I’ll bet most fathers wonder, looking back over the years, if their kids ever paid much attention to what they were really trying to teach them. As I’m sure you’ll be able to tell from the following examples, I’ve learned a lot from my father,
I’m surprised, for instance, to see how much I’ve learned about physics. Centrifugal force, for example, is that force that keeps you pinned to the passenger side door while your father rounds the corner in East Boothbay on two wheels, trying to make it to the post office before it closes.
Who needs a sports car when you have a van? (And now that I’ve brought it up, who can overlook the follow up question: Who needs a dump truck when you have a van?)
Another physics lesson involves the time-space continuum. Let’s see, our court time starts in fifteen minutes, it takes ten minutes to get there (in a rocket ship), so technically there is still plenty of time to replant 150 fingerling carrots, wash down a stack of crax and peanut butter, and check for the mail along the way. Of course, there is the small matter of first locating the tennis racquet among the tools in the garage, and then rounding up the tennis balls (perhaps rolling around under the front seat of the car?).
“What time do you have?” my father asks five minutes into the race to the court. While time passes in the world around him, it doesn’t pass at the same speed in my father’s mind. “What are you talking about, it can’t be 12:00 already, we just left the house?”
Then the familiar sound of the engine going into overdrive, and shortly after that you’d better be ready when you hear, “Quick, is there anything coming over there?”
For the uninitiated, the translation of, “is there anything coming over there?” is: “Can we safely roll through the stop sign, coming up in two seconds, rather than waste precious time bringing the car to a stop?” Unless the approaching tractor trailer is, like, right there, the correct answer every time is, “You can go,” because I know he’s already planning on going, and changing his mind at this late stage could get complicated.
The amazing thing is that we always seem to make it to the court accident free and right on time, well, except for the times when we drive right past the hidden entrance. This particular court, you see, is in the woods.
“Did you see it?” he asks.
“Okay, by that question did you mean was I able to detect, while traveling at the speed of light, a subtle break in the foliage that might be the opening of the overgrown road into the woods?” Hmmm. . . no, I didn’t quite catch it, but let’s get the van to do a U-turn on this soft shoulder of sand just before that blind curve in the road and give it another pass, only faster this time because we’re in a hurry now.
The time-space continuum also comes into play with a couple of common phrases you might hear my father repeat.
“I’m just going to run in here and check on something,” for example, translates as, “I hope you brought a book and packed a lunch, because I might run into someone I know who needs to be updated about what I’ve been doing for the past year, including the latest saga about how the power wagon broke down today, right in the middle of a project.”
Here’s another reference to my father’s concept of time.
“Can you give me a hand here for a minute?” That sounds like a simple enough request, but the true translation is, “We need to Billy-goat the terrain and move this colossal pile of rock down to the lower level, without, by the way, any assistance from modern day machinery.”
“You know, I’ve got a power wagon that we could use, but I can’t get the damn thing started.”
No Dad, this would not be the best time to ask me to appreciate the sheer beauty of a house built into a cliff.
Here’s some advice from my father. “You’d better do well in school or you’ll be digging ditches for the rest of your life.” You see, on any given sunny day when my friends were at the beach or playing just down the street there was usually some Herculean project keeping me from wasting my time with the pursuit of leisure. There seemed to be no end to the digging and the rock hauling. We were always wheel barrowing yards of dirt, pulling up roots, or working in the mosquito-infested muck. Of course I would grumble and try to negotiate a lesser sentence, but that only encouraged my father to remind me about how lucky I was to be learning the lessons of hard labor so early in life.
So I did do well in school, but wouldn’t you know; I’m still hauling rocks, pulling up roots, digging ditches, and wheel barrowing yards of dirt. Now that I think about it, my father did very well in school (earning his masters degree) and he was, in fact, teaching school at the time that we were digging those ditches.
“Here, see if you can just muckle on to this,” my father is fond of saying, as if he’s talking about some brief and effortless task. You won’t find the word “muckle” in any dictionary, I’ve checked, but shortly after you hear that phrase you will be hefting an object that no human has ever attempted to move, and then you will be carrying it like a pack mule over treacherous terrain until you feel that searing burn in your muscles. Of course, if the power wagon was working. . .
I have to admit, I may have, once or twice, asked my own kids to muckle onto something, and they will tell you that the scene is not unlike the one I just described.
Once you hear that you have to muckle on to something you don’t have to hear anymore. You already know you don’t want to do it. But you do it anyway because your Dad needs your help, and then you find out what you can accomplish when you work together as a team.
You find out through hard work, determination, and perseverance that you can solve your own problems if you don’t give up, and despite how insurmountable they may seem at first, you can overcome the obstacles that life serves up.
Many times I’ve seen my father reinvent himself as an artist long after most people retire, and he’s still doing it this very day. I’ve seen my father reinvent himself as a father as his children have all had children and it is heartwarming to see how much my children look forward to and enjoy their time with him.
There is a lot to see, if you take the time to look closely at my father, and there’s a lot to admire if you know what you’re looking at. And I must admit, when I look closely at my own life I see my father every day.
He is there when I play basketball with my son in the driveway and my son wants to know how I manage to be such a tough competitor at my age.
He is there on those days when I do whatever it takes no matter how tired I am or discouraged I get.
He is there as I build the stonewall and carve the land into gardens.
He is there where I work when I have to see the possibilities rather than be intimidated by the obstacles.
He is there when I salt away savings for my retirement and my children’s education. He is there again when I make the best of it and move on after these funds disappear in the stock market crash.
He is there to remind me to appreciate what I have and to help me live in the moment.
My father is a character, that’s for sure, but I love that about him just as I love it when my own kids see the character in me. He’s eighty years old today. What do you give a man who’s eighty years old and has everything he wants or rushes out to get it before you have the chance? I know what he has given me, so I honor him today by simply saying thank you.