Birthdays are a reminder as you get older…of what you have lost when parents pass on, and how much of what they taught you still rules your life.
February 1st, 2019, would have been my father’s 90th birthday. He passed away in May of 2011. And unless you’re as insensitive as a fireplace poker you cannot fail to reminisce at times like yesterday…as you observe the devastation in the hearts and minds of those left behind. I remember it well, and I’m constantly reminded as I get older and see more and more people go life’s way.
My dad would have been 90, yes, but in many ways he’s still as present as he was when I was a teenager. And here’s why. Despite his absence physically, the impression he left upon me about how to do things is still very, VERY, real. They say first impressions are the best? Dad’s was a constant impression about everything, and every life habit, he shared.
The most poignant was that of work – just plain, hard work. While others played, my dad always weem to be working. On spring and summer holidays you’d find him in his garden – planting, weeding, harvesting. And if a weekend or day off conflicted with his harvest, the harvest always took priority.
You prepared for the unexpected. That’s was Dad’s motto. When others were going to the lake, Dad and Mom were putting vegetables away – canning, freezing, or just making sure that nothing went to waste.
On the hottest days of summer, while others were seeking shade or central air, my dad would throw his saw and splitting tools in the back of his old pickup and head to the woods. There was firewood to be cut, stacked, and dried for winter.
“You get warm twice when you cut wood,” he tell me. What he meant was you sweat when you cut it, and you get warm in February when you burn it.
My dad was the ultimate ant and grasshopper example. Having grown up in the Depression years, he always had that panicked sense about hunger, cold, or running out of money. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s not far from being true. He believed in the FDIC, of course. He pretty much believed that the banks would never collapse again. But just in case…he was going to have everything he needed – cash, food, heat, and cover – if the worst case scenario became manifest.
In the finals years of his life, when he had to live in a nursing home, he had prepared to pay every cent out of his pocket – not Medicare. And he did it, proudly.
I cannot tell you how much of that has carried over to my own life, to the frustration of my own family and countless friends. That same advantage that my dad pursued his entire life – of being one step ahead – has become my own personal mantra. I admit that I don’t have the same priorities as his – I don’t raise and butcher my own chickens – but there’s six cords of wood behind the barn. There’s 30 quarts of sweet corn in the freezer. And there’s this sense of getting up and going to work, regardless of how cold, how much snow, or how bad you feel.
There were a lot of good times with my dad, too. He enjoyed baseball, and he passed that on, as well. He enjoyed hunting, a good laugh, and when he would allow himself the time to travel and see something new he came home and talked about it for a year.
And now that he’s gone, there’s not a day goes by without my thinking of what he would say if he were here. There’s not a day goes by when I don’t think of his influence on my life. It’s why I’m writing this column at 6 am, rather than turning over in bed to turn off the snooze alarm.
He would say, “You really don’t know what the competition might be. It could be where you get your next meal.” And then, he’d go back to work to ensure that it never happened to him.
Some of us lose that influence in life when we lose a parent…like I observed yesterday, and all too often. Days of birth, and days of departure. That’s how it works. Frankly, it kinda’ sucks.
Happy birthday, Dad. And thanks for the advice.