My Dad Was the Best. Hope Yours Was Too!

Father’s Day is fast approaching, an annual celebration of the paternal and the sad anniversary of my own father passing. While memories of him cross my mind several times a day, at this time of year I find myself digging in my mind for some forgotten memory, thinking perhaps I have some tucked away like a forgotten sweater in a cedar chest, an old favorite that simply has not seen the light of day for many years.

I have used my father as the topic of previous blogs (https://nerpribyl.wordpress.com/2014/06/16/dad-gone-a-quarter-century & https://nerpribyl.wordpress.com/2016/11/04/my-roots-lead-back-to-november-fifth) and his humor and life lessens dot the landscape of other musings in my posts as well. While my mind is percolating on him as a subject, I will share some more.

My dad (just like my best friend’s father, another amazing man) was an electrician by trade, as was my grandfather. Though he worked on many job sites through the years, some of the more memorable ones included the construction of the Thunderbird Hotel, The IDS Tower, The Registry Hotel and the story I’m about to embark on  from his work on the MSP Airport.

My dad started work early each morning, usually packing a lunch and carrying a thermos of coffee. As a union man he also had “coffee breaks” during the day and while working on the airport runways a silver truck would stop out to his work site that offered hot coffee, sandwiches and pastries for sale. I imagine his first break took place about 8 am. An affable man, my father built a rapport with the truck driver during his daily rounds. When dad became aware that his work at the airport was winding down and his company was preparing to assign him to a new job he hatched a plan.

When the silver truck headed out to my dad’s location, on what was scheduled to be his last day, there sat my dad at a card table (with two chairs) covered with a white table cloth, an electric frying pan had been used to prepare bacon and eggs, he pushed the button down on the toaster and invited the driver to join him for breakfast, right there on the airport runway. Juice was poured and there the two sat and enjoyed a final conversation, the table complete with a milk-glass vase with two red plastic roses (that had come free with a bottle of dish soap). It was a funny and kind gesture of his appreciation. “Memorable”, that is a word that aptly describes my father. I imagine the driver never forgot that special breakfast or the man who prepared it for him.

My dad loved animals and they loved him. Unfortunately, his allergies could make his being around them a less than pleasant experience for him. While growing up we had rabbits, I had a parakeet, we had tropical fish, my brother acquired the rat from his elementary classroom “Milk vs. Soda” nutrition lessen.  We also had the cutest dalmatian puppy who in reality was the worst dog I have ever known. At some point in the late ’70s (sometime after a divorce) my aunt was moving with her youngest from her house to an apartment, a pet-free destination. For many years the family had had a beautiful long haired calico cat that they all loved, named Mama. Despite his allergies (and the fact he was not that fond of cats) my dad was very fond of his high-school classmate and the mother of his nieces and nephews. That is how Mama came to live out her final years with my parents. Meanwhile my uncle moved on, got a new wife, got a new puppy and eventually got another divorce. The Whippet/Collie mix was not going to work with either of their new housing arrangements, so Tara came to live with my folks (and Mama) where she slept on the floor next to my father’s side of the bed. My father loved that dog but when my uncle retired, my dad insisted that Tara move with him to the cabin. My dad was accommodating, compassionate and fair. In both instances it was not that he “wanted” a new responsibility at his house but that he didn’t want to see someone he cared about suffer any more than they already were due to their present circumstances. He gracefully made these situations appear to be nothing and just used his ever-present handkerchief with greater frequency. I bet you’d already forgotten about his allergies, that’s exactly how he wanted it.

My dad wasn’t into gender stereotypes, he grocery shopped, did the laundry, gave his kids baths, read bedtime stories and even took on the role of “room mother” one year when I was in junior high. In many cases, if something needed to be done, he would just do it. He could work a full day, come home and make dinner and still remain engaged in what you were learning in school. When he went to bed we assumed he snored so loudly simply because he was tired, not because Sleep Apnea was just another medical malady stealing time from him. In other cases, if something needed to be done, it simply waited. Taxes were something he loathed doing and I think at some point he delayed filing for five years. Red Owl Grocery sacks filled with receipts and medical bills all waiting to be collated and submitted. He wasn’t avoiding paying taxes, he was delinquent in filing for money owed to him by the IRS. In retrospect I think he knew his time was precious and he would rather spend it occupied with people than with paper.

