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Saturday, June 20, 2015

Father's Day - Part One - Ode to my Father

My father was never a 'Dad', although I called him that.
I used to joke to people that my father hadn't won the warm and friendly trifecta - he was German by heritage (a recent study showed that many Germans are missing the humor gene), a Gemini (a very cerebral sign), and a mechanical engineer ( a group not necessarily noted for warmth and humor). People would ask me if I was his daughter, and I would say "Who's asking and why?" My father was an intelligent man of very strong opinions that he wasn't afraid to express. Despite all that, he kept running for political office because he knew (and he was usually right) that he would be better in the job than the people elected. I learned from him that politics was very much a cult of personality. (Well, at least until I was dragooned - quite literally - into my own involvement in politics. Never again.) It wasn't about looks so much then as it is now. If it had been, he'd have had a better shot - people compared him to Paul Newman, and my girlfriends swooned over him. (Which was embarrassing for both my father and me.)
Although he was never elected, he also never gave up until his health failed him. (In his late sixties.)
That last, for him, was a terrible blow for a man who played at least three sets of tennis each day of every weekend when he could.
Would he be proud of me? That I don't know. The only books he read were biographies because they were about real people in real situations.
I do know what when I accepted by the journalism schools (as a more palatable alternative to creative writing) at some prestigious colleges, he refused to fill out the scholarship forms. He and my mother then embarked on a ten-year journey of searching out every article on how bad a career journalism was. What was sad was that at least part of him wanted one of his children to go to college. Not his daughters, but his sons. Sadly, only one of his children really wanted it - me.
That was among the many lessons I learned from him - good and bad.
I remember the time I went to him - with some trepidation - for help with the geometry of optics for my job. My high school geometry teacher in school had been less than stellar. He showed surprising and unusual patience in helping me.
I also remember being awakened one night by someone trying to kick my apartment door down. I ran into my bedroom - my two cats were already hiding beneath the bed - and called the police. Except that I mis-dialed and got my parents. I hurriedly explained, hung up, and called the police. My father, nearly a 20 minute drive away, nearly beat them. And he was livid when the released the drunk back into the building. He had, however, grabbed his toolbox. The door jamb to my apartment was in splinters. He screwed the door shut.
As a child, I can remember that he made all of us sit on stools and hold a civilized adult conversation. He valued logic and science above almost everything else, and he taught me to value them also.
*laughing* Although there was one time when he almost defeated himself.
He'd decided to add an enclosed porch onto the house. When I drove up, he was diligently sifting all the rocks out of the dirt he was digging to create the concrete floor. Now, he was the one who had taught me that you left the rocks in for drainage. So I asked him about it, and was assured that he knew what he was doing. A few years later, the floor began to heave and buckle from the water that had seeped under it. He swore up and down about the stupidity of filtering out the rocks.
He was not the best or warmest father in the world. He taught me to swim by throwing me in the water - he was big on tough love because he didn't know anything else.
He did, however, teach me to finish what I started, to keep trying no matter how often I failed or whether other people (including him) thought, and not to expect support except what I found within myself.
His final lesson shall remain with me...