Praise God for the blessing of fathers and fatherhood.
Looking back, I always thought John Wayne movies were interesting, but didn’t really understand why so many people were so impressed by the John Wayne character. Years later, likely at some point when I was in the Army infantry, I realized my father was a whole lot like John Wayne– he was (and is) true grit, day in and day out. If he was the talkative big word type, he would have taught us to say “perseverance.” I thank God for my father and the fundamentally “male” things he always sought to instill in me and my siblings.
If I only had a dime for every time he said as a matter of course, “No Whiners” and “Quit Whining”, which worked as an answer to many questions and situations, particularly questions where there was no answer. There were myriad subsets of the “no whining” theme as well. Some were fairly creative. An “I’m hungry” spoken between meals would almost automatically elicit, “Go knock your chin against the table and you won’t feel so hungry any more.” If it didn’t involve arterial blood or bone protruding from the skin, the answer was typically “Quit your belly-aching.”
When I went out for freshman football, I asked my dad for help in practicing tackling. He grew up in Germany playing another type of football. We went in the backyard where we figured the best practice would be for him to charge at me head on with the football, kinda like a goal line stand, but without helmet or pads. I learned three things: why football players wear pads, particularly helmets; what it’s like to lose a head on collision, and how fleeting consciousness can be.
Soon thereafter my dad was hired as my highschool’s first varsity soccer coach. I eventually switched from football to soccer. Growing up through grade school, like most other kids, I thought my dad was a giant. Smelly at times, but still, a strong giant and hands made of iron. By my senior year in high school, I had by then several years of being taller than him — nearly 8 inches taller, though I’m not sure I weighed much more. Toward the end of my senior year of soccer, when Dad entered the fray of a varsity scrimmage playing for a shorthanded opposing side, I thought I could bump or check him off the ball. I knew my height would give me leverage and I made some boisterous claim as I rushed in to bounce Dad off the ball. I did have leverage, for a moment, and quickly learned two things: a hip check does nothing to impede an elbow upwardly swinging at a high rate of speed, and despite the coolness of the then ever-present Michael Jordan tongue wag, having your tongue between your teeth and hanging out of your mouth was a bad idea in contact sports when someone else’s elbow shuts your mouth. He kept the soccer ball and I lost whatever propensity I might have developed for trash talking.
I remember my Dad working 55 hours a week in a tool and die shop my entire time growing up, with two weeks vacation each year. I had no idea what that meant until I tried it for one summer. That summer of labor guaranteed that I would graduate from college. I also learned from observation the true grit necessary to be a blue-collar worker for decades.
He’s not afraid to let you know that blood flows thicker than water and that family always comes first. I only saw him fight once. When I was a trouble making teenager with a drivers license, one of my friends in the back seat apparently looked cross-eyed at another car. The car followed me home and a very large, belligerent man jumped out and began shoving us around, apparently looking for a fight. If he didn’t outweigh me and my two friends collectively, it was close. He was big and fortunately loud. Within seconds, my Dad was outside. He explained that I was his son and politely asked the man to leave. Unfortunately for himself, the big man declined the invitation and instead become more belligerent as he advanced upon my much shorter father. That lasted less than a minute before his attitude drastically changed and he retreated to his car to hastily depart, apparently unappreciative for the flavor of my father’s knuckles at high rates of speed.
My Dad was 5′ 9″. He claims that he’s now 5′ 8″, but I think that’s a bit of a stretch. He’s lost over an inch. And that happened fairly quickly. In his 50s, he was practicing motocross with my youngest brother. He overshot a jump at too high a speed on his KX500. Actually he overshot the landing — and came down on the back side of a hill instead of on the top. His back wheel floated out too far in front so he landed on the back of the motorcyle with the 225 pound bike on top of himself. I wasn’t there. As I recall it, my little brother didn’t have his driver’s license yet and Dad didn’t want him to worry, so he eventually got back on his feet. Drove his bike back to his truck. Loaded it and my brother’s bike and drove a good distance home. The next day, when the excruciating pain hadn’t subsided, he went to the doctor to find out he shattered a vertebrae. He’s shorter now. True grit.
I remember being the tallest kid in my class but being a fairly rotten basketball player. I remember playing basketball with my Dad, who was also a much shorter fairly rotten basketball player. I took a shot that was so far off the mark, I had to tell you it was a shot and not an arm spasm that inadvertently shot the ball into space. I also remember how, after Dad finished laughing and I continued to glower, he used that time to laugh and teach me the importance in life of not taking yourself too seriously and being able to laugh at yourself. Of course, I had a lot of source material, still do, and it was a valuable lesson I never forgot.
There are so many things I remember about my Dad teaching me about life. Hardly none of it was scripted or didactic lessons, instead, they were lessons, mostly spontaneous, derived from living life and spending time together. The best communication he showed was the time he took to be with and around us. Dad was always there when we needed him and still is.
True grit. True lessons. True love.
Praise God for fathers who invest themselves in the lives of their children.