My dad was strict but you knew what was expected. I vividly remember arriving home five minutes late one summer evening and after listening to what my excuse was he simply said “I didn’t tell you that you couldn’t be early.” So I credit him with the fact that I am slightly early or prompt at nearly every appointment I have, as a general courtesy.

Growing up, my brothers and I didn’t get an allowance but Dad gave us our lunch money weekly and we were allowed to pack our own lunches and use the allotted money however we chose. That taught responsibility, decision making and flexibility. He also allowed me to pack a lunch for my brother and have him pay me a portion of his own lunch money.

My father had more interests than could be explored in a lifetime, he loved concepts, new ideas and possibilities. He was fascinated with black holes and could wrap his mind around things I never could. While his mind was sharp he was not impressed with phonies and would make time to chat with a loner or buy a guy a beer. I remember that he joked loudly to my mother as they were leaving one of her class reunions (perhaps her 20th) “Hurry Dorothy, we have to get the rental car back.” to mock some of the blowhards who had spent the evening trying to one-up each other.  He both literally and figuratively just didn’t have time for that.

Though this blog comes to an end and he is no longer among us, his story is far from over. I like to think that I have fostered in my own children some of his curiosity, his ability to learn something from everyone, his sense of fairness coupled with compassion and an ample dose of his humor. His greatest teachings were never in the form of lectures, they were in his actions, small gestures, mundane tasks that were eventually completed, behind the scenes maneuvers that brightened someones day, lightened someones load or simply made somebody laugh. His legacy lives on in that laughter.





Day 9 in a month of writing: Are We Younger Looking Than Our Parents Were at Our Age?

Dave Lee & Pete the Penguin

Dave Lee & Pete the Penguin

I have my hair in a ponytail. Not a nape of the neck sophisticated ponytail. Nope, it’s a no part, high on the head sock-hop sort of affair. I wear my hair this way often; at the end of the day after wearing it down, first thing out of the shower when I’m not up to drying it or simply when driving down the road in the middle of the day and my hair is bugging me. By the time my mother was my age (north of fifty) she had taken on a Bea Arthur look. Her hair had grayed completely platinum and she kept it short. The kind of short that allowed her to get her hair cut in a barber shop in Cumberland Wisconsin one summer, despite the barber claiming women were “too fussy”. She owned the Minnesota Mom Cut and never thought about whether anyone might question her femininity for wearing her hair that way. She was able to pull a winter hat over it, a snowmobile helmet went on easily when necessary and she could tie a scarf or bandana over it to protect her ears. That generation clearly had ear issues. Unless temperatures indicate possible frost-bite, none of my peers cover their ears on a frequent basis. I can’t even picture what my mother would have looked like in ponytail at my age. I think if I wore my hair like my mother did that people might inquire “how is your treatment going?”.

If one were to page through my parent’s yearbooks, they might think that Minneapolis was experiencing a graduation issue of some sort during the late forties and early nineteen-fifties. My parents classmates  all appeared to be in their forties. The boys had serious grown-men haircuts and if they wore glasses they could pass for an attorney, doctor, a pastor or someone you might buy a car from. The girls hair varied somewhat in length but there were no ends to their strands of hair, it all curled under, their hair being more of a  halo around the head. Lipstick and pearls balanced the look and they all seemed to wear either blouses that were buttoned to the neck or crew-necked sweaters. No time for flashing any skin, time to get an education! I remember that during high school  my mother thought I was being incredibly provocative for not just keeping the collar button undone but also wanting to leave the next one open as well. My cleavage did not begin for another six inches.

