For Father’s Day
As Father’s Day nears, I love to reflect on my grandfathers, my dad, and my husband. I grew up with the fortune of having wonderful men in my life (minus the top 10 worst dates). Not a lot of women can say that and mean it. So here’s my take on the men in my life who have made me really appreciate being a granddaughter, a daughter, a wife, and a mother.
From as far back as my memory can recall I had two of the most amazing grandfathers. My paternal grandfather was a very humble man who found joy in very simple pleasures. He married my grandmother (who was 12 years younger than he) when he was 28 years old. He was born in Ireland, and moved to America when he was a child with his parents. They moved from New York to California where he worked for a railroad company. My paternal grandmother was born in England and also migrated to California for the promise of prosperity. They met, and had a fast engagement and marriage. They were both the only children and had only meager possessions. Neither was well educated, and times were very different then than they are now. They moved to a small 3 room house in South Houston in 1946. My father was born the following year in that same 3 room house. He spent his entire life being raise in that 3 room (not bedroom) home. Pa-Pa took my dad fishing and taught him how to work on cars. Pa-Pa enjoyed a nice automobile and loved to work on cars. Grandma didn’t work in the sense of earning a paycheck, but don’t be confused, she worked her tail off every day. She milked goats to feed my dad, sewed, did laundry by hand, and all those traditional things women did in her day. My grandfather was a quiet man, and he was very handsome in his youth. I remember his short stature (which was not much greater than that of my grandmother). He sported the reverse Mohawk (the bald on top and hair around the head). There wasn’t enough for a comb-over. I remember on Saturdays, after I finished watching cartoons, I walked to their house and visited with them while she’d cut his hair in the middle of their kitchen floor and trim the white hair that grew from his ears. There was always ample supply of ice cream, candy, and anything else a grandchild could ask for in that day. My Pa-Pa (and Grandma) thought I hung the moon, and they loved me so much. The house my father grew up in never changed much in the 57 years they were married before my Pa-Pa died 1985. My dad, mom, brother, and I all lived about 100 yards away, and about 120 yards from my maternal grandmother. I had large fields, lots of trees, a huge bayou and the woods as my backyard. I think we may have been considered poor in the eyes of many, but it sure didn’t feel that way. My brother and I never wanted for anything, and I always considered us to be spoiled. But if you know South Houston, even in its prime, no one there could really be considered “well-off.” It didn’t matter, I loved my life, and I adored my grandparents. One of my favorite memories of my Pa-Pa was, as he was aging and becoming less entranced with the idea of going to church, used to wait for Grandma to go to church. After she’d leave, he’d go outside and pop the truck on his rusted 56 Chevy that sat under the huge pecan tree in an auto cocoon, and pulled out his carton of Camels without the filter and a case of beer. He’d have a couple of smokes and a few beers. Of course, it’d all be put away before her return. Lucky for him, she was Pentecostal, so service was relatively lengthy. He resembled a shorter, less hairy version of Santa Claus, and the man was usually very quiet, but when he’d smile at me, there was no question of his love for me. He passed away in 1985 after a long fight with dementia, emphysema, and just simply growing old. In the weeks prior to his death, he talked a lot. I loved his Irish accent.
My father, as mentioned, grew up very poor. My dad was a very good looking man, and somehow grew to be 6 foot tall despite having parents that were certainly no taller than 5’5. He had dark black hair and green eyes and just so handsome. His hair is somewhat salt and pepper now, with more salt than pepper these days. He can probably still out-run, out-drink, out throw, and out do many men half his age. He graduated high school and married my mother shortly after graduation. They had my brother the following year. Initially they only wanted one child. The story goes that they babysat for a neighbor once, and fell in love with the idea of having a girl. So, 6 years later, I was born. Prior to my birth however, he joined the Army and served our country during the Korean conflict. He was a gunner on a helicopter, but I don’t know many details about his experience because he doesn’t like to talk about it. I remember as a kid, he’d have nightmares that seemed violent sometimes. And, if I had a nightmare or was sick at night and I wanted to go lay with my mom and dad, I’d always go to Mom’s side of the bed because he would wake up very startled at my presence and not know it was me. His eyes would be wide and he’d sit up and grab my arm in a split second. “Daddy! It’s me!” He never hurt me, but wow, he scared me. But, he made it better when he’d pick me up in his big daddy arms, place me in between he and my mother, cover me up, and tell me he loved me. There is no peace like getting to sleep in mom and dad’s bed after a nightmare or feeling sick. My dad received an award for a rescue mission he was a part of in Korea which my mom gave to me along with some newspaper clippings. I asked him about it once, but he said, “Oh, that award doesn’t really mean a lot. It wasn’t that big of deal.”
