My father is currently retired. My sister still lives up in the same area as my parents and my niece is the same age as my daughter (now over a year old, that one month between their birthdays doesn’t make all that much of a difference). Because my father is retired, he is often called upon for child care duties.
One of the stories my Mother likes to tell about Dad is that when my sister and I were kids, my Dad missed out on all of the ‘baby things’… first steps, little mannerisms, and the attempts at communications… because he was working so much. So now that he is experiencing it all with my niece, it is really an eye opening experience for him.
The thing about that story is that I don’t remember my Dad working so much, or at least not so much that it felt like a thing. At worst, I remember that his return from work was sometimes used as a threat for bad behavior. “Just wait until your father comes home!” What I remember is that my Dad was constantly enabling some sort of play for me and my friends. He built the sandbox in the back yard. One winter he also created a skating rink back there. He would shovel the snow into big piles so that we could build snow forts. When it became obvious that I had two best friends, he went to his workshop and made wooden swords for all three of us so that we could be the ‘Three Musketeers’. I also have fond memories of late summer nights playing badminton in the back yard.
He was also the person who taught me some hard lessons. I was an emotional child. Through first and second grade my memory is that I came home in tears pretty much every day. It probably wasn’t that often but it filled my head with a victim complex. One day, as part of a snowball fight, I ended up ‘getting pushed’ under a line of pine trees that were still laden with snow. A few branch shakes and all of that snow came down on top of me. This was within view of our house but not in an obvious way… through the back yards of several neighbors. So when I came home in tears again, my Dad had seen it and called me out on it. Did I get pushed or did I let myself get led under those trees? It was a fair question and though I adamantly denied it at the time, I really was the kid who let himself get pushed into the line of fire because my personal narrative was that I was the victim.
My Dad is also a man of incredible willpower. I wasn’t the healthiest of kids. As a child I had terrible seasonal allergies which eventually grew into full on asthma. There came a season where both he and I ended up with ‘walking pneumonia’. When my father went to the doctor, he was informed that if he continued on smoking that he would die. In retrospect, I don’t know how hard it was for him to quit smoking but I can’t imagine dealing with the cravings was what you’d call easy. But after that visit with the doctor, my Dad quit smoking and never touched it again. I have not had an asthma attack since I was 18. I don’t know how related those two facts are but I owe a great deal to my father for that gift.
My freshman year in High School, my dad threw his back out. He had been working in Hardware for pretty much most of my life. He was moving some large appliance in the store when ‘pop’ went his back. He was out of work and on his back for a long time. Close to a year if not longer and even after he was out of a job. I don’t really know the specifics but I always got the impression that there were some shady things that his old job did to get around some workman’s compensation laws. In the end, my father walked away and started over.
It can’t be easy to leave a career and start over in a new one but that’s what my Dad did. He switched to computers. He got himself A+ certified. He learned the machines, and he started from the ground and worked his way up from peon to piloting help programs for the stores he worked in. It is the kind of thing that I can really only appreciate the magnitude of now that I am 15 years into my own career.
Now, with two kids of my own, I can often hear my Dad’s voice in my own when I’m dealing with my own children.