A Tribute to My Dad
We’ve all heard of legends like Paul Bunyon and John Henry, and Richard Winslow is such a legend to me. I can remember reading The Old Man and the Sea as a kid and thinking that Ernest Hemingway must have known my dad. I could see my dad in that boat, holding tight to a net and not giving up after being in the sun all day trying to catch some fish. My dad’s skin has always been dark and for as long as I can remember, his hands have always been calloused and thick from hard work outdoors.
The following is an excerpt from Hemingway’s famous novella:
“How old was I when you first took me in a boat?”
“Five and you nearly were killed when I brought the fish in too green and he nearly tore the boat to pieces. Can you remember?”
“I can remember the tail slapping and banging and the thwart breaking and the noise of the clubbing. I can remember you throwing me into the bow where the wet coiled lines were and feeling the whole boat shiver and the noise of you clubbing him like chopping a tree down and the sweet blood smell all over me.”
“Can you really remember that or did I just tell it to you?”
“I remember everything from when we first went together.” (Ernest Hemingway 12-13)
I remember being little and going in the boat with my dad and my siblings and they still tease me sometimes about not wanting to be there. They said I kept asking when we could go home, but in my defense I was little and it was hot and I was bored. I remember once getting caught in a bad storm and my dad getting us out of the boat and onto the shore. There was no shelter and it was lightning so he put us in barrels from the boat. Now I can’t remember if he got into a barrel. I really never thought about that until now. It’s funny what our memories keep and what they sift away. I wish I could remember it all. So often growing up, I was reading or doing school work, spending time with friends or going to an Odyssey of the Mind competition. When you have siblings, your parents often have to divide and conquer. Mom went with me to Odyssey of the Mind and my dad went with my siblings to Shooting Team competitions. Growing up is busy but I wish I could have been closer with my dad, spent more time with him, heard more stories, and got more advice.
My dad is tough. That’s one way we are different. I don’t like pain and will avoid it if possible. I don’t consider myself a risk taker and I don’t like danger. People say my dad has 9 lives like a cat, and if you are around him long enough you really start to believe that this is true. There are stories of things he has done that are like wild legends but some of those things I have seen firsthand. When I was in 8th grade my dad got pneumonia and the doctor had to put a tube in his side to drain fluid. I can remember my dad helping to push that tube into his side. It was crazy. Years later when I was in college he was in a motorcycle accident and I drove him to the hospital. He was airlifted and had to get all kinds of bolts and pins in his arm. Lots of them. When it was time for all that stuff to come out, I somehow got lucky to have the privilege to be with him at the hospital and he refused the option of being put to sleep while it was removed. The doctor encouraged him to but my dad said no. He wanted to be awake. Part of me wondered if he was refusing because my parents don’t have health insurance and he knew it would be an additional expense after so many other expenses. I can see my dad laying on that table like it was yesterday. I’ll never forget it. The doctor pulled each of those pins out and my dad’s feet were kicking on that table. Semi-writhing might be a good way to describe it. I knew it was hurting. He didn’t have any pain medicine and yet he never shed a single tear. He never told the doctor to stop. I don’t know how he stood it. Fast forward to last year. My dad was doing what he always does – working – and a tractor battery blew up in his face. The ambulance came but he refused to go to the hospital. It took a while to convince him, but finally he went. I hope I never see anyone have to go through what my dad did. His eyes had to be flushed constantly so they were held open and the water was flushing and going down his gown and he was wet and cold. I was cold enough in that room and couldn’t imagine being in his place. It sounded like the doctors didn’t know what to do as they tried to save his sight and they told us they had never seen anything like it. My dad just wanted to go home and get back to work. Right now he can still see and we are thankful and praying he will always be able to see. Bottom line, my dad is tough, much tougher than I’ll ever be. Although once a doctor did tell me I had a high pain tolerance while I was in labor and my immediate thought was “it must be genetic.”
Most people know that my dad is tough and that he is a hard worker. He will work sun up to sun down on the boat or in the field or both. He doesn’t stop for much and vacations aren’t something I remember a ton about as a kid. My dad always worked to provide for us. Taking care of his family was important. Many people have heard about his annual brown bag Christmas gifts where he throws in our gifts, add some random items like one sock or an orange or sometimes even odder things, rolls the top down and tapes it all over. Just to be specific, I mean masking tape. I don’t know when those famous bags started but I’m 36 and I feel like I’ve never been without one on a Christmas morning.
Some people might not know that my dad is also a storyteller. My mom says he was always telling bedtime stories to my siblings and I and so I give my dad credit for my love of storytelling. When I got my first teaching job my dad was sitting in his spot in the kitchen and he said, “Whatever you do, don’t let them know how much you talk.” I asked why and he said, “If they find out they can get you telling stories, they won’t ever have to get any work done.”
Some people might not know how fierce my dad is in love. He loves my mom more than I have ever seen anyone love a spouse. Now they might drive each other crazy, frequently, but he loves her and she loves him. They believe in marriage and in being a family. A couple years ago I was telling my dad that if my mom’s dreams at night became worse (her Parkinson’s medication often causes vivid dreams and talking in her sleep) he might have to sleep in the bedroom down the hall. He looked at me and said, “I’ll never leave your mama.” My dad is like that. He can say one sentence to stop me in my tracks. I didn’t cry then but I cried later because I know that he means what he says to me. Their love is strong and has withstood changes in life that should have broken them. I can only recall a few times in my whole life that I have seen my dad shed tears but my mom reminded me that, “Being tough doesn’t mean you cannot cry. Over the past fifty years I’ve seen your dad cry an ocean of tears. And more times than not, I’ll admit it was my fault. You try to be strong and hold it inside until your kids are safely sound asleep.”
I remember hearing once that you marry someone like your dad and as most awkward teenagers would react, I thought that was ridiculous. Later I had to admit that, for me at least, that was true. On first glance my dad and my husband might not seem the same but in many ways they are. They are both hard working and they believe that taking care of their family is the most important thing they can do. They are both a bit fierce; strong in what they think and do. They are both very smart and they are talented in more than one area. They both jump in to help in an emergency.
My dad is a fisherman and a farmer and for me, the fisherman part is what I often think of first. He planted that love in my siblings and they were all commercial fishermen, among other things, even my sister. And although I was kind of the odd one out, I wouldn’t trade the summers I worked on the boat with my brother for anything in the world. In addition to being a fisherman, my dad was also a welder who once worked at the shipyard and a local volunteer fireman for 20 years. He’s the guy who came running when I screamed as I watched a car flip upside down and crash into the ditch in our front yard growing up. I watched my dad like you watch a movie. There was no hesitation. He did, and would have done, anything to help that young woman. I was so thankful he was there. There was no blood in that wreck, thank God, but there was one before it (my parents live in a sharp curve) where my dad was covered in blood and he saved that man’s life. There was no time to put on protective gear. My dad just did what needed to be done.
There are stories we know about our parents, and there are thousands more we will never know. There are people who have other pieces of our parents lives we didn’t watch, conversations we weren’t privy to, and things that as children we don’t quite understand or realize. My dad has been a blessing in my life. He always provided for us and I’m sure sometimes that was much more difficult than it seemed. He wanted my siblings to have what we needed, and I know we have all made him proud. He is our legend, and we have grown up to become his.
So many of my friends have lost their fathers much sooner than expected and so I say, the time to do a tribute is now. Don’t wait.