Monday 13 June 2022

Father's Day

I've been thinking a great deal about fathers the last few weeks. Not just the father I have missed for more than sixty years but all the fathers throughout the generations that were responsible for giving me life and a great many inherited traits - both good and bad. For some reason I have been drawn to Family Search, one of the largest genealogical databases in the world, with quiet regularity and have found the information available literally addicting and riveting with family trees, stories, picture and detailed data about how I am related to everyone who appears in anywhere in my family tree. 

Some of those lines can be traced back to the 400s, and I literally marvel at how records can be found that go back that far. I've even met people who can trace their ancestry back before Christ's birth. I love looking at names, many of which I have no idea how to pronounce, and thinking about the struggles those wonderful people must have had just to survive the difficulties of their days. Most of them were completely illiterate and would have to pay someone to write down any information they didn't want lost. However, many of those scribes were basically illiterate as well and names were spelled the way they sounded. That's why there are so many discrepancies in older records that must be triple-checked for accuracy. 

My mind cannot even comprehend what must be done to find and verify family members. If a job has more than three or four steps I forget what I'm doing and trying to figure out relationships when it comes to anything more than the obvious is almost impossible for me. I was lucky to pass the Praxis test so I could get into graduate school because it asked every question this way. If this is related to this then how is something else related to something else. It made absolutely no sense to me and still doesn't. I guess my brain just wasn't wired for that kind of logic. But oh how I love tracing family lines from one generation to another. It helps me see just how inconsequential my life is in the great scheme of themes but how very important it is to me.

My paternal grandfather died from lead poisoning when my father was barely a year old. In those days there were no painkillers and he sought relief in the only place he could, alcohol. My grandmother never had much in the way of kindness to say about him, although he gave her four children. That always bothered me because I felt a real closeness to my grandfather the moment I first saw his picture. I suppose part of that had to do with the fact that I looked great deal like both him and my father. I just wish I could find a living relative who knew that side of my family. What a joy it would be to learn everything I could from him or her, but there were too many early deaths and small families. I'm hoping I will get to meet all of them when I get to the other side.

But for now, I want to concentrate on my own father, just as I hope everyone else will do come Father's Day 2022. I really don't remember much about him. I was thirteen when he died. That should have been old enough to recall a great many things but the trauma I suffered when I was five by having my mother tell me I was responsible for the farm accident that nearly cost my little brother his life caused a sort of amnesia when it comes to anything other than a few highlights throughout my entire life. I suppose it's been a safeguard to keep me from having a complete mental breakdown, but it's also hard not being able to recall events my children or siblings remember with great clarity. 

I often wish I had been able to talk to my father about that life-altering day. He must have gone through even more agony than I did because he was driving the tractor when the blades of the tandem disk ran over my little brother's body. He didn't see the little three year-old coming and the noise from the old tractor was deafening. When he turned around, thinking he had run over a rock, seeing Sandon laying there under such monstrous blades must have broken his heart. With superhuman strength, he lifted the disc with one hand and pulled my little brother out with the other. He raced towards the house saying Sandon was dead but also calling for the keys to the jeep. That's when mother turned to me and said. "If you had been watching him the way I told you to this never would have happened." Oh, how careless words can hurt and destroy.

But the accident couldn't be reversed and we had to get on as best we could. All I really remember about my father was him being  a six foot, four-inch gangly cowboy who loved to ride horses and bulls in rodeos, play the part of a clown or announce events from high up in the stands. He worked incredibly hard to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table and just wanted to work the ground and raise a herd of beautiful red Hereford cattle. But he had to leave part of that dream behind so he could manage the garden department of The Mart in a nearby town because he had seven children and Sandon's doctor bills continued to come as new operations were necessary to keep him alive.

My father's voice was deep and melodious but we knew better than to get in trouble with our mother because he always supported her and he wasn't afraid to use his thick, leather belt on our soft behinds. It was called discipline, not abuse, in those days and I can't help but feel the children of today would be more responsible, better-mannered and not so me-oriented if they knew where a few boundaries lay. 

Three main events stick out in my mind from those brief years and they all happened not long before his death. He thought I should know how to drive a car so he put me behind the wheel of one Sunday afternoon when we went to get my older sister from a friend's house. I was terrified and immediately drove off the road. He wasn't any happier about that than he had been when I was nine and ten years old and driving the tractor to help him feed cattle each morning before dawn and I tipped the wagon into the ditch. I must have been a very slow learner in some areas. The next was him building an addition onto our home so six children would not have to sleep in one bedroom and a short hallway in the basement without any windows. He did all the work himself, with us kids helping as best we could. It was finished less than a year before his death.

The last was the day he died. He had come home from work early claiming he wasn't feeling well. When the bus arrived from school and I learned he was there, I had an awful feeling inside because he was never sick. My mother took my older sister to town to get something she hoped would help settle his stomach and I was left in charge of my five younger siblings. It was Friday night and daddy loved the cowboy show, Rawhide. I tried to get him to come out of his bedroom to watch it with us but he said he didn't feel up to it. I kept running down the hall to check on him every few minutes. Then about five-thirty I heard a crash. I raced to the back of the house to find him out of bed and in the bathroom. I tried to push the door open to get to him but his body was blocking it.

I suppose you can easily guess the rest. He'd had a massive heart attack and was gone. When my mother got home she sent all of us kids to the neighbor's house. I'll never forget walking down that country rode with my baby sister in my arms, crying and pleading with Heavenly Father to let my father be okay. No one was home, but we knew better than to disobey our mother so we stayed where we were until our grandmother and uncle came to get us a couple of hours later. My father's body had already been taken to the mortuary and my life was never the same after that.

I have missed him dreadfully over the years but have known moments when I knew he was there protecting and guiding me. Those are precious, spiritual experiencs that have only been shared with a few people but they helped me to see just how close those who have gone before really are to the ones who have been left behind. Still I can't help wondering why he had to be taken when seven little chicken needed him so much. That's when I remember the old saying that goes something like God didn't promise life would be easy, only that I would be worth it one day.

I'm not the best poet, but I wanted to share one I wrote about my father. I'm hoping my feeble attempt will encourage others to write down a few thoughts of their own. Posterity relies on the written or recorded word and any efforts will be greatly appreciated by those who come after we are gone.  


Did you know that perfect spring morn when the flowers

first started to bloom, that you would be leaving 

your family to return to your heavenly home?

Did you know that the loss, abandonment and grief

your little ones felt would bring sorrow and tears 

and lifetimes of questions, regrets and feeling alone?

Did you know that the wife you had loved above all

would lose her way, struggle with fear, temptation, grief, and

the harsh responsibility of doing a job meant for two? 

Did you know your sons and daughters would become

divided, holding all pain inside, trusting no one,

no longer even remembering having you in our lives?

Did you know that the emptiness we felt would keep 

some of us from ever knowing love, acceptance, fulfillment,

true intimacy with others, especially with our spouse?

Did you know that far too many of us would fight

to stop the abuse in our own homes, the kind of abuse

that became so commonplace once you were gone?

Did you know that after a near lifetime of living most of us 

would still not understand why we had to be left alone

when other fathers got to watch their children grow up?

Did you know that all of us would want to be with you again,

to see your smile, to hold your hand, to let you know that

we had done our best through some very difficult times?

I doubt any of those thoughts crossed your mind that day,

but they must have later on as we navigated through our own trials.

Perhaps strength, acceptance and compassion could be learned no other way.

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