My maternal grandfather was far more vocal. He was a Mason, a marine, and a roughneck. Though in stark contrast to my other grandfather, the love was exactly the same. This Pa-Pa was adoring. He would always have me come sit with him and share his peanuts. Oh the man loved peanuts and cashews. He’d show me his tattoos on his arms from the various countries he served. There appeared as green almost indistinguishable blobs through his overly tanned, wrinkled arms. We did every Christmas Eve at his house every year, with the paneling walls, and the same furniture and carpet for as long as I could remember. My mom grew up in that house, too. I loved that about the generation before us. They appreciated simple things and never tried to reach beyond their abilities financially. They were far smarter than we are today in that they could recognize that the material stuff meant little. The house may have been old, but it was also incredibly special. Memories that would last a lifetime were made in that home. Pa-Pa, much like the men in my life, never discussed their role in the military, or their experiences, even to their own adult children. Pa-Pa always had “his” chair which was situated right next to “his lamp” and “his side table.” He was so much like Archie Bunker. He was loud, had snow white hair, and gave all the boys/girls men/women in our family his thoughts and opinions on everything whether it was solicited or not. He didn’t like boys with long hair, and every child was taught to say their sirs and ma’am’s. No exceptions. He was a patriot and used all the cliché’s like “freedom isn’t free,” and he even taught me the words to The Hall of Montezuma. I reckon I was the only 6 year old who could sing it so well. Through his gruff exterior, then man loved me so much, I always felt like the favorite grandchild, though I bet they would claim the same. He had an adopted daughter who was “a hippie” and had a son out of wedlock. He loved that boy so much (my cousin). My aunt was a little off-center, and so my cousin lived with my Pa-Pa. My cousin was a tremendous young man. He was smart, well mannered, clean, and respectful. My Pa-Pa grew a really big garden and had a huge green house in the back of the house. I and my cousins always got to go back there and pick vegetables and fruit and whatever we could carry, we could take home. He was very tall, too, unusually so; or perhaps it just seemed that way in the eyes of a little girl. I remember Pa-Pa would sometimes have neighbors over, and he LOVED to tell the neighbors the same story every time I was around. He would say, “I asked my granddaughter who she is going to marry when she gets old, and…well…tell them what said, Sissy.” Yes, my whole family called me Sissy until I was into adulthood. For a long time, I was the only girl until my two cousins arrived 8 years behind me. I would sigh and recite my line for him and his company, “I said Pa-Pa, I am not getting married. I don’t want a boy trying to boss me around. I am going to have a lot of kids and two really fast cars: a GTO and a Corvette.” He and whoever his company was that had probably heard this one hundred times before would slap their knees and just laugh, and laugh hardily. Then, he’d scoop me up onto his knee and say, “You don’t let any boy boss you around. You hear me? You can have your fast cars, but no kids without a husband young lady, so it sounds like you are going to have to change your plan a little.” ~Sigh~ Pa-Pa, how many times are we going to have this conversation? Pa-Pa died in 1984, the same year my biological aunt died. It is sad to know that he had endure the heartache of losing his youngest daughter before he passed away. He was freshly retired and had gotten a new knee about 6 months prior. He was working in the garden in the heat. My grandma took some lemonade out to him and found him on his side conscious, but just barely so. He was taken by ambulance to the hospital and placed on life support. As a child, I wish I hadn’t seen him that way. This giant, strong, loud marine now appeared to be a frail, sleeping giant. Before they let him go, I got the chance to see him alone. I wiped the sweat from his forehead and the corners of his eyes and laid my head next to his. There were lots of tubes and lines, but I wasn’t going to keep those from me showing my love one final time. I told him how much he meant to me and how I knew how much he loved me. I told him I’d get married one day and have lots of kids, but I’d be my own boss, not to worry. We never did another Christmas Eve in that house again. My cousin, who returned to his mother’s house died in 1993 at 17 years old. He had been drinking at a friend’s house and fell asleep on his drive home. He drove his pick up off an overpass, and died a couple of hours later at the scene. Some in my family speculate that perhaps if Pa-Pa had lived, this wouldn’t have happened because Pa-Pa made sure he toed the line. I don’t believe that, I think we are all responsible for our own choices. The year 1984 was an extremely hard year for my mother and I, we both lost two very powerful figures in our lives; her sister and her father.
