I was recently reminded of one of my favorite stories about my dad. In the reminiscing, I realized not only have I never shared this with you, but that in not doing so, I’ve done you a disservice.
I’ve only showed you a picture of my dad that has been dulled by years of wear-and-tear. You haven’t seen the vibrant picture of the man that raised me.
And, you may be under the impression that Big Jim’s idiosyncrasies started with dementia.
Trust me, they didn’t.
My dad wasn’t the kind of guy in touch with his emotions. He wasn’t one that showered us with affection. The hugging and self-esteem building was mom’s job. Big Jim is the poster child for old-school parenting, and not because he has smelled like Bengay since the day I was born.
Need an example that really paints a picture? Ok. Hmmmmm, which one to choose? How about a rundown of my childhood gun safety seminar? (Sadly, they never included a catered lunch.)
Growing up we had several gun safes. You may have, or still do, refer to these as… closets. In the corner of every closet in our home sat a gun. Loaded. If someone broke in, we were to shoot them. Seminar over.
My dad uses the word “damn” as a qualifier in every sentence. So much so, one of my daughters thought “thedamn” was a word.
Think your dad was cheap?
To this day, Jim still holds a grudge due to the amount of money my mom paid for my prom dress.
To top it off, he’s a hoarder. Like many people that were raised in the aftermath of the Great Depression, he will collect anything. Tools, buckets, electric blanket cords, wheelchairs…. Literally, anything. Why? Because he never knows what he will need.
So how did this flawed man raise three kids that adore him? How could he have two grown daughters that still try and sneak attack him from each side to shower him with kisses as he waves his arms to beat us back?
The answer is simple. None of his flaws could ever diminish his strengths.
My dad was at everything. Choir concerts, track meets, softball games. He may have been the guy in the back tapping his watch as if to convey, “let’s go before the crowd breaks”, but he was always there.
He was the dad that drove my friends and I to the mall, grumbling the whole time about wasting money, but would sit in the car for hours reading the paper waiting for us.
He was the guy that a few of my friends (true story, happened more than once) called when they found themselves in a bind and didn’t want to call their own dad.
My dad is the exception to the rule. You don’t get what you see. After a brief acquaintance, you realize there is so much more.
I have countless, ridiculous, heart-warming stories, but there is one in particular that I love to tell. It is the embodiment of who my dad was and still is. It’s also, for reasons differing from my own, one of my dad’s favorite stories to tell. Though his short-term memory is shot, his long-term is holding strong.
First the backstory.
When I was about 7 years old, my parents surprised my sister and I with a beautiful bedroom set. White wood. Not the pressed board nonsense that is out now, but natural, sturdy wood stained white.
It was spectacular.
A large mirrored dresser. Tall chest of drawers. And the piece of resistance… A queen-size canopy bed.
The canopy material was stark white with an eyelet ruffle. The bedspread a soft lavender with an eyelet hem that matched the canopy. Going to bed every night was like becoming Sleeping Beauty over and over again.
Though I’ve always had a bit of a tomboy side, I credit this princess level bed as to why I wore dresses while hunting for crayfish.
Eventually, my sister and I got our own rooms. She moved on to a more mature scene and I got to keep the coveted bedroom set.
(My sister and I sitting on said bed. Can’t see much of it, but you get the gist. Life before iPhones.)
I’m a senior in high school. I get home from school and head to my room to drop off my bag. I stop frozen in the doorway of my bedroom.
Everything that had been near my bed was haphazardly piled in the far corner like a leaning tower of my childhood. Where my bed once sat, now only my mattress lay on the hardwood floor like a drug den.
Even at seventeen, I reasoned out fairly quickly that this wasn’t a B&E situation and there was one person who was responsible for this disaster.
I threw my bag on the floor and stormed out to the back yard where my dad was working in his garden. I approached with enough teenage angst to blow his hair back if he had had any. I stood staring at him silently.
“Hey! You’re home,” he greeted me.
After a long pause, I realized he needed an explanation for my appearance. “Dad! Where’s my bed?!”
“Oh! Yeah. I saw Sam today.”
My dad began a long detailed explanation about how Sam was Chuck’s son. “You remember Chuck right?” Chuck and my dad had been friends for years before he passed. Details about playing golf and Bunco together. He recounted when Chuck had passed away when Sam was 18 years old. He went traveling down memory lane for several minutes, but, in the end, gave no explanation how this had anything to do with my missing bed.
“AND!?” I bit out.
“Well Sam is going through a divorce.”
He explained that Sam had made some major mistakes leading to the destruction of his marriage. That he was now living in an apartment he could barely afford, let along furnish. In the midst of this very adult mess was his daughter. A little girl scared to sleep at her dad’s because it was so barren and in no way like a home.
“So you gave her my bed?!”
“Lori, she didn’t have a bed.”
“That’s great, Dad! NOW I DON’T HAVE A BED!”
I was furious. Without my permission my dad had given away my beautiful canopy bed and like a thief in the night, he did it behind my back.
A full belly laugh erupted from my dad.
As I’ve aged I’ve come to realize this is my dad’s go-to response when he’s facing one of two scenarios. 1-The person he’s dealing with is beyond reason. Or 2- He’s not asking for forgiveness.
What he said next wasn’t an explanation as to why I lost my bed. It wasn’t a cutting accusation meant to put me in my place. It was an old-school-big-Jim-style reality check.
“Last weekend I spent 3 hours looking for you and your friends. Running amuck in the county. I still don’t know where the hubcap on my car went. You need bail money more than you need that bed.”
I stormed off not only to prove my disgust, but also to avoid the hubcap conversation.
Even though I was a selfish, horrifying, 17-year-old, I was laughing before I made it back into the house.
This post couldn’t possibly hold all the lessons I began to learn in that moment and have continued to learn from it as I’ve aged. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought of that bed and had to make the decision to be like my dad instead of that selfish 17-year-old. And, I’d be ashamed to tell how many times I’ve failed.
Worry not. This story has a happy ending.
The moment my mom got home she was reassuring me that they would buy me a new bed. Something I could take with me when I left their home. In the beginning, I declined out of stubbornness, but after one weekend, I sweetly reported to my parents that there was a lovely cross breeze with my mattress on the floor. It remained that way till I moved out.
After one weekend, I realized I could sneak out of my windows like a ninja without that big bed in the way. Bail money… in the looking back, sound advice. (For the record, I never needed it!)
Why is this one of my dad’s favs to regale?
To this day, he wonders what happened to the damn hubcap.