It’s a sunny day here at the cottage. I’ve been sitting on the beach watching my kids play and thinking about the fact that Father’s Day is coming up this weekend.
I decided to write and tell you what it meant for me to grow up with you as my father. The highlights of my childhood were all those times that you carved out of your busy schedule just to be with us.
I remember sitting close to you on the sofa every Sunday afternoon, listening to “The Shadow” and “The Green Hornet” on the radio. And when the shows were done, we’d roll around on the floor or pretend sword fight with the cardboard centers out of coat hangers. One Sunday afternoon you must have made a hundred airplanes of every conceivable design. Then we colored them together and flew them all around the house for hours.
Terry and I knew you enjoyed those times as much as we did, and because of that I’ll never forget it. I want to be with my kids in the same fun way.
Then there were the things you would make and do for us. You built a swing set out back on 27th Street. Nobody we knew had swings like that — steel pipe welded together and cemented in the ground. I still remember going with you to Max’s junkyard to get the pipe; the smells in the shed of oil and rust, the thick dust on everything. The swing set is still there behind the house, 30 years later. We drove by it on vacation and showed our kids what Grandpa had made for us.
Another memory I have is sitting in the sawdust on the concrete floor one summer morning watching you turn the garage into a bedroom for us. You knew how much we enjoyed playing shuffleboard, so you tiled one in for us to play in our own bedroom. On that specific warm day, I remember handing you the nails. The Milwaukee Braves were on the radio (I can still hear the sound of Earl Gillespie’s voice). Suddenly you’d stop hammering… Eddie Mathews or Hank Aaron had hit another home run.
Now my boys hand me the nails and screws. I know what they’re thinking. They’re proud of me, amazed that I can make things take shape the way I do. I learned it from you. They want to grow up and build things; I can see it in their faces. And they love to work with me just as I did with you.
You were always teaching us important things, too. In sports, you demonstrated not just the skills to play the games, but the right attitudes toward others and how to treat them fairly. Competition is good, you explained, but winning really isn’t the most important thing. What I teach my kids now, the words I say in encouragement, the way I show them how to hold the bat, all are echoes of your voice coming through me. That’s how I learned to love good play. I hope that I can give your brand of patient, enthusiastic encouragement to my own kids.
How many times did you lie on the floor and let us stand in the palms of your hands, lifting us high in the sky? “Don’t look down,” you’d say. “Look straight ahead.” Then you’d flip Terry and me off your knees and over your head, again and again, until we were so dizzy we couldn’t go on. I’ve never come up with better tricks to do. My kids are all crazy about being flipped. They think I’m great, but I got it all from you. I feel like a funnel through which your good fathering flows.
I have other memories, too. I can almost feel those frigid mornings on the Mississippi, slipping along the top of the icy water in our aluminum boat, heading for our favorite small-mouth bass lake. Remember the day we hit that big bass with our propeller?
When I’d get a backlash after a bad cast, you’d let me fish with your pole and reel while you worked on mine. And sometimes I’d foul your reel before you even got mine untangled. You’d just remind me then of some things I might be forgetting to do. I remember the look on your face when we’d drift along the calm surface of the lake as the sun peaked up over the horizon. I love the outdoors because you loved it and showed us your feelings and about the beauty of it all. You taught us to value God’s creation.
This morning, Jason caught a pretty good walleye from the shore here before breakfast. I thought he was going to lose it a dozen times, but he finally dragged it in. You can image the look on his face as he held it up for us all to see.
Gabriel has fished for hours without a bite; but he doesn’t seem a bit discouraged. I used to stand at the end of the dock at Balsam Lake and just as I see him doing today – patient, steadfast, cast after cast, fishing on into the night. The mosquitoes make no difference at all. There is a lot of you in me, and a lot of me in him.
So many images are coming back. When I was little, I would sneak into your room at night, slip under the covers, snuggle up close to your warm body and sleep with my head on your powerful arm. With a father this strong and warm and close, who could ever hurt me? How could I ever be afraid? Now I know why my kids want to hold my hand, and why they like to sneak into my bed at night and sleep with their heads on my arm.
Dad, you gave us your life — everything you had. I pray that I will be able to give myself to my own children in the same way. If I can, Jana, Jason, Joshua, and Gabriel will grow up to teach their boys and girls what it means to love, passing me on through their lives the way I have passed you on through mine.
I wish you the very best Father’s Day! With all my respect and grateful love,
Your Son, Tom