John Michael continues his series Life Is a Sweet, Tender Bruise, reflecting on life and people encountered, with a new story about, and for, his dad.
One time when I was a kid, my dad wandered into the bathroom when I was taking a bath. I was surprised to see him there as it was almost exclusively mom’s domain. My hair was wet, and he ran his fingers down a clomp of it, making it squeak. He said he could tell I was healthy just by the sound of the squeak. It made me happy and I remember humming to myself after that.
There were some tender moments between us when I was a kid. A favorite picture of mine is of me riding around on his shoulders looking very content. I was also kicked by a horse once, up at our family property in Weippe; we always referred to it as “The Ranch” and we spent our summers up there while my parents were still together. I couldn’t have been more than six. My dad came and was maybe a little drunk but looked me over and said I would heal which helped me relax a little. I don’t know how painful it was, but I remember sitting there full of self-pity.
My parents went through a couple of separations before finally divorcing. My mom was maybe a little over-protective of us kids, so separation and divorce were never mentioned. When I asked where Dad was during those times, she would always say, “He is out farming,” and “I don’t know,” whenever I asked when he was coming home. I remember the anxiety on my mom’s face when I asked about Dad. His being gone was a double-edged sword. The exhaustive tension and fighting between my parents was absent which was a relief. But there was also some anxiety as I did not feel as safe without my dad around.
My dad has some heart issues now and I went to Boise this past week for a visit. He also had a stroke when I was on the streets and I can’t help thinking that maybe the stress of me being completely out of contact may have been a contributing factor. I also secretly wondered if maybe I did not drive him away some in the first place. I was closer to mom emotionally, at times to the point of feeling a little smothered than he ever appeared to be.
Some of my happiest moments with my family as a kid were sitting around watching TV when the tension between my folks was at a low ebb. My dad would lay around in his boxers teasing my mom and us kids. Hee Haw, All in the Family, Carol Burnett, Flip Wilson, and Wild Kingdom are among the shows I remember best.
I mentioned Hee Haw to Dad this week and he said, “Shit, I forgot about that, I used to love Buck Owens.” I did too and his brand of Honky Tonk is still my favorite form of country.
There were some tender moments between us when I was a kid. A favorite picture of mine is of me riding around on his shoulders looking very content.
I offered to muck out my dad’s chicken coop this weekend and wish I had time to do some more work. Him and his wife Julie live on about an acre. The place looks great but could use a little upkeep around the edges and I wish I had some time to do more as my dad is a little weak as his heart gets worked on. I am optimistic because he looks and sounds much better than when I saw him last year.
He came out to supervise and help a little with the chicken coop, and there was a little dread in me. These things never went well when I was a kid. I always blamed him as I thought I could never do anything right in his eyes. But, looking back, I was at least half at fault, I would move back and forth between sulking and defiance by trying to do things any other way than how he told me to do them.
He had some good suggestions about how to go about things with the coop and I incorporated them into what I was doing without any fuss.
My dad has a lot of interests in life and has been a lot of different things, including farming, ranching, video business owner, semi-truck owner, fence builder, among others. I also get the impression he was a bit of a dreamer in a family and culture where that kind of thing was not appreciated or encouraged. He sent off a couple of short stories to Reader’s Digest when he was in his 20s.
As an adult, he has surprised me many times with his emotional intelligence. He reads and observes people very well. He noticed I had on a pair of semi-ragged shorts and gave me a new pair. He also noticed I was without a pocketknife and sunglasses and produced those as well.
I shaved my beard before going to Boise and felt a great desire to show my father the respect he deserves. Even looked into getting a haircut in Boise, but those city slickers were looking to get more than I was willing to pay. The hair didn’t seem to bother my dad a bit. I told him about some of my music and writing dreams and he had some sincere encouragement.
I came away understanding the love that lay hidden between my father and I for many years. I also knows that he loves and understands me just as I am. Kind of weight off the old shoulders, if you know what I mean. I love you, Dad, Happy Father’s Day.