At 93, my father stands tall, walks a mile or two everyday, checks his email, writes letters, organizes old photos, reads, plays scrabble with a girlfriend and has nightly dinner with a fantastic group of friends named John, Paul and George… (where’s Ringo?). Hardly Beatle-esque though, they are retired engineers and teachers, with sharp minds, quick wits and good looks.
It’s also something to see little old ladies flirting with your father. But they still know a good thing when they see it. And it’s not just the 6′ frame housing a man in his 90’s who still thinks and lives independently. My father represents all that is strong and honest.
Here’s a guy born and raised on a dairy farm, who worked the fields, milked the cows, tended Bert and Maude (the plow horses); the eldest son who keenly understood the value of hard work on a very real level.
But the farm couldn’t hold his gifted mind… he earned a scholarship and worked the rest of his way through college. From there he got a job with an oil company, rising to the most senior level among chemical engineers and earning the highly prized Thomas Edison Award for his patented achievements.
He was a bright star in his field, but remained insanely modest, brown-bagged his lunch, and spent every minute away from work at home with his family. And just as the farm couldn’t hold his mind, his career couldn’t entirely hold his spirit, so he spent nights and weekends tending his grand vegetable garden, planting trees (enough planted on a Pennsylvania property to be listed on the national forest registry), building tables from scrap wood and driving us batty over wet and dry recycling methods far before recycling was popular.
We were trained to turn off lights when we left a room, eat the food on our plates. I don’t think I heard him raise his voice more than a couple of times, nor complain about anything besides politicians. He was not especially effusive, but proud when we did our best. He was, and still is, one of the most steady, stable, smart and caring people I’ve ever known. A pillar of strength, the “salt of the earth”, a man of his word.
What beautiful lessons he taught his children, about truth and integrity ~ and perhaps the unintended lesson to follow one’s dreams. Engineers don’t think in terms of “dreams”, you see ~ theirs is a much more practical realm. Farming too is very tangible; a very direct, productive way of life. But his humble beginnings, his perseverance, his ability to foster his own skills and follow his own path while remaining unwaveringly loyal and considerate towards those he loved… are no small things, and are things that weave dreams into reality.
Fathers come in all forms. Today I celebrate the blessing of mine, who stands tall at 93, and whose work is not done ~ and what good work he does.