I’ve been thinking about my dad this week, because he died just before Thanksgiving, seventeen years ago. My old-fashioned Dutch dad was a stoic, hard-working farmer. I can’t remember my dad ever telling me in words that he loved me. Neither was hugging done in my family in those days. He had signature sayings like, “Life is for the living,” “If you don’t work you don’t eat,” “All I want is cooperation!” The Webster’s dictionary defines the word stoic as, “a person who can endure hardship or pain without showing emotion or complaining” The word fits him perfectly.
My dad could often be a stubborn man. It was his way or the highway. He demanded that we work on the farm, and you never skipped church unless you were in the hospital. But I respect the qualities which made him so much more.
Love was shown in many ways other than words. One of the earliest remembrances I have of my dad, was of him pushing me in the swing. The tree which held the swing was on his way from the house to the barn. No matter how busy he was—if I was sitting in the swing it happened the same way. I just had to look at him. Being the youngest of six, and a girl too. . . when he walked my way he took the time to give me a few pushes. I giggled and said, “Push me higher!” and he did.
A very early memory. . . when I was about four years old, I played with a neighbor boy, whose family rented a house from my dad. Ricky told me it would be fun to knock out the windows of a chicken coop as he handed me his extra stick. It seemed dangerous but exciting to hear the crash of dozens of square panes exploding on the concrete. Soon, the deed was told, as everything was in that country neighborhood. I stood in the back porch of our old farmhouse with my head down as my dad told me not to play with that boy again. I don’t remember my punishment, but I certainly obeyed him.
When riding with a girlfriend in high school, we got in a bad car accident. A farm implement scraped the entire side of the car, cutting out all the windows on my side, leaving most of us completely covered in fine shards of glass. My dad arrived at the hospital before we did. His presence spoke loudly.
My teenage girlfriends and I just had to go to the Easter Sunrise service way out in Bentheim, after a huge ice storm. Instead of allowing any of us to drive, my dad drove us on the thick ice at six o’clock in the morning. On the way up the hill in front of Randy Klingenberg’s family farm, the wheels just spun. He instructed us all to push the car, even in our new Easter dresses, nylons and heels. We had a lesson in determination.
When I was a young driver, backing out of the parking spot at home, I drove over one of my beloved farm cats. I ran inside crying to my dad. He calmly told me he would bury the cat. When he thought I wasn’t looking. . . he put the cat in an old feed sack and brought it way out in the field, making sure to bury it beyond where I ever walked so I wouldn’t see the spot.
I never had an official curfew time in high school, but one time I was extremely late as I tip-toed past his bedroom door. As I crossed that irritating creak in the floor that could not be avoided to get to my bedroom, my dad simply said, “it’s awfully late.” I always tried to get home earlier after that.
One of the few times I saw him show emotion was when my sister Audrey died at age eighteen. At one point during that first awful day, he took off in his old jalopy pickup that we called the “Sanford and Sons” truck. Gravel flew as he sped out the driveway and down the road. No one ever knew where he went to grieve the sudden unexplained loss of one of his daughters. It scared me. I never saw him drive fast or behave in that way. When we gathered in the living room a few weeks later, he announced what would be written on her gravestone. “In youth and love she sweetly rests.” Dad said so, and that was it.
In college, I dated a guy who I thought I could change and then we’d have a dreamy life together. One time, while I was home doing laundry on the weekend, dad came in and sat in the kitchen near me. He nonchalantly said that the boy was not a good influence on me and was a little “different.” I knew everything at that age, but thank the Lord my dad made me consider the cost.
Certain sayings of my dad are forever family keepsakes. Like, “Ya got that too yet then!” “If there’s food ya eat it, and if there’s not food ya don’t complain either!” My sisters and I still jokingly repeat them.
When I began dating my husband, he greatly approved of him, saying he was a reliable, hard worker. Dad sure was a good judge of character. When he stuck out his elbow to walk me down the aisle, it wasn’t a “tearful give away my daughter time.” He said something like, “OK, is this how I do it? Let’s go.” So funny, I loved him for that.
Grandpa K. always loved to sit and hold my babies. He didn’t talk to them but just wanted to hold them. Later he took my boys to the John Deere Days, or had them up on the roof shingling with him, so proud of those two little blondie-boys. I’m glad he lived long enough that they know who their grandpa was.
It was “my” Saturday to have dad, after his stroke. He was sitting in his wheelchair near me while I was doing my household chores. We began discussing my younger years. Usually, his speech was hard to understand, but he told me plainly, “Yes, those years weren’t good were they? I’m sorry they were tough on you,” with moisture clouding his view. On rare occasions, I could perceive what was behind those olive-colored eyes.
The last five years of his life were very difficult for him but I never heard any complaints. My dad lived a full life, traveled all over the nation by car, tirelessly worked on the farm, and loved to mix with people every chance he had. Abilities like driving, walking, dressing, bathing, and finally talking, faded. His dignity was stripped away from him in painful shreds.
Many years back, when my husband and I built our house in the country, my dad and stepmother gave us money to buy a special tree. We chose a Red Bud and it grew in tandem with my boys, for fifteen years. Every Spring we enjoyed bright purple buds right outside our living room window. First, the boys played under it with the dog, then mowed the lawn around it, and later it was the background for their prom pictures.
My dad had a series of strokes over a five-year period and went on to his reward in heaven when our boys were ten and thirteen years old. The Red Bud tree was a symbol of him, so it bothered me that we couldn’t take it along with us when we moved into town. One Spring day, my dear husband drove in with a Red Bud tree to plant in our new yard. As it changes through the seasons, it reminds me of my dad. It’s outside the living room window behind my mom’s piano.
Do you have a story about your dad or a special male mentor in your life? I’d like to hear about it.