I’ll have to warn you, I’m feeling a bit melancholy about Father’s Day. In the last two months, I’ve known three men who have died – all fathers (two grandfathers). All taken before their time. Cancer, heart attack, aneurysm. I’m starting to believe in the phrase “only the good die young.” All three of these men were the kind of people who would go out of their way to help you out. The most recent of these deaths was a high school friend who leaves behind a wife and four very young children.
And then there’s the fact that, every Father’s Day for the last seven years, I miss my own father.
My youngest daughter was two and a half when my Dad died. I recall that as I was putting her jacket on her to leave the church after the funeral, I told her we were going back to Gram’s house. “But Poppa’s not there,” she said, in the very matter-of-fact voice of a two-year-old who is just verifying what had happened and what she could expect going forward. She would not see Poppa there. Not at the church, not at the house. Not anywhere. “No. Poppa’s not there.”
Dad knew a lot of people. Not only because throughout his long career he owned several small newspapers across Minnesota, but he also had a passion for the small, ecclectic community of letterpress operators across the upper midwest. He had grown up hand spiking type in his father’s print shop on the dusty plains of North Dakota and, when he retired, he went back to his first love - the letterpress hand press. He taught others who wanted to learn, too. When he died there were a few newspaper articles written about him in various publications. It was interesting to see how people outside our family remembered him. There was more than one of his business associates and letterpress friends who said that he was always a family man first. That, at the end of the day, you knew that what mattered to him most was his family.
As the owner of the weekly newspaper in the burgeoning town where I grew up, he was a busy guy. But I always remember him (and my Mom) having time for us kids – all eight of us. I recall one particular softball game that happened to be on deadline night for the newspaper. Dad stopped by the game and stayed as long as he could but he had to get back so he could put the newspaper to bed. He left money with the coach so she could buy the whole team ice cream cones at the A&W right next to the ball field. I still chuckle when I recall my mystified teammates saying, “but we lost the game!” They couldn’t figure out why Kitty’s Dad would buy them a treat when they had lost the game. As if they somehow didn’t deserve it.
It didn’t mystify me one bit that my Dad would do that.
Dad was a gentle, reflective soul. He read voraciously and he loved poetry. Some of my earliest memories are of him reading Abou Ben Adhem or Jenny Kissed Me by James Henry Leigh Hunt in his low, rhythmic voice. A family favorite was Little Orphant Annie by James Whitcomb Riley. He delighted in children – one of the biggest smiles I ever saw on his face was when a little one at a store one day around Christmas time mistook him for Santa. In the child’s defense, Dad definitely looked the part at the time, with white hair and a white beard.
Dad with my daughters just a few short months before he died.
And he doted on his grandchildren. When he was going through cancer treatments, we all knew that he was the kind of man who was prepared to die. I think he felt that he had lived a full, fortunate life and if it was God’s will to take him then, so be it. One day, when it was my turn to drive him to his treatment, he said that all this running about for treatments, “seems like an awful lot of trouble for one guy.”
But missing seeing his grandchildren grow up was probably the thing that pained him the most and that he would have hung on for, if he could have.
I know I’ve mentioned before on this blog that I’m a late bloomer. And in this, as in all other areas of my life, I’ve been slow on the uptake. It’s been more than seven years and I somehow feel like it still hasn’t hit me that he’s gone. Sometimes I’ll have dreams about him that are so real, I wake up and it takes me a minute to remember the reality.
But, I think the blessing of a man like my Dad is that the passion and love with which he lived his life leaves a mark and a legacy. I know it’s cliche to say the people who are important to us – who loved us and who we really loved – never really leave us. But I think for some people it’s more true than others. People who could be larger than life without being the loudest person in the room.
That’s the kind of man my Dad was and I miss him not just because of what he meant to me but because of what he meant to my family, his grandchildren (even the ones he never got to meet), to the people he mentored over the years and the ethos in general.
So Happy Father’s Day to my Dad and to all the Dads (like Pat, Al and Gary) who made the world a better place and were taken from us too soon.