Wednesday, July 1, 2009

That's My Dad

Today is my father's 80th birthday. I say that - I type that - and I know the picture it paints. My dad fits a couple of the stereotypes, I guess. I haven't been thrilled with his driving lately. He has either suffered a major hearing loss or honed selective hearing to an art form. He is not a bigot, but he is not adverse to an ethnic slur now and then - he doesn't understand what the fuss is about - he's not saying anything bad, he's just calling people what they are.


I don't want to talk about those things, though.

That's a generation.

That's not my dad.

I don't want to talk about the ways that he fits the stereotype of someone his age.

I don't want to talk about the Great Depression or the Korean War or any of the other things he experienced as a boy or a young man. Those things may have had a profound effect on who he became, but they are his stories to tell, not mine. Those are stories about a boy and a man, but I want to tell you stories about a dad. And he didn't become a dad until I entered the picture.

He was a teacher by trade. He was not big on long lectures, but he was very good at teaching by example. Here are some of the lessons he taught me:

On Responsibility:
We grew up camping. We stayed in National Parks more often than not. On one particular occasion, we had planned to leave one park early in the morning to head to another. This was far from an unusual event. But on this particular day, when we went to check out, it was so early that no-one was manning the booth. There was no-one to pay. We really needed to hit the road to stay on schedule.

So we did.

We drove off and saw the sights and did the activities that were planned for the day.

When we were done, instead of moving on to our next planned destination, we went back. Back to the place we'd stayed the night before to pay our debt. He probably spent three times as much on gas as the actual bill was, but he was not going to leave it outstanding and he certainly was not going to leave it unpaid.

Me? I would've written a check and slid it under the door. Or maybe I would've written a check at my next destination and mailed it off. More likely I would've waited till I got home and then sent off a check, if I remembered.

Dad? No way. He couldn't have slept with an outstanding debt. He couldn't have slept not knowing for sure if they received his payment or not.

He delivered the cash in person and apologized for taking so long (several hours!) to get it to them.

That's my dad.

On Pride:
One day Dad and I were sitting on a bench in front of a store waiting for my mom to finish shopping. An older gentleman came out of the store and joined us on the bench. The three of us sat there quietly, watching the cars go by. A new van drove past and the old fellow let out an appreciative whistle.

"That is one fine looking vehicle."

"Sure is" responded my dad.

"It sure would be great to be able to drive around in something like that."

"Sure would."

Shortly after that, the old fellow's wife came out and they crossed the parking lot together. I turned to my dad and said, "Why did you say that?"

You see, my dad had just recently purchased a van of that very same model.

"Wasn't anything to gain by it. He would've felt bad if he thought he was envying something I had. Better to let him think I'm in the same boat he is. Besides, I didn't lie. It IS a fine looking vehicle and it IS great to be able to drive around in it."

Well, heck.

He had me there.

I knew if it had been me I would have probably very excitedly pointed out that I HAD a van like that! I would've bragged on the special features and then would've probably even found something to bitch about because - while it was a nice van, it wasn't the BEST van. I would've found a way to be both prideful AND envious.

Not dad. He has no time for either of those emotions. Nothing to gain by it.

That's my dad.

On Charity:
My dad believes in helping those in need. He works tirelessly for his local food bank, so we can assume that feeding the hungry is a goal of his.

Once, on a Christmas trip to New York, we came across a woman sitting in front of the train station. She was obviously cold and did not appear to have the use of her legs. Two small children huddled next to her under a thin blanket. She was begging for money to feed them. My father stopped and took a pack of peanut butter crackers out of his back pack and handed them to her.

"Thank you sir! Thank you! God bless you sir!" she called to him as she quickly divided the crackers up among her children.

I was feeling all warm and glowy over the kindness my dad had demonstrated and was just about to tell him so when he said rather smugly, "Let's see her buy drugs with THAT!"

Cynical charity. Gotta love it. And a lesson learned. While she was asking for money, it wasn't money she needed - it was food. That was the need he met.

That's my dad.

On Being a Teacher:
Dad taught at my high school. Did I have him in class? As a matter of fact, I did. Was high school the worst three years of my life? Yeah, pretty much.

As a teacher, Dad was tough.

