I was born on October 5th, 1979, although my mother's expected due date was December 3rd of that year. Being so premature, I weighed a little over 3 pounds and could fit into the palm of my fathers hand. I know this only because I've seen a picture taken of my dad doing just that-holding me in his hand. One hand, and I didn't even extend past his huge, sausage-like fingers. This picture, although not technically a memory, was the last good one that I had of my father for many, many years.
Growing up in my house was scary, to say the least. Although my father never physically abused my siblings and I, he was very ill-tempered, yelling and cussing on a daily basis. Nothing we did was right, we were constantly chided and, I for one, lived in constant fear of my dad. When helping him in his vast wood shop, finding the exact tool that you were asked to find immediately was necessary -or you would receive a severe scolding.
I remember when I was 14 or 15 years old and being kicked out of the house. I had long since stopped following any rule or instruction from authority figures, and was evicted for leaving a gum wrapper on the counter instead of throwing it away. When I called later that day from a friends house, asking to be allowed to return home, I was told by my mother that "as long as you learned your lesson, your father said you can come back home." I was relieved, of course. What else was a poor kid who grew up in a middle class family and never wanted for anything going to do without a home?
When I returned home, I was subsequently kicked back out of the house for getting mud on the rug. You know, the place where you take your shoes off so you don't get the rest of the house dirty? Yeah, that kind of rug.
My father was absolutely insufferable...until I had lived on my own for a few years. And then I understood. When the man came home from work, where he put in 60 hours each week for as long as I can remember, he would spend 3 hours working in the yard. He worked as much as he did so he could feed four hungry, oftentimes ungrateful mouths. He spent the time in the yard as a form of what I can only describe as meditation. It was his escape. And it was, and still is a beautiful yard.
And then I had a daughter and realized just how hard it is to have a child. We aren't given manuals or required to take a course before we have children, although I officially declare my support of such an endeavor. I wasn't given a manual, my father wasn't given a manual, and my grandfather wasn't given a manual. So we do the best we can with the tools that we're provided from our fathers. We get their unwritten manual, so to speak. The challenge is in being selective about the sections of the manual we as adults decide to follow.
My father and I have a great relationship now. He has calmed down considerably and is very understanding and always supportive. We don't see each other frequently, but when we do, we both have a great time and many laughs at each other's expense. We enjoy each other's company. After almost three decades, I chose to look at the sacrifices my father made to support his family and not what I thought he had done wrong. I remembered the fact that he taught me how to shoot a bow and arrow. I recall how he showed me the beauty of nature and all of its animals. And I sure as hell know the difference between a 7/16" and a 1/2" socket...and where it goes when I'm done using it.