Tribute to My Dad - Happy Father's Day
My Dad was so many things, it is hard to put into words. He was genius level smart, and the kind of mechanically inclined person who could fix anything. In high school he got in trouble because he and his friends kept playing pranks, like moving a mailbox down the street. He was offered the chance to join the Army before he finished high school. In those days, the draft was still in effect, and he would have had to do a couple of years anyways. In school he was a star member of the track team, and excelled at the high jump. Once he sailed through basic training, he must have decided he enjoyed the Army, because he stayed in for 20 years.
Our family was large by today's standards with six kids. My Mom didn't work until my youngest brother was in school, so we were pretty tapped. Dad taught himself how to play steel guitar and played in a band to make extra money. Every weekend he packed up the van with all the instruments and the band hit the road. During our time in Germany, he played in two bands and made a record with each of them. They sold the records at their shows. On weekends when they didn't have a show, Dad brought out his Sho-bud or Emmons steel guitars and practiced.
We didn't have but one channel on TV, and our tv was about 9" square, so music filled our home. Dad could literally pick up any instrument and play it. The most amazing thing about it was that he was mostly deaf due to an inherited disease called Otosclerosis. Hearing aids were not as advanced then as they are now, Somehow I knew even then that what he played was amazing. I sat for hours listening to him play along with his favorite country music. I did not pick up the musical gene, but I still love listening to him play. Luckily I have his albums, converted to digital copies.
The thing I remember most about my Dad was that he always said "you can do anything you put your mind to"...of course he finished that by saying "it doesn't matter if you are a girl". I always knew he meant it in a loving and encouraging way, not in a too bad you're a girl way. He encouraged learning and reading. If the internet had been around in those days, I can imagine that he would have been in hog-heaven. I remember him actually reading the set of encyclopedias we had!
The Army gave Dad the opportunity to continue learning new things. He took on challenging assignments and went to many courses in engineering, electronics, mathematics, and so on. Dad was a master mechanic - he really could fix anything. From the time I was small he let me be his mechanical helper. I can remember bleeding brakes when I was about 5 or 6 years old! Some of the best times I remember with my Dad were spent at wrecking yards.
Cars never lasted long around our house, which sometimes made Mom mad but I enjoyed the time I got to spend helping, Dad bought a project, fixed it up and sent it on its way. We lived in Germany most of my early years, so we had a variety of Mercedes and Volkswagens. Looking back, we also had some really stellar cars, from a Pontiac GTO to a Lotus Europa racing car. Most of the cars got sold because someone offered Dad a good sum more than he paid once the car was fixed.
When Dad retired from the military, we moved to his hometown. Having relatives was a new experience for me, but Dad was happy to be home again. His high school buddies visited and told stories I can't repeat here (ha). Dad went to college during this time, and graduated with a 4.0 grade point average. He worked full time and attended courses at night. Of course he was also still playing in a band to earn some "play" money. Dad had a serious interest in music and his band money paid for his growing stable of steel guitars, and electronic equipment while still leaving his job money to support the family.
I had an accident in Dad's car when I first started driving. I thought he would be furious, so I had to police officer drive me home. Dad came running out and said "Is she ok?". I felt his love and care in that moment. Of course I was ok, but the car was not. Dad showed his faith in me by letting me drive the car the day it got out of the shop. He worked swing shift, and he let me drive the car to school every day. Only once he had to explain that I needed to get home on time because he had to get to work early to get overtime to feed us. I was never late again.
When my beloved cat was run over by a car (and died) my dad was the one to comfort me. He told me she was going to be in heaven waiting for us when we got there. I was still pretty inconsolable, but I look back as a parent and recall how many difficult things he did for us. When it came time for me to get my own car, Dad painted my Uncle's house to get the extra money. I would have helped if I realized what was going on, but he did it very quietly, just like everything else, because he cared.
We looked and looked and found the cutest little fixer upper VW Bug. It only had one front seat, so Dad made me sit in the back seat while we test drove. As a teenager, I was beyond embarrassment at this situation. But I was also excited to get a car. We ended up working on the engine a lot. I learned that you can pull a VW Bug engine in about 20 minutes when you have previous experience. Dad found a spare engine and did some horse trading so we could change out the one that kept breaking down. It was literally in a couple of boxes, all torn apart. somehow, he figured it out and put it together. I guess that is where I picked up my "how hard can it be" attitude.
I went to visit my Dad regularly after my Mom died. On one visit he took a look at my ear and said "yep". I was confused. I don't remember exactly what he said, but it was something about "the baby". Lo and behold, about a week later I found out I was pregnant. I moved closer to Dad during the pregnancy. He had started dating and ended up marrying a nice lady. When my child was born, I did not want to go the daycare route. His dad worked swing but we had a few time periods to cover. My Dad offered to watch the baby and thus a great situation was born.
There are so many things about my Dad that just make me feel warm and fuzzy and grateful to have had a man who was willing to do whatever it took to support his family. I remember having long conversations about politics and "the world" when he got home from working swing shift. Dad enjoyed a good, intelligent conversation and I enjoyed all I learned from him. He and my Mom were openly affectionate with each other, and openly fought with each other.
Some time after Dad remarried, they bought a 5th wheel and decided to travel. They ended up in another state, living in a beautiful setting in the country. My sister brother and I visited with him on Father's Day that year, and he was certain he would beat the "cough" he couldn't shake. We knew how ill he was. Sadly, he was diagnosed with lung cancer and died shortly after.
The music lives on in my heart and the thirst for learning lives on in my head. I love beautiful and high powered cars as much as my Dad did. All of us kids have a "can do" attitude - what needs to be done gets done. And we are all junk food junkies, we love our Oreos and Ruffles as much as Dad did. If I have any regrets, it is that we never had the cash to buy a kit car and build it. I still have the page Dad tore out of a magazine that has the picture though.