Sunday, June 20, 2010
At 43 (when did THAT happen), I realize I look at my time with my father as more of a series of snapshots than a continuum. Maybe it's part of the natural acceleration of time, Einstein's relativity at work. I remember fishing with my Dad, going to the local lake to cast for pike and bass, but ending up with sunfish, then trying to convince myself they tasted good. They don't, but my father never discouraged me. On this, I wish he had.
I remember when my brother and I were about eight, in a time when kids owned the streets and could actually be outside without checking in every 30 minutes. There was a group of teenage bullies who took my brother and me by surprise while we were riding and grabbed our bikes, then threw them into a stream. They laughed and chased us away. We walked home and told my dad, because if Dad couldn't fix it, the world was broken for sure. He piled us into the family car and we drove over to where the bullies were still sitting. I never saw my father move as fast as when he set upon those kids, nor have I seen that kind of fury. He picked the two of them up and literally threw them into the stream to retrieve the bikes, then made them apologize to my brother and me. We never saw them again.
I remember playing soccer and running track in high school, and though my father worked a lot in those days, there were times when he would just show up, often at away meets. I was an average soccer player at best, but I was something of a standout in track. One day my father showed up for a match against Palmyra, and I had the best run of my life, anchoring the 4x400 and catching a guy who had about an 80 yard head start. I was so proud my father saw that, and though he probably doesn't remember, the fact that he was there is what keeps it with me today.
One day, he took my brother and I to work (this was before the whole Take Your Kids to Work day) I was about 13. He was building the Fort Dix high-tech military simulation center, a place where soldiers could learn the finer points of using the Army's latest weapons in a simulated environment. Think: video game where you actually get to sit in an M-1 Abrams and laser site an enemy tank. One of the simulators was an M-16 firing range, and my dad asked my brother and I if we wanted to shoot it. We're young teens and your asking if we want to shoot an M-16...um...YES!!! He instructed us to keep both our eyes open, showed how to hold the weapon, how to squeeeeze the trigger. My brother was pretty good, then I got on it and hit the target at the farthest range, popping the target with multiple body shots. I was feeling really proud of myself when Dad said it was time to go. My brother and I asked him to ry before we left but he declined. Still, we begged him and whined and he relented and said he would. My brother and I chose the farthest target for him, naturally. I never thought of my dad as athletic or powerful, but he picked up the M-16 with a natural fluidity, shouldered the weapon with the grace of a big cat and squeezed the entire clip, one shot at a time, into the inner circle of the head at the farthest range. Then he placed the weapon at rest and said, "Okay, who wants some ice cream?" The whole affair took less than 4 seconds but I think it took my brother and I another 4 days to pick our jaws up, to reconcile ourselves to the fact that our father, a normally gentle man (bullies notwithstanding) had the capability to be a stone-cold killer.
When Mrs. Fish and I got engaged, my father went out and bought a tennis bracelet to present to her at our engagement dinner. It was one of the most thoughtful things I have ever seen a man do, and for his kindness I am eternally grateful. Being in my family is certainly not easy, but my dad made the effort that eased that transition for Mrs. Fish to become part of the family.
There are a million things my father taught me, showing me how to drive, change a flat tire and change the oil (there was no Jiffy Lube back then); how to bait a hook, catch a fish and gut it; how to season (less is more with good beef) and grill a proper burger; how to mow a lawn and how to maintain the mower; how to shine my shoes...and why it matters (the first thing a woman notices are your shoes); the importance of being on time; how to fix a bike and lube a chain; how to be a Boy Scout and make a Pinewood Derby winner (I still have the trophy, Dad); how to paint a room; and a thousand other things, besides. But most importantly, Dad taught me the importance of being a father myself, to not take it lightly, and also, frankly, to really enjoy being a Dad. Thanks, Dad...for everything.