Things My Father Taught Me
Its coming up on our birthdays’ and I’ve been thinking about my dad a lot. “Bill Sr.” was born October 15,1922 and died October 16, 2008. I was born on the 16th. We were two peas in a pod, me and him, and I really can’t think of any better day for him to die. Although I am absolutely certain my mother looked down on us, shaking her head, and said “OH BILL.” Anyway. Those are our days. October 15 and 16.
My dad was a modest man who was serious when serious was warranted but to be honest, serious applied pretty much only to death and the military. He had the misfortune of burying two sons so pretty much any day when no one died was a damn good day. He was an honorable, stoic, generous, kind, respectful and funny man. Trustworthy to a fault. Devoted and loyal to his family. Loved by (almost) everyone he met.
He smoked. When he “quit” smoking he took up a pipe. He had a Manhattan at 5:00 every night, watched the news at 6, silenced the family when the weather came on.
He came home from work every day at noon, had a sandwich and bowl of soup, lay flat on his back on the living room floor and had a nap with a transistor radio playing in his ear.
He called my mother Scotty. He called me Squirt. He didn’t get mad very often but when he did, well, let’s just say that’s where I got my bad temper from. We always had a dog and he always walked said dog. Morning, noon and night.
He left for work at 6:00 in the morning 6 days a week. He had a sod farming business with 13 farms, a gas station, a retail nursery and an underground irrigation business. He was a member of the Rotary Club, founding President of the Nursery Sod Growers Association and an avid photographer. He sat on the Board of my high school and ran the Grounds Committee at his shooting club. He maintained 100 acres of green space below our house. He got up every day, had a plan, executed the plan, and came home in time for drinks.
When the “local kids” smashed a bunch of his Christmas lights, he hunted them down, brought them over with their fathers and made them clean up the mess. No extraneous words were spoken when he taught a lesson. No histrionics. No drama. Straight to the point and move forward. Not one to look back at the past that guy. We all make mistakes. Own up and move on.
He was the dictionary definition of an “outdoorsman.” He fished, hunted, skied, chopped down trees, built fences and bridges and benches. He had a nice looking log pile and a neatly trimmed hedge. He mowed the lawn and blew away the snow. He never failed to blow the drive of someone nearby who might need it.
He figured out how to blow the snow away in exactly the right way so that the snow plow didn’t later block up the end. He planted and tended our gardens. The man was a wizard with a weed whacker. And a chain saw. He got up at all hours to make us an awesome ice skating rink on the front yard. He planted reflectors early in the season so he didn’t accidentally damage the lawn edges in the winter. He placed a tennis ball in the garage so my mother, sister and I could park properly. He kept a garage that always allowed two cars inside. Always. He was so pleased with himself the year he got my mom a garage door opener for her birthday so she didn’t have to get out anymore and open the door.
He LOVED a good prank. Like the time the neighbors dog came into our garage and stole the leftover turkey that was chilling on the freezer. He called them and said “We have 15 people coming for dinner and your God damn dog just stole our whole turkey.” Of course when said dog arrived home with a carcus they were mortified. My dad laughed for a week.
He fixed our snowmobiles in the garage, with a cigarette dangling from his mouth, right over the gas tank. He’d make me come out and help him. “Hold this right here” or “hold the light.” We never blew up so I don’t know why my mother got so excited. To this day the smell of small engine oil and gas makes me think of him.
My dad taught me to be an early adopter. We always had a new (used) snowmobile, the newest generation of TV, or cable box. He loved his “toys.” We had an Apple computer back when they weren’t cool, was on email all the time and kept track of how much rain we got in a spreadsheet, as well as how many raccoons he trapped and relocated. Man had a gameboy that he kept in the car so he could play Tetris while my mom was in the shop.
He taught me to be curious. As he got older and was dependent on his scooter, many of the neighbors took to calling him “the inspector”. He rolled up on every outdoor project in the ‘hood and never left without offering a comment. He taught me to ask questions. Of anyone. Just walk right over and ask. Why not? He taught me to talk to strangers. Good way to pass the time. You always learn something new. He also taught me to think the best of everyone you meet, which came back to bite both of us when we have to shake off the weird ones.
He taught me to travel. To never turn down a chance to go on a holiday. He had an annual ski trip, hunting trip, fishing trip, and snowmobile trip. And we still managed to get away as a family. He went dove hunting in Cuba and arctic char fishing in Frobisher Bay. He went anywhere he was allowed to go. He caught smelt and cleaned them in the garage. He hunted geese in Calgary and brought those home too. He taught me to stop and look around. To enjoy the experience. Drink it in. What a wonderful world we live in.
After my mom died, as I was about to leave on a trip, he told me, “if I die when you’re away, don’t you dare change your plans and come back for me. I’ll still be dead when you get home.”
He taught me to be a leader. We gathered the whole block on our front lawn every Saturday and went snowmobiling for the whole day. We cooked out for lunch and gathered for chili dinner afterwards. He was always the lead snowmobile, my Uncle Doug always the rear. He waited for everyone and watched out for problems. He broke out the old “block and tackle” when anyone went through the ice or got stuck.
He loved a fresh snowfall that one. Pure joy.
He taught me that skill is important. Especially when it comes to shooting or skiing. He took great pride in his skeet shooting and hunting skills and the man was a beautiful skier. Fantastic. It was a heartbreaking day when his doctor told him he had to stop at the age of 68.
I thought about him today as I was in the midst of an accounting day. He used to sit me down at the kitchen table and try to talk to me about math and finances. I’d cry. Every time. Too frustrated to get it.
If he knew I was sitting in Muslim country (“what’s a Muslim?”) doing accounting with 3 different accounts and 5 different currencies he would laugh out loud and shake his head. “Way to go kid,” that’s what he would say.
Just in case you aren’t getting the full picture, there was the day my dad “evaded” his caregiver Margaret, got on his scooter and went “below the brow.” (a.k.a. into the woods). Margaret was panicked when a biker finally came up and said “is that your old man down there, he’s turned over and stuck in a ditch.” Bless that nice man for getting on dad’s riding mower and going down to give him a tow. Dad arrived back home, covered in mud, in his pajamas, giggling his ass off.
If he knew my sister had just been to visit Africa, rode a camel and held a baby goat…
If he knew my niece was raising 2 kids on her own and doing a spanking good job of it. ..
If he knew my nephew just got his first professional job and had been to Europe for a month…
If he knew my niece was heading up her hockey league and smart as shit when it comes to money…
If he knew my nephew was a camp director. That my great-nephew is in the cadets. That the D. Black family is full of travelers…
If he could see us now…..he’d be so proud.