Whenever I count my many blessings, having a good dad ranks near the top. As the years go by, I appreciate more and more the huge influence he’s had on my life, even though he died far too young at only 64.
He served his country honorably during World War II, having seen things too horrific for him to ever talk about after his return. I guess nobody had heard of PTSD at that time, so he must have suffered in silence and dealt with things the best that he could.
My mom and dad wrote letters and exchanged pictures to keep in touch when he was overseas, and when he returned they added to our family and the Baby Boom by having my brother and me. Dad told mom that she would be better at selecting a name for each baby, but it wasn’t long before he gave each of us a nickname. I always thought I must have been special because he gave me not one, but two nicknames that were used interchangeably. Even now when we get together with my cousins, some of them still call me “Tootsie” as my dad did when I was small, but he called me “Susie” all of my adult life.
We lived on a small farm and my dad raised rabbits in the basement of the barn. He sold them for meat, so we were not permitted to make pets of them. He also raised chickens and maintained three large vegetable gardens that we were expected to help take care of when we were older. The vegetables were canned and potatoes were dug and put into cool storage in the fruit cellar to feed our family of six through the winter. Rabbit and chicken provided the meat, and meals were often totally from our own farm. We bought unpasteurized raw milk (Gasp!) from the farmer down the road, and had a diet consisting almost entirely of organic foods long before we even knew what that meant. Dad was so good at providing for us and I remember him telling us to “Always live within your means.” He worked at a carbon factory in addition to farming, and he suffered from black lung because of it.
Each year in August when the blackberries were ripe, dad would hook a two gallon bucket on his belt and set out for a day of picking. I don’t know how he got through briars that were often taller than he was, but he was a top-notch berry picker. I couldn’t begin to keep up with him! My mom made jelly, pies or cobblers with some of the berries, but in a really good year dad would make some of his famous blackberry wine. I remember that the cellar smelled pretty bad when the berries were in the crocks fermenting! The wine must have had a good kick to it because after a glass or two, dad would start singing “Little Brown Jug” – in German as he might have heard his own dad do!
Another thing that always amazed me about my dad was how clever he was mechanically, and how he could rig up a machine from practically nothing but spare parts that he had in the barn. He made some kind of a motorized sawmill when he needed to cut firewood for the winter. He put a wide belt around the tire of an old car that still ran, and stretched the belt so he could hook it up to run a saw blade when the car tire was rotating. I suppose it might not pass today’s safety standards, but it got the job done and he kept his family warm. Unfortunately, I didn’t inherit very much of his mechanical ability!
Dad was ill off and on for the last 20 years of his life, but he still managed to make a garden, although on a much smaller scale. He had lost quite a bit of weight and his wedding ring was loose on his finger, but he still wore it. It fell off of his finger unnoticed in the garden one day when he was weeding, and although he and mom searched and searched for it, they never found it. Dad passed away the next year in March, and mom reluctantly agreed to make a small garden that spring. In June, on our first Father’s Day without dad, my sister was hoeing around the potato plants in mom’s garden when she saw an odd, circular piece of mud. She picked it up, removed the dirt, and cried as she held dad’s long-lost wedding ring.
The best thing our dad ever did for us was to faithfully love our mom for more than 40 years. He kissed her after every meal and told her how good it was; we often saw mom and dad hugging, and these things made us feel secure, in spite of the fact that we witnessed disagreements and spats too.
So many families are being raised by single moms these days, and they are struggling to fill the void left by an absent father. Other families may be terrorized by an abusive dad, and the effects on our society are scary.
Having a good dad is a priceless gift, and I have been blessed with one of the best.