Ramblings on Dad and Being a Dad

Posted by Dutchman Saturday, February 15, 2014 0 comments

When you are 17 and in your senior year of high school, certain things take on added meaning.  A few weeks ago, when Tyler’s basketball team played their arch rival, he tweeted “People don’t realize how bittersweet events like that game are.  For 2 hours we are a linked community.  Seniors may never feel that way again.”  That rivalry game was a big deal.  The crowd at the game was the biggest all season.

Of course, the game that seniors think about and remember the most is the last home game of their senior year.  That one is truly bittersweet, as they know it will be the last one they ever play as a team or on any team, for that matter.  On February 3rd, while overwhelming Hazel Park High School in a game, Tyler injured his hand.  The next day he tweeted “Senior year and my hand is injured. #unlucky”.  Since then, X-rays revealed that the index finger of his shooting hand was fractured.  His season is cut short.  The Hazel Park game was the last game of his senior year.  He just didn’t have the benefit of knowing it, thinking about it, or savoring the moment.
I suppose that a broken finger and a few missed games is not a big deal in the whole scheme of things.  But certainly Tyler is disappointed.  As a father, you don’t like to see your kids feeling that way.  You certainly don’t like to see them injured.  Feeling a little sad for Tyler, got me to thinking about my dad, that and the fact that his birthday is coming up.  When you are a kid and bad things happen, you mostly think about yourself.  You don’t really wonder how it makes your parents feel.  Then you become a parent and you find out what it is like, first hand, seeing you child hurt and disappointed.

When I was 10 years old, I was diagnosed with Legg-Perthes disease.  It is a childhood hip disorder initiated by low blood flow to the ball of the upper leg bone.  The bone dies and stops growing.  You find out about it because you experience excruciating pain in the hip.  Continued weight on the bone, causes it to deform.  Thus, that leg becomes shorter, in my case, by an inch or so.  The treatment in the 1960s was to place the leg in a sling and walk with crutches, so you don’t put weight on the ball and cause further damage.  Eventually, in my case about 16 months, the bone re-hardens.  Of course, you kind of have to learn how to walk again, though a little lopsided.  And for the rest of your life, that deformed ball tears away at the cartilage in your hip joint, leading to osteoarthritis.  A hip replacement is in your future.
So, I was feeling a little sad about Tyler and it suddenly hit me.  How did my dad feel when I was screaming in pain?  When I had to use crutches all that time?  When unused muscle began to atrophy?  Well, I can’t remember him saying much of anything about it.  But, if I feel a little sad about Tyler’s finger and 5 or 6 basketball games, what must he have felt.  It kind of explains why over the years, whenever we met, or talked on the phone, he would always, without fail, ask the question “how’s your hip?”

In a few days, my father will have a birthday.  He is into the second half of his 80s.  He and my mother live in a retirement complex in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, near my sister Connie.  So, we don’t see them a lot.  With one son in college and the other in high school, the opportunities to make the 12 hour drive, or cost of a flight, make it difficult.  We talk on the phone every couple of weeks.  He and my mother share a cell phone.  Whenever I see that incoming number come up on my iPhone, I wonder if this will be the call I don’t want to get.  Face it, there are only a small handful of people that really care whether you ever existed on this earth.  It is not fun to think about losing one of those.
My sisters and I were lucky to have our dad.  Many kids don’t grow up with one, or what they get is kind of sub-par.  We grew up in the 60s and 70s.  Back then, our mother was a home-maker.  She worked real hard, but nobody gave her a paycheck.  Our family’s income came from dad.  And dad was a factory worker.  I am not sure how he did it. I know he worked a lot of hours.  He was gone before we got up for school in the morning.  He wasn’t back until dinner in the evening.  He worked 5 or 6 hours on every Saturday.  For 13 years after high school, I worked in factories.  It was tedious, boring, dirty, and totally unrewarding.  I have no idea how you could do that for all the years he did, and know that you needed all the hours you could get in that place, in order to support your family.  I can’t remember him ever complaining.  And, I can’t remember really feeling like we had less than anybody else.

Just because he worked in a factory, doesn’t mean our dad wasn’t smart.  Perhaps, he could best be described as wise, the wisdom being gained through tough experience and hard knocks.  Things he told us and advice he gave served us well through the years.  We still ask for it on occasion.
I am pretty sure I remember my sisters and I always calling him “daddy” when we were little.  Even, I think, not so little.  Something like that becomes an unthinking habit.  I remember driving from their home in Machesney Park, IL out to mine near Shirland one day.  So, that would have to be when I was in my mid-twenties.  I was remembering a conversation we’d had that day and it suddenly struck me that I had, at that age, still said “daddy”.  I felt totally embarrassed.  How lame and childish was it, that I was still calling him that at my age.  I never said that again.

As I mentioned, my dad worked a lot of hours.  He did find time, once in a while, to go fishing.  Fishing is one of the things he enjoys the most.  I liked to go with him.  We caught some fish, but a lot of times we just sat on the shore or in the boat for hours, and nothing happened.  I don’t think that catching anything was ever really the point.  It was the “being there”.
I remember being at church when I was a kid.  I think it might have been a Bible study.  The topic came up “what will the kingdom be like”.  Some may refer to it as heaven, others the after-life, but we thought of it as “the kingdom”.  Dad told everyone that he thought there would be streams and lakes and he would be out there fishing.  Logically, that may seem weird.  You don’t have to eat, so you don’t need the fish, and there shouldn’t be any killing there anyway.  But, to dad, I think that made perfect sense because he was thinking in terms of “what is the most enjoyable thing I can think of doing for eternity”.

When he was younger, Tyler used to be curious about metaphysics.  That is defined as “philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world that encompasses it”.  He had lots of questions like “what is really there” and “what is it like”.  So one day, when he was 7 or 8 years old, he asked “what happens when you are dead?”  So I explained how some think you just cease to exist. Forever.  Others believe there is some type of after-life, or heaven, or kingdom.  And then I told him how grandpa Scott thinks he will be fishing.  He replied, “so if I die, I should find out where the good fishing spots are, so when grandpa gets there, he will know.  And I’ll find a baseball diamond so I can pitch”.  That works for me.  I can’t think of much I’d rather do for a really long time, than fish with my dad, and watch my son play baseball.
It is interesting how these random thoughts about your dad seem to pop into your head on almost a daily basis.  Many experiences with sons relate back to something similar that happened in the past between you and your own dad. You remember what he said or did that somehow stuck with you through all the years.  They are things that seem to define who you are.  If you are a good father, it might be because you learned many things from your dad.  There are always a few things you discard, or strive to make better or do a better way.  Most of dad’s lessons were those that didn’t need changing.

Thanks Daddy

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I'm a middle aged divorced father living with my two sons. We like to canoe, bicycle, fish, camp, play baseball, and spend money when we want and where we want, without permission from anybody. HA!


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