Sunday, June 18, 2006

Thoughts on my Dad

The first time I read The World According To Garp, I thought of my Dad. You see, Garp and my Dad had a lot in common. They both looked after the neighbourhood. There is a scene in Garp when he bolts out of the house to chase down a car that drove too fast down the street, and he was afraid that one of the kids in the neighbourhood would get hurt. My Dad did that too. Even now that his three girls have grown up, moved out of the house and have kids of their own, my father is still chasing cars and keeping an eye out for evil doers in his neighbourhood. He knows every kid on his street by name and knows what their interests are.

The most memorable chasing story actually had nothing to do with vehicles and all to do with boys. One night, after everyone had gone to bed and were fast asleep, a bunch of teenage boys snuck into our backyard and started scratching on the window screen of my sister's bedroom. It woke my sister with a huge fright. She didn't know at the time who it was and of course thought that it was a burgler trying to break in. Her room was down in the basement, the farthest point away from my parents bedroom. Somehow she managed to sneak out of her room, make a mad dash up the stairs and down the hall. In a frantic and frightened flurry, she burst into my parents room with the news. My father leapt out of bed, barked out an order to my mother to call the police and then took off in the middle of the night to catch the culprits. No shoes, no flashlight................just a goofy looking red nightshirt on and the speed of a track star. Out the front door he went.

At two in the morning, my father chased these boys through backyards, hurdling over hedges, hurtling obscenities at them, while the "women" at home waited in anticipation.........wondering if maybe he had gone too far and would ended up hurt. Who knows how much time actually went by, but eventually the cops arrived driving down the street with a bright beaming search light glowing from the front of their car. Caught in the light, was my Dad walking alone in his red nightshirt down to his knees, barefoot, on his way home.......satisfied that even though he was "close" to catching "the little bastards"........he knew he scared them enough that they wouldn't do it again. The cops managed to stifle their guffaws enough to give my Dad a little lecture on not taking chances with potential burglar types.

At a time when Dads played a secondary role in the daily upbringing activities of their children, mine was involved. He worked long hours, and in the early days, when I was very young, he often was gone for the work week only to return on Friday night. Always with a treat........and always glad to be home. His belief has always been "what's mine is yours" and he and my Mom strove to provide opportunities for us that they were not privy to growing up. Family vacations were an annual event, whether it was a long drive to Lauderdale-By-The-Sea or a cottage rental in the Haliburton Highlands or a memorable camping trip to Maine and up the coast to New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island when I was 7 years old.........they were part of my upbringing.

For a few impressionable years, he coached me and my friends in the game of baseball. Every year, he would put us through baseball boot camp…….running bases ( he timed us), learning how to slide, bunt, and play the game tactically………….always intensely proud of our accomplishments. Like everything, he took this role very seriously. My mom tells stories of how she was woken up in the middle of the night to discuss batting orders and various strategies, like we were on some special “team”……..well we were. We were on Bob’s team. Every year, he’d manage us to the City finals. And every year, we won. Despite his tough rules, like “no boys allowed on the bench during a game, and no fraternizing or smoking, the girls on my ball team became so close to my mom and dad that when I was away working at camp for the summer (and sometimes missed the City finals…….though I was picked up once, the year I was the ringer/heavy hitter on the team) they would drop by regularly. My Dad adopted them all…………..always (still) interested in what they were doing. Always giving them advice and opinion, over a bottle of beer.

My most memorable "trips" however were the ones I took with him on my own. Skiing eventually became a family thing, with a chalet in Ellicottville NY, and weekend trips throughout the winter. Prior to that, my Dad and I would head off alone, or with a neighbour and his two sons. Up early on a cold winter morning, before the sun was up, we'd set off to Moonstone in Barrie Ontario or to Kissing Bridge, ski all day long, stopping rarely for a bite to eat and then climbing back into the car at the end of the day..........full of fresh air frolics and tired but happy souls. The drives were always full of music, talk of moguls and best trails, and a sense of safe happiness. Often times, on the way home from Kissing Bridge, located in Western New York state, we would listen to the Sabres hockey game on the radio...........WGR.............driving in the dark, listening to a game that seemed so close and yet so far away.

I am my father's daughter. Tempermentally, ideologically, emotionally. He taught me many things...........almost too numerous to mention.....often when we were in the car driving from one desitination to another. Many of our best conversations have taken place in the car.......more times than not when he has been driving me from one destination to another. When I was at university, for example, he would call me mid-week to find out if I was planning on heading home for the weekend. If I said "yes," he would arrange to pick me up on the Friday (never venturing farther than the front door of wherever I was living.....home was home, and I was living in whatever dump only temporarily) and drive me back on the Sunday night. No one else was allowed to join him on the journey (about an hour away from home) It was time for he and I to check in together. Conversations covered familiar ground -- sports, work, school, politics, news events, family stuff, work and sports...... sometimes we would talk about people events, or a particular issue that was in the air. But, more times than not, we would get into our comfort zone ..............talking.. Though it was never admitted, I knew that these trips to and from my temporary home away from home were meaningful to the both of us. I am my father's daughter. I will do the same thing with my daughter and son when it's their turn to head off in search of the fountain of "knowledge."