My dad never lectured. I cannot recall any lengthy monologues or soapbox deliveries about much. He didn’t have to. My dad led by example. He was a man of integrity and if he said he was going to do something, it was as good as done. His deeds said more than his words ever could. He was absolutely trustworthy, wise, and definitely a great guy to have around the house and cars. He worked for Southwestern Bell for 33 years before he retired. In those 33 years, he never missed one day of work. He had vacation time, but never missed otherwise. After 33 years of dedicated service, he received a beautiful ring, and a desk clock. He didn’t want to retire, but my grandmother had suffered several strokes and was not safe to live alone in her 3 room home any longer. She came to live with him. He cared for her (as did my stepmother) for the last couple of years of her life. She was clean, always dressed nice, got her medications as needed, and was provided with excellent medical care, all on his dime. He never complained. Not once did the burden appear to be too much. He of course would laugh and retell stories about the silly things she would say or do, but the man loved his parents. There’s nothing he would not do for her, his wife, me, my brother, his neighbor, his step-kids, or anyone in need. That’s just how he is. He doesn’t judge others and takes things with a grain of salt, though I can’t say it’s always been like that. My dad never did the cliché, “When will you bring my daughter home? I’ll beat you to a pulp with my bare hands if you hurt her.” He didn’t because he didn’t have to. My dad is a gentle giant, but you don’t want to cross him. He instilled fear into me and my brother (and without a doubt boyfriends and friends). Not the fear where you are concerned for your physical safety, but a reverend fear. To know him or even meet him, he somehow just earns respect.
I was Daddy’s girl. I am not sure he knew that sometimes growing up, and I am not sure I knew it all the time either. I swear the man raised me like a son sometimes. I remember when I had a good grasp on numbers; I would get to go out to the carport and get to work on cars with my dad. He’d shout the size of the socket, and it was my job to fetch it. Of course, in the eyes of a 1st grade girl, I felt like I single-handedly rebuilt the motor. That’s how my dad made me feel as a child. Before long, I graduated to actually touching the car, and then gradually progressed to learning what each part is, what it does, how you can tell which one isn’t functioning, schematics, wiring harness diagrams, and to this day when I cannot figure out a car problem, he’s my got-to-guy, and he is rarely wrong. I think because my brother didn’t much care for it, he thought maybe I would, and I did. My dad always had three cars for the family. We had a truck (“Every family needs a pick-up”), the family car (yes, Mom’s car), and a hotrod. Mom got the wood walled station wagon (back then that was our version of a SUV), and eventually progressed to more late models like a Taurus and the like. But Dad, well, he drove the real deals. He had a Stingray, a Trans-Am (just like Smokey and the Bandit), an El Camino, a GTO, a Camaro, and even had a drag car at one point. I remember the little things like the 8 track that would stick out from the dash in the Trans-Am. Man, those were the good times. The GTO was totaled due to a drunk driver, but he wouldn’t let it go. He found another one (which isn’t all too common) in a junkyard. He took his welding supplies out there and literally cut that car in half and brought it home. Then then cut his car in half and removed the damage. He then welded the junkyard piece onto it. He redid all of it, and when he was done, it was the most beautiful car I’d ever put my eyes on, even as an adult. That car symbolized a lot in my young eyes. My brother, my dad, I, and even my mom all had some hand in its restoration. I remember taking a wire brush and removing some rust from the wheel wells. I remember helping dad put the new carpet and seats in it. I remember him and brother painting it together and the tape being put down for the custom racing stripe paint job they did. Those memories are quite a long time ago, but I recall them as if they were yesterday. When they were done, by dad and brother had their first beer, but I pretended I didn’t know it at the time. My brother was probably 15 at the time, but hey, we have a good deal of Irish blood pumping through our veins. Beer at 15 is almost a requirement.
When I was a sophomore in high school, my parents divorced. I think as I kid I blamed my dad, but now that I am an adult, I fault neither of them. They did the best they could and my childhood was better than many. That year, my Dad drove me to my sophomore girls club meeting at a Casa Ole. He knew how much I loved the goat, so he drove me to the meeting in our hotrod. When it was time to leave, all my friends came out to see my hotrod. They adored it, and I am sure my dad didn’t mind showing it off. I think we were both really proud of that car. It was red with black racing stripes and it turned every head on every road we drove on. On our way home, in my over-zealous teen brain, I insisted we listen to my radio station. My dad wanted to hear his lame oldies. The punch buttons on the radio were way more fun to push than the girly buttons we find in cars today. As we argued and pushed the buttons and laughed, the fun sounds were silenced when I heard the brakes shrill. The seatbelt held me firmly in place as we smashed into the back of a big rig. There were no words. The steam sizzled from the nose of the car and I could see the crumpled hood from the passenger seat. Truly, no words.
