Thursday, July 23, 2015

He's Not Like Other Dads

The student union at the school he led is named after my parents.
Identifiers are blocked to thwart stalkers.
I've mentioned before how very fortunate/lucky/blessed/pick-your-PC-adjective-of-choice I was in my growing-up years. I didn't realize it at the time because at first I was a little kid and little kids are notoriously oblivious to this kind of fortune, and then I was a teenager and teenagers are notoriously teenager-y.

I mean, living on a farm was pretty much the worst, especially since we were isolated by a 10 p.m. curfew when our friends' cruising of Mill Street was just getting going at that hour. And what about having a father who didn't hunt, golf, smoke, cuss or have a cold beer after a long day in the hay fields? It was as if we were living in a convent, except that we had to get up early to do chores.

But deep down my four siblings and I knew that in spite of the curtailed social lives and conservative lifestyle, there was something special happening in our family. We had a mother who was brilliant and compassionate and talented and the best cook in the world, a woman who believed in us beyond what was reasonable even as she was telling us to wash our face because it would make us feel better.

Then there was our dad. I've talked about him before, how he grew up setting his alarm at 4:30 a.m. so that he could milk cows on the family dairy farm before school. How he needed his parents' signatures to enlist in the Navy at age 17 and served in the North Pacific during World War II. How he was a scrappy teacher who built a passion for education and a conviction that everyone should have a chance to make a living into leadership of an award-winning technical college. How very, very proud he is of his five children and what they've made of their lives. How much he loves us.

Last Saturday the people in the tiny town where he grew up and led that technical college honored my father as the very first recipient of a county-wide community service award. At the gala celebrating the award all five of his children and all but two of his grandchildren were in attendance--27 direct descendants.

We heard a parade of speakers talk about my father's accomplishments. These speakers went back to his first year as a teacher, when my father required all of his vocational agriculture students to participate in speech contest. This, the presenter said, started him on his own lifetime of community service by giving him the courage to stand in front of people and present his ideas. Other speakers described my father's faith and spiritual leadership, his work in community service groups, his encouragement of young people in having the courage to put feet to their dreams.

Then Dad got up to accept his award. At 88 he is quieter in groups than he used to be--his hearing is not what it was, and ambient noise eats up group conversation. But behind the podium, he is still an articulate and compelling presence.

"I am humbled by this," he told us. "It doesn't seem right to get an award for doing things I like to do."

We teased Dad that this was kind of like being at his funeral without needing to feel sad, so I will add my own word of eulogy:

My father didn't hunt or golf. He didn't smoke or drink or cuss or encourage others in those habits. All he did was aim high, work hard, and enable others to do the same.

He's the best possible dad and I'm lucky to be his daughter.

1 comment:

  1. So very sweet. You ARE lucky and blessed, and he is, too.