Dad and I with straw bales, Summer 1976 (photo by Mom)
In the leadup to this Father’s Day, I heard a lot of radio hosts asking listeners to call and tell them the most memorable things they got from their fathers, lessons or messages and the like. I’ve given a lot of thought to this, not because I wanted to actually call in and share, but just to try to figure it out. It has been a challenge, and I’ve said to myself a few times that I couldn’t think of anything. I may have come up with two things for sure by now.
The first is the trait we both share of sticking with a job and a company for years and years. He worked for his main employer for 43 years, retiring at the age of 70. I’m just past 27 1/2 years now, and if I am lucky (or unlucky) enough to not be let go or anything like that, when I reach age 67 (the age of eligibility for full Social Security benefits) I will reach 43 years at my employer, too. I’m not exactly climbing the corporate ladder, so it’s purely longevity on my part, same as my dad.
The second was reinforced tonight, after a family dinner. I dropped my Mom off at her apartment and went for a drive in the evening sunlight out to the area where my family lived from 1974 to 1993, in northern Chesterfield Township. We rented a farm there, and my parents had huge gardens. In the photo above, Dad and I are shlepping bales of straw that we used for mulch in the gardens. My parents loved planting and tending the gardens. I loved exploring the weedy fields around the gardens, looking for birds or old artifacts left by long-gone residents. I liked the old farm houses and buildings, the dirt roads, the sounds and smells in the air. I couldn’t have stayed, I know, and yet that environment is such a deep part of my awareness. Several times tonight, I drove by the place where the house stood (it was demolished years ago for a development that was then derailed by the 2008 crash). Later, just after sunset, I pulled off to the side of a nearby dirt road to listen to the birds. Song sparrows, yellow warblers, yellowthroats, and red-winged blackbirds were all part of the evening chorus, with barn swallows zipping through now and then. The birds, along with the low sussurration of the unmowed grasses and weeds in their fields were a fondly remembered soundtrack to my memories. I owe that to my dad, willing to move the family out of the city when he was well into his 60s already to pursue bucolic dreams.