Today is the 7th Fathers Day since my Dad died but not a day goes by when he doesn’t enter my thoughts in some way, however briefly. My Dad had the ability to enjoy things in a childlike way, which could annoy me at times but, I came to appreciate it as a special gift he had. He loved Christmas the way a child does, not for the religious meaning but, for the food, gifts – especially gifts for him – music and decorations. He loved his birthday and thoroughly enjoyed celebrating it – in fact; he celebrated it starting on the actual date, May 3rd, all the way through to Father’s Day!
I’ve been thinking a lot about my father’s influence on me and, the influence of fathers in general. As a girl, and an only child, I was a “Daddy’s girl”. I don’t mean that in the icky way it has come to be used because my father didn’t spoil me or fulfill my every whim or dote on me in an unhealthy way. Even though he could enjoy himself like a child I always knew who the grown up was! As a young child I loved to spend time with him. He made a little seat for me on the front of his bike (this was in the days before children’s bicycle seats and safety helmets!) and we would go for long rides all over town and out into the surrounding countryside. He told me I liked to go to the railroad tracks with him and watch the Flying Scotsman go by and, even though I don’t remember that, I have often wondered if that was how I became enamored with trains. To this day, I love to watch a train go by or hear the lonesome sound of one in the distance late at night. Dad used to tell me stories and make me laugh or cry, depending on the plot. He was fun to be with. He liked to sing and whistle and seemed to always be happy. He gave me a love of animals and taught me much of what I know about taking care of them.
I always felt safe with him and never doubted that he knew everything and was always right. I’m sure most children feel that way about their fathers and its hard when you find out it’s not true – Dad is just a flawed human like the rest of us – but, I can remember the exact day that happened for me. One day, when I was nine, I found out that Dad was not infallible. He took me to the home of a friend of his and there was a dog behind a fence at the end of the driveway. I loved dogs and was never afraid to greet them, even those I didn’t know, but this dog was barking directly at me and I started to feel nervous because I thought she had a mean look in her eyes. Dad knew the dog and was talking to her as we approached. He told me not to be afraid and he opened the gate. The dog seemed to fly past him and attach herself right onto my arm! All I remember is the movement and the flash of teeth. Dad yelled at her and had to kick her to get her off my arm and she flew through the air again. I had a bad bite that required 13 stitches. It was a deep, jagged scar because a piece of flesh was actually torn out. I didn’t know it at the time but, in hindsight, I realized that something changed for me that day – besides the appearance of my arm. Somewhere in my young mind the seed of knowledge was planted that my Dad couldn’t protect me from everything and he wasn’t always right.
My Dad was a good man in so many ways but I don’t make the mistake of idealizing him in death beyond what he was in life. He was a loving father but, once I passed childhood, he was uncomfortable with physical demonstrations of affection and he didn’t verbalize his feelings very well. He used teasing or humor to express his affection but, as a teenager, I was often hurt by that. He wasn’t one to offer compliments or flattery and, in fact, could be so bluntly honest at times as to be insensitive. He didn’t say “I love you” to me until the last year of his life when he was in the hospital, but I never doubted it for a minute. In fact, it is through him that I learned that it doesn’t matter how often someone says they love you if their actions say something else. It’s a shame that I didn’t appreciate his honesty and integrity more when I was a young woman but, ironically, I have matured into a person who is a lot like him. Personal freedom and personal responsibility are very important to me. Like him, I detest hypocrites and phonies and can usually detect them a mile away. I abhor false flattery but I do try to temper my honesty with more tact than he did. I can express my feelings when I choose to but, at times I hide them behind humor. Dad was always confident and comfortable with who he was and didn’t care about the opinions of others and, although I spent too many years struggling with that, I did finally reach that acceptance within myself. Overall, my father influenced me in many positive ways and I recognize that many of my best characteristics are from him – I just wish I had a little more of his childlike ability to enjoy life! What good things did you get from your father?
I’m enjoying some fond memories of my Dad today. If you still have your father be sure to give him a big hug and kiss and, if not, spend a few moments remembering the good times you shared with him – for some that might feel like a challenge but remember, even in the most difficult relationships, there are moments of love. If you’re a father be sure to create those moments of love for your children to remember when you’re gone.
Happy Fathers Day!
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