My Dad is turning 75 years old tomorrow. I have shared a few stories about my Dad with you over the years, but I'm not sure I have really been able to capture his true nature. Or express how grateful I am to have him as a constant presence in my life. So today, I am dedicating this blog to a kind, gentle and very wise man, my Dad.
I always think of my parents as baby boomers, but when I looked it up I realized they are actually part of another generation called the silent generation. Their generation includes people born in the mid-1920's through the early 1940's. This generation was comparatively small because the financial insecurity of the 1930's and the onset of World War II in the 1940's caused people to have fewer children. People born in this generation worked very hard and kept quiet. It was understood at that time that children were to be seen and not heard.
When my Dad was born in 1941, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was serving his third term as president of the United States. It was the same year the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. And the movie Citizen Kane was first debuted. I remember seeing that movie in high school. I know that it was a really significant film, but I couldn't tell you what it was about.
My Dad is the oldest of 13 children. And if you ask him, he will proudly tell you how he walked uphill during a blizzard to and from school every single day. And he is such a responsible and diligent person, I believe him!
He started working as soon as he was old enough to get a job. I know he had a paper route and then he worked as a caddy at a golf course. I am sure he did other things too, but those are the jobs he always used to tell us about. He studied hard and paid for his own schooling. All the way from high school up through his PhD.
Whenever he talks about being a poor graduate student, he gets a glimmer in his eye. He had no money and lived in a really tiny apartment, but it seems like he was happy then. I envision him as a young, curious explorer just trying to find his way in the world. Stretching his dollar by going out for the 25 cent burger and 5 cent beer special on a Tuesday night.
Then my Dad met my Mom and everything changed. Within a few short years, he went from being a single guy on the loose to a married man with four young children. In the early years, he hung out in his office at the University of Windsor and smoked cigars when he wasn't home with us. But that didn't last long. My Mom started going to school for her degree and then she started working too, so my Dad took over a lot of the household chores.
We always joke that my Mom did the first ten years of dishes and laundry and my Dad picked up the next ten. And the next ten. And the next ten. Until at some point he must have realized that my Mom was not planning to take any of those chores back!
When I was in school, I remember my Dad was always around taking care of us. He worked jobs at three different universities, but he arranged his schedule so he could come home in between classes. (Now that I think about it, he was the inventor of work-life integration, long before companies like IBM coined that phrase.) Anyway, he would go off to teach during the day, then come home in the afternoon to make dinner for us, and then he would go back out to teach more classes at night. No one worked harder than my Dad, and he never complained about it.
As we grew up to become teenagers, and eventually young adults, we were graced with a few pearls of wisdom from my Dad. Especially when it came to boys and dating. All of his experiences being raised with sisters came in handy when he started watching his girls enter the dating world. Back then there were no cell phones, so anyone who wanted to talk to us had to call the main house phone. If we went out to the mall, my Dad was on duty to pick up any messages. And we would call him from a pay phone to find out if anyone called us.
One of my favorite things my Dad taught me about guys is that there is no such thing as negative attention. He loves to tell the story of how his sister (my Aunt Betty) would talk to a guy on the phone so politely with her sweet voice, even when she was turning him down for a date. Then she would hang up the phone exclaiming "Ick! Why does that guy keep calling me?"
For my Dad the answer was simple. If a girl pays you any attention at all, a guy walks away with only one thought: "She wants me." And whenever we would come to him and complain about some guy who kept bugging us, he would shake his head and remind us of that very simple rule.
As I grew older and moved into adulthood, my Dad started observing my life from more of a distance. Sometimes a short distance and sometimes a longer distance. But he has always been there. Usually he doesn't say a lot, but over the last few years I have found that if you sit down with him one on one, he actually has quite a bit to share. And I am always taken aback by the simplicity and wisdom of his words.
A few years ago, I was complaining to him about turning 40 and he told me how he felt at his 40th birthday party. I remember that party because we had it at Farrell's ice cream parlor. My Dad wore a bright yellow sports coat and we all shared the most massive ice cream sundae you have ever seen. He told me that he felt amazing that day. And then about two years later his body started to fall apart. I can totally relate because that is exactly how I feel today.
I have also gotten to see my Dad as the most amazing grandfather to my six nieces and nephews. I never had children, but if I did, I know I would have loved to watch them with my Dad. As you can imagine, babysitting all those kids every day can be pretty stressful. But my Dad always remains calm. I once asked him how he manages to do that, and he shared a story about his Dad (my grandfather, who passed away many years ago.)
He said that my grandfather was also a man of few words. So right before his wedding, my Dad purposefully sat down with his Dad and asked if he had any advice. My grandfather looked at him and simply said: "Have patience." My Dad said he didn't think much of that advice at the time, but years later he realized how wise my grandfather really was. And it must have stuck with him, because my Dad is the most patient person I know.
And he is always supportive. When I quit my job, I am sure there was a part of him that just shook his head and thought "What in the heck is this girl doing?" But he never said anything like that. Whenever I come over to visit, he always asks what's new on the job front. And then jokingly reminds me that it's pretty easy to get used to the "retirement lifestyle."
I am so very lucky to have my Dad in my life. He would do anything for his family and he has demonstrated that in so many ways. So today, I hope you enjoyed getting to know him a little better. He is one of a kind. And that's too bad, because the world could use a lot more people like him.
Happy 75th Birthday, Dad. I love you.