Anyway, the only father that I ever had was really 2 people. There was the relatively happy man, who did a great job of providing for our family, keeping us all together, took us on vacation and was usually pretty nice to be around. This was the productive man, the one who let no grass grow under his feet, or anywhere else for that matter. He was a hard working farmer, a grain farmer, who worked with another family farm for almost as long as I remember. He was known for his incredibly straight corn rows, we always knew the view out of our kitchen door would be the straightest of all! No one's planting ever seems up to his standards.
He was a gardener who was fastidious about his lawn- every bit needed to be perfect. The vegetable garden was perfect and weeded! The year I got married began his transformation into a landscaper, when he started feeding the lawn- unheard of for us- because the rehearsal dinner was at the farm. He sort of took over almost every square inch and made it into paths, flower gardens, garden "art", and manicured park like vistas. My dad did things that he liked and he did them in a big way. His way! The only way! The "old school" way.
Later in life, he began his journey into wood working, where he could make beautiful turned bowls, shelves, salt and pepper shakers, wooden eggs, and on and on. There was so much stuff, we had to put it all up in a room upstairs at the farm after he died. Just not enough places and people to take it all. I am somewhat flattered to see the forms of my pottery in the wooden bowls and things- I had no idea until I saw them lined up years later how familiar the shapes were.
Mom and Dad loved traveling around, going for day trips or taking longer trips here and there. Out west, down south, Florida, Oklahoma to visit my mom's sister, they went all over the place. We used to go every year up to Walker, MN to visit my grandma and Grandpa- and stay for 2 weeks! I know Dad used to love to go there. For a man who always was busy, he could relax at Grandma and Grandpa's! This was one of the best parts of my dad. He was pretty much there to take us fishing! We'd fish off the dock, we'd go pan-fishing, and even, if you were feeling patient, northern fishing. We swam like fishes and the majority of us got brown and happy (I stayed white, thank you very much) and had so much fun. One year he made a board thing that we took rides on behind the boat, we had an inner-tube to do the same thing and when we got old enough there was water skiing. Well, I was never coordinated enough to ski, but I tried. And then I rode in the boat.
No one leads an idyllic life, though. I would be called out by my siblings for making this appear like an ideal childhood. But we had a pretty darn good situation. The other Dad was the depressed dad and he came to visit more frequently as we grew up and moved away from home. Depressive tendencies run in his side of the family, and for whatever reason it affected him as he aged. So, the dad I knew sort of disappeared much of the time, and was replaced by a quiet, non-communicative person who couldn't believe he was getting older. As his physical problems manifested themselves, his emotional issues increased. When you were the absolute final word in the family, the bread winner, the unknown quotient in our little life, having your mobility degenerate is hard on you.
My dad gave up on life. I don't know why he didn't have that fire, that spark that could have kept him living. Apparently his "role" as father, husband, worker was so deeply ingrained in him that he was unable to see a different way to live. When his stability disappeared, so did his ability to climb into tractors and plant those rows. When his walking ability was impaired, so was his ability to mow the lawn and plow snow. When his mobility disappeared, so did his ability to get into the basement and his wood working tools. He slept to avoid, to disappear and eventually to die.
I got the phone call that no one wants, yet is always half expecting, about 7 years ago, during the last week of school. It was my first year of teaching both HS and elementary art, so I did not get down to visit my parents during that year. I had been noticing some subtle changes in my mom- what's with her always repeating herself? Jeez, ma. My boys were growing up, and I was starting my master's degree program in art education.... there's so many reasons that you do or don't do things in life. I have a laundry list of them. My dad died about an hour after I arrived. My sister was not there yet, thank GOD above that my brothers were, and my aunt Linda was, too. I couldn't watch. I'm still trying to figure out if I let him down. I didn't cry for about a week, and then it was non-stop.
I don't want to dwell on the negatives, though. I want to remember the good times- the toboggan slides down the big hills, the tractor and combine rides, the visits he made to us when we were raising our little kids, the goodies he made for us, the love he had but didn't say. Because, even if he didn't say it, I know it was there.
So do I have any lessons learned here? Well, take advantage of every minute that you can, because sometimes people slip away before you realize what is happening. Make use of your situation, whatever it is, because there is a lot you can do, even if it isn't the same as before. And you can bet I am fighting my genetics, tooth and nail. By living as healthy as I can, exercising every single day and living fully with joy, I plan to defy my fate! We'll see how that works out.
So if you haven't talked to your dad lately, don't worry if it is Father's Day or his birthday or any other assigned "day". Try this Friday, or next Tuesday. A little hi, a pop by visit or an email or text if he does that sort of thing. This might not work for every one, but you NEVER know if your one little communication stayed in his heart! And sometimes that is the best you can hope for.
|Dad, Mom and me|
|Mom and Dad- my wedding day|
|Family get together- all of us and Fred|
|Dad loved his grandbabies|
|One of the later Christmas gatherings|