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The Things My Father Showed Me

Father's Day is rolling around once again. I can tell by the crush of advertising admonishing prodigal children to buy this gizmo or that gadget in order to show appreciation for the dads in their lives. But when you get to my age (rounding the bend into my second half century) and his age (sliding into 80 with garage full of his own stuff), mere trinkets are not enough.

Sometimes the real tributes are the unspoken ones, like stocking the old man's fridge with his favorite beer, calling him early in the morning to discuss politics, or cleaning his ceiling fan or bathroom on those rare occasions when I'm in town.

I don't know about your father, but my father doesn't talk much about his feelings. This reticence could be a character flaw of the gender, or it could be the fact that his father was Greek with a limited knowledge of English. Either way, he is the last person on earth I would go to for an exploration of deep emotions. However, it's true what they say about actions speaking louder than words, and his have shown him to be exemplary in many ways.

Daughters being what we are, we want to please our dads. I was once accused of giving him too much leeway. "You're not even his favorite!" was what I was told. (How he could choose a favorite out of six outstanding individuals is beyond me.) Sure, the guy isn't perfect; who is? It's up to us to winnow the good modeling from the bad parenting and go from there.

My father escaped poverty and the cold, rugged bogs of northeastern Minnesota — now Nemadji State Park, home to swarms of mosquitoes and leeches — to join the Army. Good decision? He got to see the world, met my mother, enjoyed an Army career with a pension, and received a guaranteed GI Bill college education. His was the typical American success story: the one where the child does better than his parents.

I didn't agree with the war in Viet Nam, but that could have been more about wanting my father out of harms' way and nearby and less with my twelve-year-old political sensibilities. I had four sibs then, one a baby, and as the oldest knew I was going to have to grow up fast and pick up the slack. We needed a dad more than Uncle Sam needed a helicopter mechanic. I'm not sure my dad was into fighting, but he went where the orders told him to go. When he came back, he didn't talk about his experience the way his war buddies did. Their stories were rough and hard, full of manly gusto about taking hills and shooting people. My dad rarely added to the conversation and instead let his friends talk.

Shortly after joining the Army, my father bought the little house my grandma lived in (some say won in a poker game in the early 1950s) in the Minnesota outback. No running water, no indoor toilet, she was happy with it, happier than her last few years in St. Paul. She stayed there for three decades, until my parents' divorce decree stated the house was community property and had to be sold.

My dad might not have been home much, but he got a month's worth of leave every year. We took extended road trips to Yellowstone and other points in the West, and traveled back to Minnesota. When we moved from one base to another, it was an occasion for a road trip. There was always something interesting to see, some new part of the country to learn about. It could be why I don't find long car rides boring,

About Joanne Huspek

I write. I read. I garden. I cook. I eat. And I love to talk about all of the above.
  • http://viclana.blogspot.com/ Victor Lana

    This is just a beautiful article about your father, Joanne. As a father myself (my kids are small), I can only hope that I will merit such praise from them some day.

  • http://joannehuspek.wordpress.com Joanne Huspek

    Thanks, Victor, I’m sure you will do great. I have meant to write this for a long time. He’s not getting any younger and today seems like a good day.

  • http://etierphotography.blogspot.com/ FCEtier

    It’s great that Father’s Day and Memorial Day are so close together. For us baby boomers there’s a lot of overlap.

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy

    Joanne,

    Your dad would have liked my dad, and my dad would have liked your dad. Different as they were on the outside, they were very alike on the inside. Family first, watching out for the kids, making sure there was food on the table, and being decent and honoring of the dead.

    From your other articles, it is evident he did a good job with you. You’ve honored him by making sure he is still alive to read this.

    kol hakavd!!

  • Ralph Scott

    As a stepfather-in-training, who was reared by a dad who was teaching me the right way to do it without my then knowing it (I wish I’d taken more notes), I’m incredibly moved by what you have written here. This should be a must read for every father and those who aspire to be. Nice work.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Excellent Piece!

    Ya know, your father may not be rich, a brainiac or a master tradesman but HE WAS THERE! He handled quite a bit of hardship but HE WAS THERE! He did what any real parent should which makes him absolutely brilliant in my honest opinion. Too many people nowadays base their lives on words and not actions.It seems like, nowadays, people can’t even keep their commitments to their own family. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there(including me) who wish their fathers were just like yours…