My mom has a picture of my dad taking a nap on the couch. I'm three years old and lying on top of him using a pink floral print towel that used to protect the piano bench as a blanket. I love that photograph because it reminds me of my dad's tender moments. Living adrift on the estrogen ocean -- four daughters and my mother -- my dad spent many free hours in his woodshop.
Can't say I blame him.
My daughters ask me what it was like growing up with Grandpa George as my dad. He can come across as a gruff fellow who doesn't show a lot of emotion, and that description isn't inaccurate. It is, however, a shallow description.
Here are some things I think best define my dad. (BTW: His name really isn't George, but that's what he called all the grandkids so the grandkids grew up thinking his name was George and it stuck.)
I remember climbing onto my dad's back and getting horsey rides up the stairs on his way to bed. He worked a rotating shift so every other week; he went to be "with the chickens" because he had to work at 5 a.m. Other weeks, I wouldn't see him at all because he worked until after 11 p.m. and was still sleeping by the time I went to school.
Every day, he ate the same things: Raisin Bran for breakfast; meat and potatoes for lunch; his lunchbox was always packed with two butter and jelly sandwiches, fruit, cookies and a thermos of coffee.
He's been known to only put one food on his plate at a time. This is quite different from my mom who insists on eating meat with her dessert. (ick)
At Christmas time, he would always say "Humbug," but my sisters, my mother and I still make off like bandits. He was impossible to buy for (still is). I think it's a reflection of how he enjoys giving more than he enjoys receiving.
He works hard. With his bare hands, he built the house in which my sisters and I grew up. He later made most of the furniture in the house, too, including the grandfather clock I cracked my head open on when I was four.
Before he retired, he worked as a welder in a mill for more than 30 years. In the sweltering 100-degree heat of summer, he would come in and crash on the couch after a long day's work. He never called in sick; in fact, the only time I can remember him coming home early from work was the day his friend/co-worker died of a heart attack at the plant. I was in kindergarten, and I'm not sure his friend had even turned 40 yet.
Family time was important. He took us on vacations to Kansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota, Oklahoma and Canada. I always felt sorry for him when he fished by himself at the dam in Yankton and never caught anything, and yet I became angry with him when he told me I hadn't caught anything on my fishing line when I had actually snagged a turtle.
He never judged my husband harshly for having long hair, a tattoo and an earring. Even when my husband's alcoholism became glaringly obvious, he supported me and watched out for me and the girls. And when my husband cleaned up, he never held past issues against him.
My dad would have people believe he's as tough as nails, but I know how much his heart broke when he had to say goodbye to his dog last January. I know he has the heart of an artist by the masterpieces he creates with a slab of cedar or oak.
I know how awesome he is. He's my dad.