I’ve never been sure that the fathers of this world get enough credit for all that they do, but perhaps this is because I strongly suspect that my own father never has.
True, he worked long hours during his 40-year career in aviation, and his commute grew longer and longer as New York and the airline business both grew — but he always seemed to be having such a wonderful time, we kids could hardly wait to grow up and go to work too!
In fact, we never really thought of him as working. We thought he was off on a grand adventure. Whether he was flying a plane or, as he put it, flying a desk, his experiences provided stories with which he regaled us in the evenings. Touched by his Southern storytelling gift, the characters and situations he ran into in his “workaday world” leapt to life at home: the co-worker who had such a crippling handshake that grown men went out of their way to avoid him; the sheik in an oil-rich emirate whose pride and joy was a women’s college he had started; the woman in a Manhattan coffee shop who ate the same exact thing every single morning: an onion bagel. These people and their lives became part of our family vocabulary, and the world beyond our home took on an allure of fascination.
But Dad had fun at home too. The men of our New York neighborhood had a pact: Never call a “repair man” — somebody around here will have the know-how you need. Already a practiced tinkerer from his growing-up years on a farm, Dad gained new expertise in furnace, washing machine and refrigerator repair, along with plumbing, insulation, carpentry, and so on — and on. I still remember the day he and our across-the-street neighbor put in a new mailbox using a post-hole digger. I thought it looked like the worst work in the world, but the two of them were out there laughing.
As for gardening, Dad grows things just for the joy of it. Our Long Island yard was filled with trees and shrubs and flower gardens — the only thing out there that looked like it might be actual work was the lawn — and when Dad and Mother retired here in Commerce, he started spending eight hours a day in the new yard, filling it with azaleas, creating brick pathways, a “hiding place,” and a secret garden, giving us all an earthly paradise which he and we still enjoy constantly.
Retirement also brought the fun of volunteering, and a whole new batch of adventures and stories featuring his new neighbors and fellow volunteers.
So what do you give a guy who has traveled the world, fulfilled his career dreams, shared the fun of it all with his family, and — as far as you can tell — had a fabulous time? He says he wouldn’t mind a Jaguar, but other than that, he can’t think of a thing he needs. I’ve been a long time realizing that this is not just a man whose glass has been half-full his whole life (instead of half-empty); this is a man whose glass has been full — whose cup has been running over. And what I give him is applause. And, maybe a new shirt. An apple pie, perhaps? (His favorite.) And, my heart.
Susan Harper is director of the Commerce Public Library. She lives in Commerce.