The tow truck towed it to my grandma’s house. You see, he was not living in my house any more, and he lived in an apartment. He had no garage. He had no space. The goat sat in the field in front of grandma’s house. I tried so many times to persuade him to start hunting parts, but he just never really seemed to find the desire again. That car, in my mind (even back then), symbolized our family. It was the product of group effort and love, months of spending time together laughing, cussing, learning, planning, and my brother’s first beer. And now there it rested in my grandma’s field. The years and elements weren’t good to it, and eventually it became consumed by rust, bee nests, and shrubbery. The day that car was towed away broke my heart. I can still see the dulled red pain and the rusted chrome bumper on the roll back that carried it away. Of course, this is my dad we’re talking about, so there were other hotrods. But none carried my heart so much as that one.
My dad still works, though not for the same company. He has no desire to slow down. He recently helped my son put his new motor in his Firebird. I enjoy working on cars, but I knew this wasn’t my time to teach my son. This moment was for my dad. His father taught him all about cars; it’s only fitting that my dad does that for my son. I hope my son knows that one day, it will mean far more to him than he understands today. I see my dad now at 65, and it is just like seeing my Pa-Pa. They look the same, act the same, and they love the same; with few words and huge actions. Much like dad’s goat, they don’t make men like that anymore.
Oh, but they do come close. They say that a daughter will marry someone just like their father. My husband is a good man, just like my dad. I guess I am really fortunate to have a wonderful dad, it kind of ensured I’d (EVENTUALLY) have a wonderful husband. My husband is so much like my father in character, integrity, and honesty. There are differences, too. My dad didn’t do college. He had to go to work, and then to the Army, and then back to work. He had parents to take care of, and a family that needed his support. My husband’s generation is very different. He didn’t have a war threatening to draft him, and college came a lot easier for us, and allowed him the benefit of a good education. He also doesn’t do the incredible car thing that my dad does. Instead, my husband does computers, and does them extremely well. Oh, one other difference, my husband can’t throw back a 12 back and still stand up. LOL My husband works long hours to keep this family in a good situation. We aren’t wealthy, and sometimes frankly speaking, we scrape. Most of the time, we do okay. But just like as a child I didn’t know we were poor, it’s kind of like that now. He supports the 7 of us and his two children from his previous marriage on one income, and he does it well enough to also allow for me to go to nursing school and for all of us to have the occasional perk. I cannot wait to finish so that I can contribute to his burden and help lighten his load. We get to do yearly vacations, just like when I was a kid. He sacrifices the store bought haircuts for me and a set of Wal-Mart clippers. He wears the same shoes he’s worn for 3 years because he doesn’t see the sense in spending that kind of money for shoes when he has “this perfectly good” pair. He has pants that are older than our marriage, and never complains. He’s home every night, and still somehow finds the time and will to take the trash out, makes a dinner on occasion, or stays home to keep the kids should someone be ill just so I won’t miss clinical. He has gone a year or two without a vacation from work because he has to save the vacation time for things like my medical needs (hospital stays), to save money for a custody battle with my ex-husband (which went well in the end), or just to be able to take an occasional day off to spend with me. He never complains. He trusts me, and he lets me be my own person. He makes me feel like a whole person, not his other half. He holds me accountable when needed, and takes care of me when I am sick without a complaint. He doesn’t have all the romantic words, the clever wit, and sometimes he may lack tact and gets the delivery all wrong. But what I love most about him is that when he looks at me, I know I am loved. When he engages our kids (ALL of our children), I see their reactions and expressions. They see him just like I saw my dad; a man of wonder, reverend respect, and appreciation. They don’t know it yet, but one day, all the little moments they share will be inescapable when they are adults. They will hold onto those moments. They will say “Daddy would go outside and get the cigarettes out of the trunk of his car when mom would leave, and mom “never knew.” (Let’s be real here, moms ALWAYS know). They will say things like, “Dad managed to provide a really comfortable life for us. Dad was a man of few words, but huge action. When Dad said something, you could trust that Dad would get it done. Dad loved me. My mom and dad were married until death and showed me what marriage should be in a time when marriage seemed very disposable.” I love my husband for being the man he is, and for being the most wonderful example of what a father is for my children and being a man of faith, love, and respect.
The men in my life are absolutely precious and beautiful. They are so dear to my heart. I hope that one day, when my daughters are women; they find men just like my grandfathers, my father, and my husband. I hope that my sons aspire to his level of integrity and worth. I hope that my grandfathers knew how precious they were to me. It seems like a flaw in the ultimate design of life that we typically reach an age of appreciation and reflection long after our grandparents pass away. Perhaps it is the unspoken burden of old men. I hope that the men I still have with me on Earth know what they mean to me and the far reaching impact that will on the lives of those around them, and even generations to come.
Happy Father’s Day.