4. Owed to Dad

This is a special Father’s Day post. The regular Apple Hill Cottage posts will resume next week.

Dad died in March. He was 90 and until he was about 88, he was healthy, happy, and still playing golf. The last year wasn’t so good and the last few months were bad. He had always been a handsome-looking man and never looked his age. He spent his life outdoors–owning a small natural gas company and working outside and playing golf and mowing most of the 3 acres where we lived. It’s surprising he didn’t get skin cancer earlier.

Dad had dark hair, but his skin was fair and freckly and his eyes were blue. All summer long he had either a sunburn or a farmer’s tan.

This is the first time in over 50 years that I haven’t struggled with what to get Dad for Father’s Day. It was really hard when we were kids. As we got older, it didn’t get much easier. After he retired, he started reading, so a good new novel was always appreciated. He liked those yellow golf balls–he said he could see them better–although he always shot so straight he just had to walk down the fairway to find his ball. He had lots of golf shirts and lots of sweaters and handkerchiefs in his drawer that were still in the box. If he wanted something, he just went out and bought it. Usually right before his birthday…

He was a kind and generous man. I didn’t always get the kindness part when I was younger; that came later. He was stern with his daughters, and he had a deep, scary voice. But I always knew he was generous. Every Christmas there were an amazing amount of presents, and I remember Mom saying, “It’s your Dad who buys all these presents!”

I remember Mom laughing once, saying to a friend, that as soon as she had that third daughter, she knew she would have to learn to sew. Mom made almost all our clothes, and they didn’t look homemade, either; she was good–pantsuits (they were In then), prom gowns, skirts, dresses–the only clothes we bought were sweaters, blouses, and coats. So we didn’t go shopping very often, and Dad almost never went shopping with us. But once he did. We went to South Hills Village (that was when malls were new and going was special) to get winter coats. I don’t know why Dad went along, except it was evening; it must have been Friday or Saturday night. Diane and I were in high school and maxi-coats were the big fashion rage. I found one I loved and looked at the price tag. My heart sank. Dad said, “Try it on.” It was black tweed with a black fur collar (back before PETA…) and then he said, “You can get it.” Then he looked at Diane and told her she could get one too. Hers was bright red. (Nancy, you must have gotten something; he was always careful to treat us all equally.) It might not seem like much now, but I remember being overwhelmed that he let us get these expensive, beautiful coats.

He would always pay for dinner. You couldn’t get around it, and you couldn’t ever try to treat him. Once on his birthday–Sept. 14th–Michael asked the waitress for the bill before we even sat down at the table. Dad was furious at Michael; and I think it was only a month or so after we had gotten married. Michael stood his ground; he said, “Sam, I will let you buy every meal you want, except on your birthday. I will not let you buy your own birthday dinner.” Dad was mad at him for a couple of days, but he never fought us about that again.

This picture makes me smile every time, so I just had to put it in. Look at Daniel’s expression in the background…

I won’t say we always got along. He was hard to live with sometimes, but aren’t we all? Isn’t it awful that we act the worst to those people whom we love the best? We had some rip-roaring fights back in the late sixties, early seventies when I was a hippie with radical politics (who me?) and Dad was a conservative business owner. People who knew him well, knew never to bring up the PUC (Pennsylvania Utility Commission) who made his work life miserable by regulating the little guy out of the gas business. Oh my goodness, he would rant…

Once we had an argument about vegetarianism–I was considering it and supporting it–he threw down his fork and shouted “Cows were made to be eaten. They wouldn’t be here if we hadn’t bred them for it.” His argument did make sense, and I never again brought up how much grain they ate and how we would all be better off if we ate lower on the food chain. And son Casey–a lefty–is probably permanently scarred from Grandaddy trying to teach him how to hold a fork correctly…

He mellowed as he got older. When we were kids, I only saw him cry once–at his own dad’s funeral–but as he got older, he cried all the time. At first it was disconcerting. And it might have started after Mom died; I can’t remember. Maybe he just hid it well from his kids. I DO remember that he would never watch sad movies with us. We would all be sitting down in the basement sobbing over some tear-jerker movie (Imitation of Life with Lana Turner) and he would come down for five minutes, laugh at us, tease us, and then go back upstairs. Mom said once that he just didn’t want to cry along with us. At the time I thought she was way wrong, but she knew him better than we did…

When we were growing up, Dad wasn’t around much. Mom was the glue. After I left home, when I would call, if Dad answered the phone he would say, “Hi. How are you. Here’s your Mom…” He was of that “Greatest Generation.” Quiet, stern with your children (and your nephews), the disciplinarian. I don’t remember Mom saying “Wait until your Father gets home,” but we just instinctively knew it… But we also never doubted that we were his cherished, loved daughters.

