Dear Dad, It’s so easy to picture you by the grill and telling me to step away from the heat. I can see you cutting the grass, telling me I’m not old enough to do it safely by myself. I can hear you telling me to stay away from your power tools because I’m not strong enough to use them without cutting off a limb or poking my eye out. I can smell the gun oil on your hands, earth on your hunting jacket, and the animals you told me not to look at because I wouldn’t want to eat them after.
Here’s the thing, Buz—I am so grateful to have grown up without an iPhone, or even a second TV, because all those times you didn’t allow me to do stuff, I never walked away. I sat on the stairs, or in the driveway, or on the porch and just kept on watching you. Everything you did—every time you competently moved your own hand or foot just out of the way, figured out how to measure a perfect cut or right angle without a ruler, knew exactly when to take the burger off the fire, or how to put something back together correctly—I had nothing else on my mind other than wanting to be close by to watch a master at work.
You would never have called yourself a master, of course. You were just doing what dads have been doing for millennia and I was at your knee, or across the yard, marveling at how you somehow knew how to do just about everything. Solving problems was your element, and you were always kind of a glorious giant that I wanted to be like someday when I was big enough.
Maybe you worked too late sometimes, but that was okay. Working two and sometimes three jobs was just what your generation did. But you also played hard and in our home, as you were in life, everyone knew you to be Will Rogers, Muhammad Ali, and Andy Griffith all in one.
When you told us stories of hunting and fishing and saving people from burning buildings, we listened. We bought it. We never even considered that some of those stories may or may not have been true. Much like the ashy footprints coming out of the fireplace on Christmas morning looked startlingly like the bottom of your fireman’s boots.
You were more than recliner chairs and the big piece of chicken. You were more than football and dad jokes and watching Clint Eastwood shoot up a composite of archetypal thugs on weekend nights. Home was always the epicenter of You—the ground zero for everything ‘dad’ and infusing our little minds with life hacks before we even knew what those were.
It’s still hard for me to inhale the burn of charcoal, billowing sawdust, cut grass, or Aqua Velva without remembering you, your common sense, and the twilights when the magic-hour sunlight swam through the smoke from your cigarette and the talking began. Hard to imagine a greater hero, really.
Then we started getting older. We realized your cop friend, Pete, could probably beat you in an arm wrestle. We sort of decided that well-done wasn’t the best way to eat a steak. Like all of us, I worshiped you in childhood, ignored you as a teen and, as a grownup, realized that those childhood days were about so much more than fixing stuff or making dinner.
I love that, as a parent myself, I can imagine the perfectly imperfect person you were before fatherhood turned you into a responsible guardian. I am also proud, thanks to you, that I can clean a fish, a carburetor, and a gun. I can only hope my son looks at me with the same awe and wonder just once in a while. And oh, how I wish you could have met him so I could study your face again in that moment.
By the way, you were right about the power tools. Apparently, even at 47, I was still ‘not old enough’ to use them safely. Though you left us when I was 25, I seriously heard your voice the very instant I cut my finger off with a circular saw.
Happy Father’s Day from your loving and careless daughter.