He was the youngest of 6 kids, with an oldest sister and then 4 brothers who once tried to hang him. So I guess he learned that being charming was a good way to be in the world very early on. He was also what is colloquially known as a "pisscutter"...seemingly small and insignificant, but capable of remarkable things. Like convincing all the kids in his high school that being remarkably bowlegged meant that he was remarkably cute. If the situation arose for fighting, like say, a cow that he was milking kicked over the pail of milk, he broke his hand punching the cow. Date two girls at once who happened to be cousins? Of course. Wreck a new convertible? Done. Play a joke on a teacher with brownies that look like poop? You got it. Letter in sports? Absolutely. Volunteer for Vietnam after a semester of college because hippies tick you off...Hell, yeah. Come back after two tours, track down one of those cousins, drive across the country to go get her, marry her, and stay true-blue to her for over 40 years, uh huh. Raise a son and three daughters (three daughters is a pretty delightfully ironic gift to a man who charmed the girls pretty terribly in his day). Sir, yes, Sir. For my entire growing up years, he worked tirelessly at a family agri-business, simultaneously beautifying a patch of ground that once was just a mobile home and a bumpy yard into a home in a park-like setting. And then, when I was grown, he became an electrician, earned a journeyman's training, entered the realm of hospital maintenance and now holds a management position. He is smart. He works incredibly hard. He worships the ground my mom walks on. He loves us kids.
I have a scar on my knee from the time just he and I went out on a hot August afternoon to pick blackberries. I can still taste their wild, warm goodness. He prefers them in a pie, of course. In my minds eye, I see us when I was 8 years old, going running with him...with him cheering me on for keeping up with him as we pounded down the smoothed dirt road. In fourth grade, he took me on a date for my 10th birthday. He bought me a sweater and a necklace with my name on it, took me to dinner at a restaurant, which we only did about twice a year. Did you ever go to work with your dad? It was the joy of my life. I drove with him to the new location an hour away one whole summer. The drive was through the dense, gorgeous hills of Pennsylvania, and the destination was across the street from a bakery grocery store where I was tasked with choosing the donuts. I liked to test my mettle against a 50 pound bag of animal feed, helping to load up a truck. I learned to write sales slips, do the daily financial page, write the deposit slip, but most importantly, I learned to wait on customers. I loved it. He loved it that I loved it. We were a pair.
Sitting at the show this past week, the ladies next to me had framed-up a quilted sign that read, "The greatest gift a man can give his children is to love their mother." I was given that gift. The love Dad has for Mom defies description. He drives her crazy, like a persistent bee around a big red flower. In high school, it was utterly embarrassing. My husband was completely dumbfounded the first time he visited our house and my Dad wrapped my mother up in a dedicated embrace, bending her backwards, kissing her like the end of a romantic movie before heading out to work. "Does he always do that?" he inquired of me with saucer-like eyes. I barely looked up... "Every day of his life."
Special Forces Green Beret, proud and patriotic. Loves his grandkids and always gets the babies laughing; the kids swarm around him knowing candy or horsey rides could happen at any moment. A man with clean fingernails and polished shoes, who will in the next moment head out back to cut some firewood. He is strong and soft, simple and complex, hard working but drops anything to help.
He's been my most devoted cheerleader throughout the show this past week and doesn't hesitate to tell me how proud he is of me. I see him in my son...in his early rising and his bright blue eyes, his easy smile and unashamed hug and kiss, in his love for order and routine, and his sense of honor and right and wrong, his quickness to verbally praise the good. And of course, his appreciation for coffee, donuts and bacon.
Daddy, I love you. You are a wonderful Dad. You provided for me when I know you went without. I know you love me. We are still a pair. Happy Birthday.