Sunday, April 19, 2020

Dad's turn

Dad at probably age 10-ish. He was the kneeling
kid, bottom left.
It's not father's day, either, but yesterday would have been my dad's 108th birthday. He was born on April 18, 1912, not long after the Titanic went down - which, as a child, always made the Titanic seem real because it couldn't have been that long ago.

My dad was 52 when I was born, my mom was 32. He'd been the youngest of 12; she was an only, saddled with step- and half-siblings at 10. He wanted kids; she didn't.

They had one. I was the center of his universe, and he was the center of mine. Mom minded that, a bit.

He had a lot to do with me becoming a reader, and eventually, a writer. Mom did, too - she was always reading, and I figured out pretty young that there was something inside those book covers that was more interesting than real life. My dad wasn't much of a reader. He left school in 6th grade, and while he could read, it wasn't easy for him. Because he thought a child should be read to, he "read" to me every night, from a book of fairy tales open on his lap.
An early Easter picture

I didn't learn until years later that he was making up the stories he told me, because that was easier than reading after a long day at work. Once I learned to read, he had me read to him - my books, the newspaper, National Geographics. He'd come home from the firehouse, run a bubble bath, and lay in boiling water, soaking out the aches and pains, while I sat on the toilet lid and read to him.

Every kid's special time is different, I guess. Much of mine took place in a pink-tiled bathroom, sitting on the lid of the toilet, reading to a man completely submerged in bubbles. Only his head, and one foot, which he used to turn on the hot water, was visible. (Unlike my mom, who paraded around in her undies - or without them - my dad was pretty modest, so bubble bath was his solution to spending time with me).

He retired from the fire department in 1972, after 20+ years. He continued to work his part-time maintenance job at the college near where we lived, but in April of 1973, he got sick. What he thought was just a recurrence of his yearly bronchitis was actually lung cancer, very advanced. He was in the hospital for 10 days, and then he was gone. I got to visit him once, but no one told me how serious it was (I was 9, so I guess that makes sense).

Anyway, I like to think of it like this. I was 9 when he died, which wasn't actually a bad age. I was old enough to remember him, pretty clearly, and young enough that I'd never had a teenage "I hate you!" moment that would have tortured me for the rest of my life. When he died, he was still the center of the universe - but after that, Mom got more of a chance. She liked that; I didn't mind.


Carol in Denver said...

He sounds like he was a lovely man. Thank you for the tribute to him.

sewingkm said...

I loved reading this post!

Isabel's Daughter said...

Karen, that is a wonderful story about your Dad. You are so lucky to have memories of him. My father died in 1950, when I was seven. The few memories I have are now somewhat faded, but with your talent for writing you have brought your father to life again.

Karen said...

Thank you all so much! Writing about family can be fraught sometimes, but my memories of my dad are all lovely, and I'm glad to know they are appreciated here.