Monday, November 14, 2011

Happy Birthday, Dad!

If my father were still alive, he would be 98 years old today. Wow. Makes me feel really old.

Until he retired and had to get a copy of his birth certificate, he thought his birthday was November 11th. Back then, proving one's identity for a driver's license and Social Security card was not so complicated. The officials took you at your word. That was before the word "terrorist" was coined.

Dad didn't know his birthday because his mother was deceased--a suicide, probably the result of postpartum depression--and his father was drunk the night he was born, at home as was the norm in 1913. There was also some disagreement among his relatives as to whether his legal name was Jacob Clarence or Clarence Jacob.That was also cleared up by his birth certificate.

He was almost 40 when I was born, a father for the first time. He was a good father and a good man, though not perfect on either count. He didn't have a good role model for either, unfortunately, so he did pretty good winging it. 

I was a Daddy's Girl from the minute I could walk. I followed him around the house and yard. If he went out, I was always in the truck with him. He gave me anything I wanted. When I was six, I wanted a pony. He built a barn and got me a pony. Two ponies, actually. He and Mom went Christmas shopping one year. I was, I believe, five at the time. Mom told me about the woman who checked them out at Sears. "Your little girls are going to love all these dolls," the woman said.

"We only have one," Mom told her.

The woman couldn't believe it. "All of this is for ONE child?" she asked.

That, I should note, was the year they discovered their little girl was a tomboy like her mother and didn't even like dolls. No more dolls. The next year, they bought me toy trucks and horse figurines, and Dad built me another barn--small scale this time, with a fenced paddock and a light inside, all on a large sheet of plywood that sat on a table in my room.

My father was a moody sort. There were times he would withdraw. I grew up with it, so it was just a fact of life: Dad needed to be left alone sometimes. As I grew older, I came to realize his dark moods were connected to the death of his mother. He never knew her, and he felt that loss acutely. All he had of her was her suicide note, in which she asked her mother to care for her children, and a spotty old photograph. He carried the note in his wallet until the day he died. I told Mom she should place it in his shirt pocket when he was buried. He would have wanted it that way.

As for the photograph, Mom surprised him one Christmas. He'd always guessed all of his gifts before he opened them, but that year, Mom had something in mind she knew he would never figure out, She took that old photograph to a portrait artist and had a painting made for him. When he opened it that morning, it was only the second time in my life I'd ever seen him cry (the first being when Mom nearly died in an accident).

Dad was great with small children--but when I grew up, and started to think for myself, I was a constant source of frustration for him. Mom always said we butted heads because we were so much alike. The one way in which we were not alike was when it came to money. Dad had left home at fourteen, the day he discovered the truth about his mother, and lived as a runaway until finally turning to his maternal grandmother, with whom he lived until her death. Dad could sit on a dime and squeeze out nine cents. I was more like Mom, who couldn't couldn't balance a checkbook to save her life.

Collin, fortunately, is more like Dad when it comes to money.

My relationship with Dad was good at the time of his passing, but still, there was so much I wished I could say to him. Unfinished business, if you will. Losing him and Mom left me with the painful reality that we can't put things off. Life can end in the blink of an eye. Tell those you love how you feel now, because none of us is guaranteed tomorrow.

And a special thanks to my partner and dear friend William for this link to Dad's all-time favorite song:

The Tennessee Waltz


  1. I've missed my dad for almost 25 years. Right now, if he were still alive, he'd be 77 or 78 years old.

    I never got to see him before he died. He went fast and didn't suffer, which was good. Still, there are a lot of things I'd like for him to see...his granddaughter for one.

    I've missed him terribly, and although we weren't father/daughter close, we did quite a bit together...usually picking stones, chopping wood and whatever else slave jobs he had lined up for me to do (just kidding.)

  2. Oh Norma, you are so sweet and I love the pictures of you. Thanks for the thoughtful post and of course I miss my parents who always had trouble with their Miss Independent child- yes that would be moi, and even though they doubted my love for them, I always knew they loved me.

  3. I just lost my mother in September. It has been very hard. Sometimes I go to call her and I have to stop and think, "You can never call her again." At least I can take some comfort in the fact that I told her I loved her every chance I got and she never failed to tell me she loved me, too.

  4. Beautifully said, Norma. It's obvious how much you love him. I like the way you put that he was good at winging it as a family man, though he didn't have good role models.

    I've thought it many a time.. I think your father and I would have understood each other very well.

    Thanks so much for posting this!

  5. William, you're a great deal like him. I think you two would have had a great time.

    I would have been running for cover....

  6. Beautiful post and lovely tribute to your father. I was quite touched by it. Thank you for sharing these times with us.

  7. Wonderful post, Norma. My father died when he was 49, too young. I was only 26 at the time. My mother passed away in 2006. It feels weird being at the root when I'm getting ready to turn 45. I feel like my mother and father should still be with me, to see what a great job I'm doing with my kids. I keep telling myself they would have been proud.

    Thanks for the post. Brings back memories for me! :)

  8. What a lovely tribute to a fine and complex man.

  9. That's a great blog Norma. It's not easy to lose a parent. There are plenty of times when I wish my father was here.


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