Monday, June 20, 2011

Dad - Before and After Me


Happy Father's Day to all of you - those who are dads and those of us who have dads. There's nothing like a dad, but it's also true that our dads weren't always dads. They used to be boys and then young men looking to the future, trying out their wings, finding their independence. This picture is my dad on his motorcycle long before he became my dad. The year was about 1931 and he was getting ready to take off across America all the way to Oregon.

What a way to see the country! What a way to say I'm ready to be on my own now. His mother wasn't happy with him. I've never heard anybody say what his father thought. Maybe that he wouldn't make it. That he'd turn around and come home before he got a hundred miles down the road. Or maybe he was proud of him for wanting to do something a little daring. Or he might have been worried he'd never come home. Lucky for me, Dad did come home and meet my mom some eight or nine years later. 

But that trip was Dad saying I'm old enough now to do what I want. His parents weren't happy about it, but he went anyway. All the way across country on a motorcycle. I've always thought I got my grab hold of a dream or goal and keep on keeping on spirit from my mom, a very determined woman. But now that I think about my dad and this trip, I'm seeing he had plenty of that perseverance and focus too. He wanted to go, so he did. And all his life, it was something he looked back on with pleasure and pride. Riding by the Grand Canyon. Nearly running out of water in the desert. Eating nothing but cantalope for a couple of days because someone was selling them cheap by the side of the road. So many adventures.

I look at the young man in the photo above. That was before I was even a thought he might imagine. He was young, footloose and fancy free and he took advantage of that.

Years later when he was almost forty, I came into his life. His last child after two other daughters. I remember the motorcycle. It sat in the corner of the garage for all my childhood years. Dad didn't ride it. I think it needed repair. But he kept it for many years. A symbol of freedom. Of independence. He finally sold it and I think regretted the sale almost immediately.

I can't imagine what it must have felt like for a farm boy like Dad who had probably never gone farther than Louisville (about 60 miles from here) to just take off. To shut his ears to his mother's pleading for him to give up such craziness. My mother remembers Dad saying his mother even offered to give him money she'd hid away for a rainy day if he would stay home. In her heart it was storming for sure.

Now I wish I could hear more of Dad's stories about the places he went on that motorcycle. I wish I knew the Dad before there was me. And I wonder if my children ever wonder about the girl before the mom. I think that's sort of what we all want - for our loved ones to see us as we see ourselves. Unique, one of a kind, our own person. 

That's what writers need to do with our characters too. To know them is to breathe life into them. And some of them are fathers. Like Victor in Angel Sister. Victor was a yearning to be better father in spite of his flaws and troubles.

My dad wasn't perfect either. But then who among us is? But he was a good dad and he surprised some people by buying a motorcycle and heading west. Maybe himself most of all.

Hope you had a good dad who made your life richer and better. What's one of your favorite things or memories about your dad?

4 comments:

  1. I come from a broken home. My mom divorced a man whom I thought was my dad when I was 11. I met my biological dad soon after that. The man I consider Daddy, though, is also an ex-husband of my mother's. They were married when I was 16 and divorced six years later. However, my kids call him granddad and he's the one I turn to when I help or advice.

    My husband never met his biological father. His mother and grandfather were his father for all of his life. However, despite not having a "real" dad, my husband wants to be the best dad possible. Of course he's not perfect; as you say, who is? But his effort is there and our two children (girl, 9 and boy, 13) adore him, so I think he's doing something right.

    My daughter loves hearing my husband and I when we were younger. I think it's important for us to share with our children when we were younger. Of course, it's hard for them to see us as anything BUT Mom and Dad...so the stories are especially exciting.

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  2. I think our kids do enjoy hearing stories about us when we were young. I know my grandkids enjoy hearing about their dads when they were kids.

    And your life story shows that being a dad is more than having a child. The dad in many children's lives is a stepdad or granddad or loving brother/friend/uncle.

    So glad your husband is the kind of dad who is a blessing to his (and your) children.

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  3. You forgot to mention about the night he slept by the side of the road and his little blanket was too thin for the night air and he took his trusty hatchet and cut a fir tree to sleep under. He always said it was true, and knowing dad, I suspect it was.

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  4. I didn't know that story, but I'm glad I do now. I asked Mom if Dad told her many stories about his trip out west, but if she knew any, she has forgotten them now. I'm sorry I didn't sit down and ask him more about that trip and other things about when he was young. So many lost memories.

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