On the other side of the coin? We clashed, and sometimes still do because we are the same. I have been known to be able to clear a Sunday dinner table. Yup! Me! Why? Because I am the one who will challenge my father. And because we are so much the same, my words and my opinion have a bigger impact. I don't abuse this or manipulate this fact, but I will not hesitate to say my piece when I either feel I have to, or if I can't hold it in any longer. He will do the same with me. We have had some stinging rounds........yessirreeeeee.......but none have stayed unresolved. They always go away……..resolved formally or with time. Why? Because we know we are alike. He's opinionated............I'm opinionated. Both virgos.........both cognitive......... You know, I think my Dad needs to be introduced to the world of blogging. He'd like it.

I am also the “son” my father never had. A sports fanatic, both as a player and as a fan, my Dad always follows baseball and U.S. college basketball religiously. Then, there’s football, hockey and NBA basketball………oh and did I mention Golf? Yeah, he likes golf too. He knows the scoop, the scores, the ins and outs of all the teams. I learned early that if I wanted to hang with my Dad, I better hone my knowledge on these sports. The first lesson I learned, while watching a game on TV with my Dad? Don’t ask any technical questions about rules or plays until the commercials!! Oh, we’d talk, but we’d talk about the play in play…….or the commentating, or the present stats of a player. But, the technical……….”What’s an infield fly rule, Dad” kind of question? Commercial time only.

So, we watched many games and played many sports together. In fact, it was due to my Dad’s enthusiasm that most of the boys in my neighbourhood growing up learned the rules of football from him. More often than not, they would swing by on a Sunday afternoon to see if my Dad would come out to play with them. He always obliged, and I always insisted that he take me. Which he did……….me and a bunch of the boys in my neighbourhood hanging with my Dad on a Sunday afternoon at the park, playing touch football.

To this day, I can carrying my end of a conversation on just about any popular sport. Some of my favourite things to do? Listen to a ballgame on the radio. Hunker down on a wintery Saturday night with my family and take in Hockey Night in Canada, or talk sports! It came in handy when I was dating...........and I know it impressed the heck out of my husband when we first met. Every now and then, just before a big game, my husband will smile, look at me, and know that I'm just as excited about it as he worries there! And I'm programmed not to ask techie questions during the middle of a play. Kidding!

Another side of my father? He is a gardening nut. Nothing like a good heaping mound of compost to mulch your flowers with. Even today, when he isn’t catching a game on TV, you can catch my Dad hauling a load of topsoil over to a neighbour’s garden while giving them free advice on how to fix up their petunia plantation. Now that he’s retired, he also takes care of his street. Lately, the City of Burlington re-landscaped the area where the park on the street used to be after the building on it was expanded. The original park, with it’s baseball diamond and hills for tobogganing are gone now and the city tried to “prettify” it in order to hide the size of the building. The neighbours were not impressed. My Dad was doubly not impressed. Knowing my Father’s penchant for looking after the neighbourhood, they asked him to deal with it. And, deal with it he did. Not only did the City fix up the mess that they planted originally, they basically gave my Dad an honourary position with the City to maintain things. So, it got done right.

There are several sides to my Dad............his love of reading current events and editorial pieces, world politics, religion, local politics, travelling, music of all genres but mostly Ella Fitzgerald and people........oh and politics. Did I mention politics? It was a regular topic of conversation at the dinner table. And it was an activity during election time that both my parents took part in for many years.

I could go on and on, but this is getting too long.

Both my Mom and Dad grew up in poverty………..they met at a young age and married at 20 and 22 years of age respectively. Two years later, in 1960, I was born, followed by my sisters 4 and 8 years later. I was brought into the mix during a time when they were just establishing themselves. Money was tight, and ambition was high. I was there for most of it. My earliest memories are of attending my Dad’s ball games, watching him from the bleachers with my Mom, eating Cracker Jack. He played third base. His idol was the Orioles third baseman, Brooks Robinson……..and years later I was there at a Sports Night dinner when my Dad got to meet his hero. It was one of the only times I remember him a bit tongue tied.

My earliest memories don’t include financial struggles, though I'm sure there were many for them. My Dad took on his role as provider, held on tight to that role and has never relinquished it. He started off as an apprentice electrician with a company that he dedicated his working life to, and ended up the owner. And along the way, he looked after his family, his neighbourhood, and all of the staff who worked for him. He now has 7 grandchildren to monkey around with too... all of whom have an individual rapport with him, depending on their interests and age. They are all under his protective umbrella............."What's mine is yours. I will look after you"...............his belief.........his personal motto. You can count on my Dad. Always...........just a phone call away.

Integrity is his middle name. Integrity is the most important value I learned from him.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.


Ellen said...

What a lovely story, as well as a wonderful tribute to your Dad. He sounds like a real hero in all aspects of his life, and you have much to be proud of for such a great role model in your life.

Lady Prism said...

I cried and cried and cried and cried and cried while reading this...I'm still crying. I never had a dad...My husband however is exactly this way....Still he isn't my dad...You are so blessed...I am so touched.

Quilting Goddess said...

I like your story too!

awareness said...

Thank you for the feedback. I'm glad I was able to provide a glimpse of my Dad.

This whole blogging thing sure helps one take to the time to reflect and learn, doesn't it?