Sunday, June 21, 2009

Dear Ol' Dad

I have a great dad.

I remember him cutting pieces out of a tire and making us a swing. We’d squeal when he did “underdogs” pushing us high so he could run under the swing. I believe he had as much fun as we did. He’d push until he couldn’t anymore, and then he’d fall in the grass laughing. Staci and I were pretty little then; when we moved from the house with the meadow and tire swing, I was five years old and they were building I94 in our backyard.

We moved to “town” and dad built a new tire swing. There was no meadow though and we were getting taller. It wasn’t as much fun to do underdogs until Scott was born, so dad made other fun. Every Saturday we went outside and “cleaned” the garage and family car. At least dad did. We got really dirty doing whatever it is kids do outside on summer Saturdays. I’m pretty sure those Saturday cleaning sessions led me to believe girls don’t actually have to clean or fuel the cars. It’s a boy’s job. I’m still fairly certain it’s part of the unspoken marriage contract. I guess that’s why I have to call people to bring me fuel every now and again.

Dad taught us how to ride our bikes in the bus yard in that space between our family home and the bus sheds. I don’t remember my own learnin’ as well as I remember Staci’s. I was riding the red, white, and blue bike with the banana seat, and dad was trying to get Staci to ride the distance from door one to the end of the garage. It was the only place with concrete surface rather than gravel. He was running behind shouting encouragement and she kept turning to check that he was still with her. Her pigtails hit her in the eyes and tangled together. She was so afraid he’d trick her – and he did. He kept running with her even when she was “doing it”! Yay, Staci!

Years later, he gave his all to teaching me driving. While I make an outstanding professional driver, on my own time… well, I hit stuff. Dad knew me well enough to know my mind is more often in heaven than here on earth, but he wanted –desperately – for me to be a practical driver. He refused to let me take steps to get my driver’s license until I could drive his three wheeler in circles on the dirt, shifting up and down, without spitting gravel. I thought I was ready much sooner than he did. He just sat in a lawn chair, enjoying a beer on the warm summer day, and motioned me to keep going and going and going. It’s all good; I can drive a manual transmission with the best of ‘em. The hitting stuff is a problem. The first chance I had to drive solo was homecoming 1985. When I backed out of my parking slot with my gaggle of friends, I hit the car next to me. My seventh grade science teacher’s brand new red something or other didn’t look so brand new after that. Dad just shook his head.

I remember dad on my wedding day. I was being my bossy self, making sure all my peeps were going to flawlessly perform their assigned tasks. Dad was being his silly self when I was trying to get his attention for our third practice procession. “Dad!” Still being silly. “Dad!” Gritted teeth. “Dad!” He suddenly turns, grabs my arm, and drags me down the aisle – much to everyone’s amusement. The next day when it was time to actually walk down the aisle, dad wasn’t ready. I had to tug him. All silly deserted him and he maybe wanted to delay that walk just a little bit.

Not all dads make good fathers-in-law. Mine does. Joe was working at the company in the summers since the late 80s. He was always a hard worker, and my dad has fearsome respect for people who have a good work ethic. Shortly before our wedding in 1991, dad said, “So, Joe, think you’d rather sell ambulances or hearses?” Joe was grossed out by the thought of driving the used hearses, so he picked ambulances. The two of them went to Indiana to check out the ambulance factory and enjoy a couple other bonding experiences. Joe’s been selling ambulances for 18 years now.

“Grandpa” is, I think, dad’s favorite moniker. He fell in love with my boys at first glance, and they adore him. I remember dad sitting at his desk holding fat little Jakob. To every passerby who gave them a glance, he’d say he was just enjoying his “Jake-brake” as he gently stroked Jake’s arm or cheek. As Jake grew, they found they really loved to do belly rubs. We’d know it was belly rub time when we heard the hearty laughter coming from dad’s office. Dad’s continued building relationships with the boys even into the teen years. He enjoys attending their sporting events. He still thinks he can wrestle with them. Having heard me yelling “Don’t hurt Grandpa” since they were little, they don’t hurt him. They don’t let him win either. Whoever “wins” on a particular day is the one sitting on top of the pile. I guess it’s the whole bonding-like-bear-cubs thing all over again. Still, I’m not sure it’s only the laughter that makes dad breathless these days.

Perhaps the most difficult thing I ever had to do was call my dad the morning of our fatal bus accident twelve years ago. About a month before our accident, we’d received a call from our peers in Elk River. They’d had an accident with an empty bus and a truck. Dad and I jumped in his pickup to go offer moral support. Half-way there, I noticed his hands shaking on the steering wheel and asked him if he was okay. “You just never have to worry unless it’s a train or a truck. This was a truck.” That image – his hands shaking on the steering wheel – consumed my consciousness as I called him to tell him about the truck that hit our bus. I knew I needed to tell him we’d suffered a fatality before he heard it on the news. As I sat at my desk sobbing, someone’s hands on my back for comfort, I made that call and listened to my dad gasp. I knew he was crying with me.

My dad suffered in his marriage as another victim of my mom’s addictions. Yet after reading my blogged letter to mom, dad came to me. “Should I have stopped it? Could I have? How could I only see what she did to me? I’m sorry I didn’t do something, Kari.”


As a wedding coordinator, I hear the Corinthians definition of love often. It’s a favored second reading at weddings:

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is
not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not
provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in
unrighteousness, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all
things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never
1 Corinthians 13

I couldn’t find a better description of my dad.

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