I have an article in Small Town Newspaper today. It isn't on line, so here it is as a belated Father's Day thing:
Father’s Day can seem only half full when your father is no longer living. My father died November of 2000, and since then I have spent this designated day focused on encouraging my children to make the day special for their father and only thinking about my own now and then.
This year, the girls gave their father a gift, and we all spent the day being leisurely and enjoying the occasional sunshine. We relaxed in the backyard for part of the afternoon reading books, chatting about this and that and watching the clouds float by. And in the quieter moments, I thought about my father and what he taught his daughters back when we were teachable.
My father, a hard-working construction worker who would have done well with sons, had four daughters all vying for the same bathroom he used, asking to use his car or painting our fingernails with foul-smelling polish he was sure would cause his lungs to seize.
We fought and whined when he wanted peace and quiet. We often played show tunes on the piano when he would have preferred his beloved southern gospel. And we dated boys he didn’t always care for and whom he didn’t trust as far as he could throw with his burly arms.
My father could have become part of the woodwork in that house full of girls, but he held his own and established a presence. He taught us to appreciate simple pleasures of food and music, and he laughed and loved and was loved.
In times of plenty, my father would cover the kitchen counter with ingredients for his favorite stew and then dump it all into a big pot—beef, chicken and pork; corn, assorted beans, tomatoes, onions and okra; salt, pepper, bay leaves and hot sauce. He would stir the bubbling concoction for hours, and as it simmered and filled the house with welcomed smells, he would sing and do a bit of clogging with his big shoes stomping the Linoleum. At suppertime, with each of us seated before her own bowl, he would crumble fistfuls of Saltines onto his serving, splash on some extra hot sauce and dig in with a spoon and a satisfied grin. “Eat up, girls,” he would say, “It sure is good.”
In leaner times, when my father was laid off from a construction job, he would come home with a box of government cheese or some powdered milk or a bag of rice from the carpenter's union hall. With what he could provide, combined with my mother’s thriftiness, we never went hungry. He loved Twinkies, of all things, and even in the leanest of winter months, he would make sure there was a box in the cabinet as a luxurious sign that we would be all right.
My father grew up surrounded by brothers who each played an instrument, and they spent their evenings on the front porch with their fiddles and banjos, mandolins and guitars (pronounced “gee-tars”). He passed on his love for that traditional music to his daughters, and we learned classic gospel tunes in four-part harmony, Daddy’s bass voice rising up over the rest of us as we stood around the piano.
Because there were no boys around, my father was quick to give us tools and make us do a little work. Not one of us was raised to be a helpless princess, and I knew how to swing a hammer and use a screwdriver by the time I was strong enough to hold the tools. He saw that we carried our load around the house, and he talked about the importance of being able to support ourselves as adults.
My father was not perfect by any stretch, and he tried to instill in his daughters some incorrect views of the world at times; but beyond that, he taught us to be independent, to understand the value of hard work and to be proud in our identities as individuals. It is these ideals I remember most on Father’s Day even as the memory of my father fades. It is what he gave to his daughters that is still as fresh in my mind as it was when we were children watching him make his precious stew.