My own hair remains primarily dark with a couple of sections where the gray has gathered in one inch stripes. My husband recently suggested that were I to stand my hair on end I would look like the Bride of Frankenstein. No he did not just say that to me, it was an observation he shared with the entire table we were having drinks with. I could barely be offended because his comment was accurate and neither of us feel compelled to act like grownups very often. Acting like a grownup is saved for rare occasions; after funeral service discussions with older people who do not know us well enough to recognize that it is totally out of our comfort zone, purchasing a vehicle, signing a mortgage and having our taxes done.

I don’t wear my hair in a ponytail under some false illusion that it makes me look younger but honestly with a few exceptions I believe all of my friends look younger than their parents did at our age. Sure we were the first generation to embrace sunscreen but for the most part that happened after the baby oil tanning days had done their damage. Though our jeans and sweatshirt weekend wear have not changed much over the past thirty years, our hair has changed along the way.  Despite what a good look it was, I am no longer spiking my hair with gel or getting perms. The unisex mullet is part of my past. Occasionally at the Fair or perhaps a concert you do see a woman who peaked in 1986 and kept the hairstyle as a tribute. I remember thinking the same thing with some great hairdo’s on the waitresses at the old Thunderbird Hotel coffee shop, those beehives that they stored their pens in got them tips in the sixties, so they kept them all the way until the place closed, like a hairstyle time capsule.

A friend posted a picture of her parents on Facebook recently. The photo is from the 1970’s and they were in their mid-thirties. She is beautiful, he is dapper, with his arm around her waist and in his other hand he cradles a pipe. That is what grownups look like! I wonder how future generations will look at ours. We don’t have a Jackie O’ fashion icon that all women try to emulate. We have women with short hair, long hair, dreadlocks and hair dyed so well that the black doesn’t look blue, the blonde doesn’t look damaged and if someone wants pink or lavender hair they can have it at any age. We also have grown women who sport ponytails.

Perhaps it’s modern conveniences that have kept us from standing over stoves as long, not spending hours hanging wash on the line and ironing that has kept us looking younger than the generations before us. Then again, it might be that whereas I knew many families with six to twelve kids when I was growing up, today big families typically max-out at four or five children (unless they have a reality show contract). Maybe having kids ages you. Anyone want to discuss the merits of this theory?

Sure more women work outside the home then a generation ago, as a result buying more clothes and needing to dress in what current business wear dictates. This also exposes middle-aged women to coworkers of a younger demographic. I can see this having an impact on how one continues to evolve their hair, makeup and wardrobe and not simply freezing ones look in some bygone era.

We might look younger than our parents did at our age but for those of us with high school and college aged children this does not explain why so many of them got to skip an awkward phase and wend from childhood adorable to red carpet ready. No offense to my lovely bridesmaids but for some reason I think most prom attendees today look more sophisticated than you all did in your mid-twenties. We did however do our own, hair, nails and makeup. Maybe someday historians will look at us as the Peter Pan era, the generation that never grew up. That would explain why my hair is gathered in an elastic band right now.

Upon further reflection, I have had a genuine epiphany. In Minneapolis during the nineteen-sixties there was a locally syndicated show called “Popeye and Pete”. Dave Lee  hosted the show but naming rights for the program went to a cartoon character and a hand puppet. The program consisted of a studio full of kids who got goody bags filled with products from the shows sponsors.  Between cartoons the host entertained the kids with a couple of puppets, “Pete the Penguin” was known for tugging on the ponytails of unsuspecting girls in the audience (and boys ties, because you wore a tie when you were on TV in the sixties). At the James Ballentine VFW post Mother & Daughter banquet in 1966 Dave Lee served as emcee and special guest. Pete the Penguin was the judge of the ponytail contest.  I know the suspense is killing you but I WON! Yes, there was a prize. I took home what was the largest Slo Poke sucker known to man.  I guess I peaked in ’66 and that’s why I’m sticking with it!