Friday, June 19, 2009

A Father's Day piece

MARK’S ARTICLE – June 19, 2009

"Gifts for Dad"

I haven’t bought a Fathers Day gift in… goodness, a long time. While I’d love to see my dad again, other than in my dreams, I don’t regret not having to find him a gift. That man was hard to shop for.

When I was a kid, it was hard to find him something ‘cause we didn’t have much money. We had money for Mothers Day, but not for Dad’s Day. You see, a week or two before Mothers Day, Dad always gave Dennis and me a buck or two for Mom. "Here, go get your Mother something nice," he’d say.

And, we did. Here, let me show you something we got Mom back when I was about eight. Right up here. There it is. See? No it’s a ceramic donkey, not a cow! What’s wrong with you? Cute as can be, isn’t it? It’s the only thing of Mom’s I asked for after she passed away.

There were originally two donkeys. One of us musta broken the other while running through the house. That’s when most things got broke. I’m thinking Big Al. The kid had no control. Reckless abandon.

Here on the bottom of the little donkey is printed "Made in Japan." Back then, Japan had China’s reputation for making cra… uh, cheap stuff.

But the donkey made a quality gift. Mom managed to hold onto this till the end. Dad, on the other hand, never got anything good like a donkey. That’s ‘cause Mom never had any money to give us. Her money was for groceries and school fees and such.

So, for Fathers Day, we had to use what little we had in our allowance. Dad never came into our room and said, "Here, boys. Here’s a couple of bucks. Get me something nice for Fathers Day." He would’ve felt like a jerk.

So, Dennis and I would scrounge around for a pair of socks or a cigar or two. Dad loved cigars. He’d sometimes chew ‘em as he smoked ‘em. The man was gifted. You could get two cigars back then for a dime. Dad would act pleased, but sheesh. Two cheap cigars? That’s not much for a dad.

Even when I got grown and had a little bit more money, I discovered that Dad was still hard to buy for. With a few bucks in my pocket, I still couldn’t come up with what to get him. Once I bought a lawn chair. Got him some car wax another year, and a special spray nozzle to wash the car.

The gift I remember most was a coffee mug in the shape of a Campbell’s Soup can. It fact, it looked like a ceramic can of Tomato Soup with a handle on it. I got it ‘cause I thought it looked cool… and it was cheap. Dad used it for a shaving mug. I think he did that just to make me feel good.

Yeah, Dad always gave better than he got. Speaking of which, right behind me is a desk he gave me when I went back to school to be a teacher. He made the desk out of some particleboard and two hollow-core doors. He couldn’t afford better materials. No matter, the desk is a dandy. Dad was a craftsman. The desk is now Kay’s work center where she makes her jewelry. Faris would be proud.

I always took great pride in the fact that I worked my way through college. If you were one of seven kids, that’s what you had to do. It was all Dad could do to feed and keep a roof over a family of nine. However, recently I was looking at my Social Security quarterly statement, the thing they send to let me know what I have to look forward to, and I saw that during the summer right before my junior year of college, I only made half of what I needed for school. Must’ve been the year I had to go to summer Forestry camp.

There’s no way I could’ve afforded school that year. The money had to come from Dad. But, I don’t remember him giving it to me. Over the years I’ve been so proud to think that I did it all myself. It obviously didn’t happen.

All my thoughts of Dad aren’t pleasant ones. Is anyone’s? Dad was a tough disciplinarian. I loved him, but I also feared him. Some of my best and my scariest moments were the result of being with my Dad. I guess he was a paradox… of sorts. Fortunately, it’s the pleasant times that seem to surface more and more in my thoughts and dreams. I think God blesses us that way.

I had so many long and hard laughs at Dad’s expense you just would not believe. I remember one time he came out of the kitchen with a piece of Mom’s chocolate pie on a plate; he raced to the recliner, plopped down, reared back, and that chair toppled backwards. He ended up with his back on the floor, his legs in the air and pie sitting on his chest.

If you had strapped me with dynamite and told me not to laugh… well, you woulda had to detonate me. I couldn’t even wait to see if Dad was gonna be mad or what. I instantly started laughing till I about lost my breath. Dad gave me this Oliver Hardy expression and then started laughing, too. It could’ve easily gone the other way. Sometimes there’s a fine line between a spanking and a shared laugh.

I could tell dozens of stories about the fun times. Like I say, they’re the ones that tend to stick. I can also tell you that Dad was the main reason I’m somewhat glad that Kay and I don’t have kids. You see, I watched that man as he tried to make a home for his family. He gave up so much. He kept a job that he hated ‘cause he was sure he had little choice. Many times he worked two jobs to keep us in groceries.

He told me once that he always wanted to be a writer. It was one of those few blessed moments near the end when he allowed me to really see him. Too much responsibility. Too many obligations. Too little time.

I’m sure that’s the story of most dads. The good ones. The ones like mine. – Hey, don’t worry about the Fathers Day gift so much. Been my experience that it’s the one time that "the thought" REALLY is the only thing that matters. Mothers Day? I’m not so sure. Dennis and I came up with some knockout gifts! Let me tell you.

Favorite picture of Dad.

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  1. Oh Moke, looking at that first picture of Daddy sitting in the lawn chair on the porch brings back so many memories. He looks so good in that picture, doesn't he? And there is either yours or Dennis' bike, probably handed down to Big Al by this time, and there's my bedroom window back there, and I would lay at the foot of the bed with the window opened while the attic fan pulled in the cool air at night, and right there is where I would climb up on the roof and lay in that fold there over the porch and look up at the stars. And the back door... did you know that door did not lock? I mean it locked, but I could open it with a knife. I've had dreams from not too long ago about living there and trying to lock the door before it got dark, and I was at home alone and just couldn't get it locked, so I tried to sleep very lightly so no one would come in and get me. It's weird how looking at that door reminded me of that.

    Good picture, good article, Moke! Jilly

  2. Great article Mark! I feel a little cheated that I haven't been getting these on my blog site, since Rooftop changed the format. Now that I figured it out, I won't miss updates. I thought you'd stopped writing and forgotten to tell me bye. Glad to know you haven't! Write on, Brother!