My last conversation with my dad was a couple of weeks ago when I told him that I had gotten a position with a software company in Mount Pleasant called IDS. It was important to me to share this news with him because I knew that he would have been almost as relieved as I was to know that after a year long job search I was finally going to be employed. Having a job also means that I will be able to provide for my family much in the same way that my dad was always able to when I was growing up.
I remember, when I was around seven or eight, he would leave for a shift at General Motors in the morning carrying his bulky lunch box. This was when we lived on Clyde Rd. One Christmas, he bought my mom a tape recorder, and after my sister and i went to bed they recorded a conversation with Santa Claus for which my dad played a Santa who entered the house through the front door (we didn’t have a chimney) and knew specific information about which toys I had already gotten for Christmas. Of course, I remember being fascinated by the recording when they played it for us the next morning, and I always thought this was a neat thing for them to do.
I learned how to mow the yard while we were living at the house on Clyde Rd., and I remember that it made me feel a lot more grown up being able to drive the lawn tractor. A few years ago, when I taught Kayla and Josh how to mow our lawn with the push mower, I had a sense that things had gone full circle, with me now serving the role of teacher, much as my father once did. And, just as my dad told me, I stressed to my kids the importance of safety and accuracy, especially given that they were using a push mower.
For some reason, our cat, Mittens, seemed to imprint upon our dad. When her kittens had climbed up and gotten stuck in a tree in our hard, she fetched my dad. For most of my childhood, we had a dog, Bridgette, who stayed in a pen which ran along the back of our garage.
My dad was always planning ahead. He bought a property on Armstrong Rd. with the plan of one day building a house there. At first, we referred to this property as “The Land.” As in “I’m going to The Land.” Going there was often an adventure because it was a wide open space and, being on the edge of a wooded area, you never knew what kinds of wildlife you might run into. For us, perhaps it was akin to going to the Safari.
Dad’s next stage was to build a barn. This made the property seem a bit more tame, because now we had a place to go when we visited The Land, especially on rainy days.
Dad was curious and very observant. When we took a vacation in Washington D.C., I remember how surprised my mom was that he had split away from the rest of us to check out what the view was like behind the Lincoln Memorial. Not because he had left us, but because he didn’t share in the experience, I think. I’ve been to Washington, D.C., two other times and I still have never peeked back there.
One other trait that stands out in my mind is that my father liked to stay active. He couldn’t just ‘sit around” for very long before he would decide to head outside to get something done. This includes chopping wood in the winter, and of course gardening in the summer. He had gardens for as long as I can remember, going back to the house we lived in on Clyde Rd. The property on Armstrong is big enough that he had two gardens. The deer would get into the garden, so every year he would put fences up.
He would tell me that I was always welcome to use his tools as long as I took good care of them. He helped Amy and I build a fort in the woods. It was rectangle, with a ladder up into the main room, and another ladder which you could climb when you wanted to be on the roof. Another time, I got the idea in my head to build a “soapbox racer.” My sister got involved, and built one of her own. Years ago when Kayla and Josh were old enough I got them back out, and they rode in them for a little bit.
This past year was a rough one for my dad. He had been having healthy issues for years, which included trouble with his leg. He eventually made the decision to have the leg amputated. He struggled afterwards adjusting to his prosthetic leg, but remained good natured about it. I was inspired by his demonstration of perseverance when we began dealing with Josh’s brain surgery, rehabilitation, and cancer treatments. For me, I was once again getting an idea of the type of man my dad was.
Despite all of his own issues, his thoughts dwelled on the welfare of others. He followed my son’s cancer treatment with great interest, and hoped that I would be able to find a job. He would often tell me the story about how my Grandma Morgan never stopped worrying or caring for her kids, even after they were adults. If there was a risk of a storm, she would call all of Dad’s brothers and sister to make sure that they were okay. I feel like my dad felt the same way about my sister and I, our spouses, and my kids.
My favorite piece of advice that Dad shared with me was that it was always important to bring a jacket with you when you traveled. His logic was that you couldn’t put on a jacket that you didn’t have. For years, I have always made the point of bringing a jacket with me in case the weather turned cold, just to be on the safe side.
I think that the goal of any father is to do everything they can to equip their children for success in life. This can be as simple as always remembering to bring a jacket. There will probably always be more that I could have learned from my dad, but overall he showed me how important it is to work hard, and always try to be a good person. And, I hope that I can pass along the same virtues to my own kids.