I’ve thought a lot about my dad lately. I’m not sure why, maybe my age. My dad has been gone forty years. Honestly, we didn’t have the best relationship. This, I have come to realize was my fault. I left home with my righteous, teen age attitude as soon as I graduated high school.
As I sort through old photographs, some to share with you from time to time, I have gotten to renew my relationship with my father.
My dad was born in 1909. He would have been one hundred years old this year. It was a different time. Values were different. The first pictures of him are of a boy wearing knickers, sitting between his two sisters. Virginia, his beautiful, younger sister on his right and on the left is his older sister, Helen. The photo shows Helen with long cork-screw curls and her hair held back by a big bow. They are not smiling. There is another picture with their mother holding Virginia on her lap, my dad on her right, and Helen standing on her left. They are not smiling. You can tell that at age nine, my dad did not want to be sitting for the photographer with his baby sister, Virginia, and his older sister, Helen.
There are pictures of my dad wearing well made outfits when he was ten or twelve years old. Then there is a big space in time where there are no more family pictures. His father (my grandfather) died of pneumonia when my dad was just twelve years old. His father was a judge, a respected member of the community. The one picture I have of my grandfather shows a stern looking man with a big, handlebar mustache. I’m sure the loss my father felt with his passing was profound. Nothing would heal the wound his father’s death caused.
At age twenty my dad awoke to newspaper coverage of the death of Virginia, his baby sister. The newspaper article described a young woman who died from blood poisoning as a result of an abortion gone wrong. I can only imagine the devastation my dad felt losing his baby sister. The news coverage crushed his family.
My mom and dad were married and then in 1941 I came along. The pictures changed. There is a picture of my dad walking with a friend laughing in Honolulu dressed in his khaki uniform during WW II. Another of him smiling, holding me at age four while dressed in his black Navy dress uniform. I vaguely recall his homecoming and the gift of my little chair that he made for me.
The pictures change again. He is an older man in these. He is helping me learn to ride a bike in one. He is at the beach with my mom in another picture, and then the three of us on an Easter Sunday. They are all smiling pictures. How could I have missed that?
The later pictures I have are yet again of a much older man. He is broken. Alcohol addiction has him in its grasp. He was sixty-three when he died of a stroke.
It has taken me over seventy years to comprehend the fact that he had been unable to fight off his demons. It turns out that he was a good man and a good father. If I could I would love to spend a couple hours visiting with him to ask questions about his life.
For example, what was the name of the ship that he was on in the South Pacific? Why didn’t he continue with his engineering degree at the University of Iowa? Where did he learn to ride a horse? What were the circumstances to cause the bad scar on his arm? I would want to know what his dad was like. Questions.
For sure the one thing I would ask of him would be forgiveness. I would ask him to forgive me for the countless times that I judged him. I am humbled when I think of how righteous my young person was. It’s so easy to see someone else’s faults. I would put my arm around him and tell him he was a good dad and I would say, “I love you Daddy”….