A story about my father

The things I remember about a particular man. The soft quiet demeanor of the unassuming man I called father. There is a quiet eloquence to any mans conduct who is so sure of himself. The sure analysis that needs not be said again to others. Especially when it shows through the surface so easily. My father was that quiet man. His words were sparse to me, and sometimes I felt miffed at the lack of attention. It would seem that this was caused by his lack of having had a living father in his life, but it is more my problem in that I never understood his true message.

My father is a quiet man. I remember riding in the back of the old Dodge Dart violently purple interior. I remember picking up the two-year old Chevrolet Camaro my dad grew to be so excited about. A real work that old 67 Chevy. Loving that car and putting a lot of effort into it my father would carefully wash the car, and then wax it gently. I was never allowed to actually do the work, but was expected to watch with due diligence at all times as the process was completed. The apprentice to the master was my position. I would watch as each coat of wax would be carefully rubbed into the paint by hand. A small section at a time would be completed the soft whorls of wax disappearing in the act of rubbing out the car. The smell of the wax vaporizing to a dry powdery substance would impinge on the act, and drill the importance into my mind. Each layer of wax put so gently on the car was a layer of education in patience, and responsibility.

I remember when I was about five years old. I was looking through the hall closet for some unremembered item when I happened upon a box of neat colored items. The chevrons of black ebony drew my young mind on with heroic hope. The soft glistening patches of red and gold with the upraised dagger in the center hinted at danger unknown. I knew my father was a soldier at some point. The uniforms in his closet were a pretty good hint. These items buried in a closet though were the accouterments of a warrior. When I asked my father about them he told me that it was none of my business. And, soon after that he was discharged from the Army Reserve. His tour of duty as a drill instructor teaching recruits how to survive the nasty jungles of Vietnam was over. It was 1970 and I remember the look on his face as he put his uniforms away. The silly almost whimsical look as he sealed the uniform storage bag. He would not even look at that bag for over twenty years. I stole a few of his chevrons, and a couple of patches to hide in my secret place.

My father while I was at home worked twelve-hour days six and seven days a week. Most of my life I remember more that he was gone, on trips, or to sea, or out to work more than at home. This is probably more the memory lapse of a youngster, but I do know that through the seventies he became a big shot in the civil service. That left him as an expert in his field, and very much in demand. With the demand came a sense of responsibility. He sold the Camaro, and bought a small pick up. I think he almost died when the punk he sold the Camaro to gave it the dragster treatment, and wrecked it within a few weeks. Besides I wanted the Camaro, but I ended up with the truck.

Responsibility was only part of the plan with my father. He said to me once to be a generalist. Don’t get locked into one career, and learn every minute of every day. Look for the new and different in life. So as a family we did. In 1980 we moved onto our sailboat and they lived on the boat for the next ten years. I went off to the Army, Marines, and a life with my then wife but they stayed on the boat. Responsibility tempered with adventure. Sailing around the Puget Sound, Vancouver Island, areas up into Prince Rupert and other destination galore. After my mom got sick though that ended living on the boat, and my dad decided to move off the boat.

The boat was little worse for wear, and my-would-be-ex-wife and I lived on it a few times. But after we moved off the boat it was sold. A new boat was bought, but my dad had little interest in it. The idea of boating had lost some of its magic, and my mom could only help so much. Responsibility took the forefront in his life. The activities he involved himself in took on a more intellectual pursuit. In early 90 I sold him my four-wheeler. A sporty little truck that I loved, but had no need for. For the first time I saw some of that same spark in his eyes that he had with the Camaro. The truck was kept meticulously clean. The tires glistening black. Responsible vehicles for transportation only took a back seat to having a little fun. Then he got cancer.

Well not exactly in that order. First her retired, and then I sold him the truck. Then he confronted his mortality. My father worked in the nuclear engineering field, and was an expert in the main systems involved. No one else was left that could do all of the jobs he did, and when he left the civil service an era in nuclear power ended also. At the time I was riding my Goldwing motorcycle more than driving my truck, and he needed a new truck so I sold him mine. He got a neat ride, and I got rid of the payment.

I knew something was up when they finally told me that he had to have surgery to remove the cancer. The surgery involved removing the lower part of his jaw, and then repairing the damage. Chance of success was not so small, but the mere mention of cancer can be traumatic. The surgery was extremely painful, and the continuing after effects very distressing. With the surgery to his jaw completed he was left with a lisp. A sibilant hiss tacked on to each word, and embarrassing to a man who has a primary hobby of working Ham radio.

He worked through the difficulty though, and with great effort has harnessed his speech almost having to retrain himself to speak again. No one confronts his own mortality and leaves the situation completely unchanged. I see a growing going on behind the shaded eyes, and perhaps a little more mischievousness. The task he sets himself is to enjoy his life, and perhaps expand his horizons a little.

When I visited my father he was so proud of his creation. The small garden he tills himself, growing to the size of the entire back yard, and producing awesome examples of vegetable. Ham radio has an event called a fox hunt, where the seeker looks for a hidden transmitter somewhere in the county, and we went a seeking. It’s hard to say I ever lost my father, but I’m sure I’ve found him now.

Leave a Reply