I talked to him about it one day when things had gone particularly badly for me. "You know people don't like you."

"I'm not here to make people like me. I'm here to teach them math. I'm never going to be voted teacher of the year by my current students. But look at this."

He took me to his desk and pulled out a worn-looking envelope. He handed it over to me. I read a testimonial from a student who 'hadn't liked him much' in high school but was so appreciative of everything he'd taught him once he got to college. I was astounded. First, that a student had bothered to write this letter; second, that maybe it all WASN'T a great big popularity contest; and third, that my father had kept this letter. That it mattered to him. It would've been easier to go for the instant accolades - easier and a lot more pleasant (for him as well as for me) - but he was going for something more lasting.

Bless his heart.

That's my dad.

On Algebra:
Once you know the formula, you just plug it in and crank it out.

That's my dad.

Happy birthday, Dad. You taught me well.


Housewife Savant said...

Your dad is the Living End.
He raised such a fine girl she can knock out this fabulous tribute.

My dad raised me.
Poor my dad.

Happy Bday Tammy's Dad!

Alex the Girl said...

I loved you saying "that's a generation, that's not my dad." It was a perfect thing to do. My dad is also from your dad's generation, and nothing could be more true.

Amazingly so, your post wakes me up a bit as well. My parents are both alcoholics, but it didn't make them a bad mom and dad. For too many years I let that blind me to that fact that they were, and are, both good parents. This was a real eye opener for me.

Thanks, Tammy.

Lesley said...

what a wonderful post...for an obviously amazing man....Love your dad....Happy Birthday to him....He's fabulous....

Pam said...

Tammy, you are such a wonderful writer. My eyes are all teary reading this wonderful description of and tribute to your Dad. What a wonderful man and role model. He really is a product of his generation. Many men from this generation seem to have these same values and ways of looking at the world. The Greatest Generation. I hope he has a wonderful birthday!

Mama-Face said...

I can guarantee you that you are more like your Dad then you realize.

What a tribute. He sounds like the perfect dad. :-)

Unknown said...

I read this first on FB, and I think it was just beautiful. Your dad is his generation, my dad is too. I think your dad would have been wonderful to know, and I hope he has a wonderful birthday.

Fragrant Liar said...

What a great dad and what a moving tribute to him. My parents have similar generational viewpoints, I'm sure. But I can appreciate how they grew up and still remind them how the world has changed. Hey, my mom recently sent me an email and in it she said "WTF?" I couldn't stop laughing. Happy birthday to your handsome dad.

Sandy said...

Happy Birthday to Tammy's Dad! What a beautiful and loving tribute to an admirable man. What a wonderful role model!

dkWells said...

Happy birthday! Dad's like this keep on giving, even after they stop living.

I want to know his secret, because if that's a recent picture, I want to be just like your dad when I grow up!

Sir Hook Who Tried Not to Be Envious But Failed of Warrick

glnroz said...

Dang girl,, I dont know how I stumble upon this blog.,, but I think you must be one fine daughter. I can spot one,,'cause I got three of my own.. dang girl :) -Big Smile here,,

Jenni said...

This was a lovely tribute, Tammy! Happy birthday to your Dad!

Macey said...

This is absolutely wonderful, Tammy! I love it. I love your dad. Happy Birthday Tammy's Dad!
He sounds like someone I would love to have lunch with. I'd settle for peanut butter crackers, too. : )

Rosa said...

LOVE the cracker story. Vintage Tut. Happy Birthday to him!

Gibby said...

You are so lucky to have such a great dad, and he is lucky to have a daughter like you. This is such an open and beautiful post.

Happy Birthday to your Dad! He's so cute!

Grand Pooba said...

Best algebra advice ever!

Renee said...

That's such a great post. Enjoy the birthday!

the girl with the pink teacup said...

What a beautiful post, Tammy. Simply beautiful.

It's like you took off your 'daughter' googles for a while and took a look at your father as he really is: warm, generous, loving, principled, hardworking, witty and compassionate.

It must've rubbed off.

Happy 80th, Tammy's Dad! The world seems to be a better place because of you.

Claudya Martinez said...

Feliz cumpleaƱos a tu papa! What a beautiful tribute. Sounds like a good man and a great father.