army during World War II, and that eventually took him to Virginia to finish his studies in mechanical engineering. There he met my mother, who was actually dating his best friend. As these things go, the friend was sent to the front while Dad was left behind to finish his schooling. The rest, as they say, is history.
Although he was a “yankee” by birth, he spent most of his life in the South because my mother didn’t want to live very far from her family in Virginia. One of the things about Southern culture is storytelling, and my dad was a very captivating raconteur of daily events. At the dinner table—we all ate together in those days—he would report on his day at work and we could talk about our days at school. This practice, plus hearing my uncle and grandfather on my mother’s side sit around after chores were done or on Sundays when only the basic care for animals took place and tell stories of people they knew—probably instilled in me a love of story. I certainly read a lot, and even when I was a teenager and movies became important, my girlfriend and I could recount the whole film from beginning to end in great detail!
Dad loved to drive his car. He had grown up in the Depression and his family couldn’t afford a car, which to a mechanically inclined guy was tantamount to torture! We would go on family vacations in the car, often to Maine to visit his relatives but other places as well. If we passed by an industrial site, Dad could pretty much guess what was being done there. Made going through northern New Jersey and the “Elizabeths” interesting instead of boring!
He noticed everything, and pointed out things for us to notice as well. I never felt unsafe with him driving, but as I became a driver myself, I often wondered how he could watch the road and sightsee at the same time! Of course, there weren’t as many cars on the road and the speed limits were lower. . .
As a mechanical engineer, Dad had many different jobs, in industry for the most part. He did some design, he worked in manufacturing (designing the process needed to make the product), and then becoming a “project engineer”—being in charge of overseeing the completion of a task. This job resulted in him managing the construction of a warehouse-type structure near Harriman, Tennessee. Before the shrubs and trees grew up, I could look down from I-40 as I came off the Cumberland Plateau and see the bright blue steel building my dad had seen built, way down in the valley.
But my father’s greatest legacy to me was his approach to religion. He managed to not be a fundamentalist even while living among many who leaned that way. Somewhere in his 40’s he’d had some kind of spiritual experience that saved him from his “winter of discontent,” as he put it. While he could disconnect his religion and his politics in ways that I could not understand, he always could meet me in the more liberal end of religion. That was a great gift.
It is ironic that while Dad was struggling to take care of Mom at home and he resisted putting her in an institution where she could get good care, in the end, he assured her of care for the rest of her life by dying first. There was no intention in his dying; it just happened one day when his heart gave out at age 93. But in effect, it assured Mother of enough financial security to last her for the rest of her life. She is now 96 and will be 97 in September!
If I could talk to Dad right now, I would simply tell him, “I love you, Dad!” No explanations needed, so none given. Oh, and I might add, “I miss you very much!”