When I got older and could think about such things, I always felt bad that he had only daughters. Here he was, a man’s man, stuck with girls. I think probably he was disappointed at first, but he got over it and taught us all to play golf. He was also the one who helped us with arithmetic homework (many tears) and gave us driving lessons. (That’s another story…)

Dad liked to be in control–of his family, of his money, of his work, of his life. He certainly didn’t want to have any of his daughters taking care of him. It was an issue as he got older, and especially those last months. It was a doctor who convinced him, and I will always be grateful to Dr. Martin for that conversation. Right before he was admitted to the hospital with a broken hip, Dr. Martin asked him what his plans were. Dad shrugged, and I said, “I wish you would convince him to come to my house.” Dad did his She Has Her Own Life and I Don’t Want to Be a Bother routine. The doctor listened and then spoke passionately about family. The ties we have to each other. The love and care we give to each other. He looked right at Dad and said, “If she needed your help, wouldn’t you want her to come to you?” Dad nodded. And it wasn’t an issue again. He came and lived with us for the last three months. And now we get all his junk mail. Thanks, Dad!

When you’re sitting at your father’s bedside, and you know he’s dying, it’s important to remember those things you want to say. About three weeks before he died, his pastor visited on Wednesday, and the hospice chaplain visited on Friday. Those were important days because we reminisced with one who knew him when he had been younger, and with the other who didn’t. And suddenly in conversation it came to me what I knew–what all of us sisters knew–but I, at least, had never shared with Dad. “You know, Dad, ” I said. “When Mom died we were all angry. But I look back and now I know that God’s purpose in that was so your daughters would have a closer, better relationship with you.” He looked at me for a long time. His sight was failing pretty rapidly, but I know he was seeing me. Thoughtfully, he said, “You just might be right.” I hugged him and we cried. It was really one of the last good conversations we had. I’m thankful for it.

I spent one day, after he died, by myself at his apartment going through the little stuff–his drawers, his books, and I found a card I had made him one Father’s Day sometime in the early nineties. I had just read an Ann Landers column in the newspaper where she had encouraged everyone to write a letter to their mother and/or father and just tell them why you love them. ‘Don’t worry about fancy wording and don’t buy a card. Just write it in plain language,’ she wrote, ‘and I guarantee you’ll find it in their drawer after they are gone.’ She was right. There it was. I remembered struggling over the words. But when I read it again, so many years later (through my tears) they were true.

So thank you Dad, for the kindness and generosity and compassion and love and honesty and good values and work ethic that you always modeled for us. See ya later, alligator…

Here are some favorite pictures:

Dad helping Casey work on his swing.

Wedding photo, 1949.

Grandads are great for tractor rides!

Dad and Amanda napping

Mom and Dad on a dock. This might be on their honeymoon.

Dad and Aunt Ruth on their back porch on High Street ca. 1925.

Dad and Aunt Ruth at Lauren’s wedding. This was the last time they saw each other.

The kids and grandad

4 thoughts on “4. Owed to Dad

  1. It’s all true. We have been forever blessed by his quiet legacy. I hope everyone reads this, it’s wonderful 🙂

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  2. I waited until today to read this, knowing it would be a wonderful tribute. I would add that we NEVER ONCE heard a disparaging, unkind, or sarcastic remark towards or about anyone from him. Only recently have I realized how amazing that was.

    Thanks Carol, for the good and honest memories. The bad ones are already fading.

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  3. Thanks guys for all the good comments. It was hard to know when to stop. Nancy, I love the phrase ‘quiet legacy’. And Diane, you’re right–it IS amazing that he spoke ill of no one — you know he and Pa didn’t always get along, but to their credit we certainly never ever knew it!
    Maybe a part 2 near his birthday…

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