As I said about my Mom on Mother’s Day, a lot of you have heard me talk about my dad but you’ve never met him either, so here’s a picture:
Hi Dad! (Everybody say hi.)
Now, I’ll be the first to admit, it’s hard to make out my dad’s face here or size him up, but really, there’s a very specific reason I’m using this picture — it captures the always-in-motion man himself, actually AT REST. You’re seeing a thing of rare and elusive beauty.
I’m sure you’re all thinking, okay, he’s a busy guy, we get it. But you have to understand that it is nearly impossible to see my Dad not doing something. Besides the day-to-day running of the greenhouse (an endless task in itself) and then working his second job in the evening (this pic captures him taking a brief break before heading off to that job in the late afternoon), he’s always got some project going on in fixing up the house, or planting forecasting, or greenhouse repair and maintenance, or the seemingly-constant mowing that needs to be done on the fairly large property during the spring and summer (secretly, he loves doing that last part, much to the bemusement of Mom and I).
Growing up, I honestly thought that all Dads were non-stop, and it took me until college to realize that it was not so. Even our summer vacations weren’t exactly rest-a-thons, with camping being our standard break, meaning that Dad was constantly setting up camp, or cutting wood, or snorkeling or scuba diving. For several summers, we spent a week or two of vacation at Circus World with my dad as the guest clown, which was several shows a day in the sticky, sweltering, sawdusty goodness. Before that, it was years of clowning in parades and at birthday parties on weekends. And of course, there were the many years of coaching Pee-Wee, Little League, and Pony League baseball. Did I mention the mime troupe? (Perhaps I’d better not, as I know for certain I’ve already seriously scared a few of my friends with the revelation that he was a clown — clown phobia is so common, who knew?) See? I was not kidding when I said the man is busy.
But here’s the important thing: he was never, EVER busy at the expense of time with his family. No matter how many hours they worked, though, we did all of the things above together, all three of us. Clowning? My Dad got started quite by accident, and my Mom and I got pulled in not long after. Those Cousin Otto’s clown alley years were a blast, especially the international conventions, and the Circus World time? Every girl wishes she could run away with the circus; I got to do so for 2 weeks every summer while my Dad clowned. Baseball? Well, I played for awhile, before joining my mom doing stats. Snorkelling? Again, done all together. No matter what one of us was doing, the other two were involved in some way, too. Nowadays, my parents are together every day running the greenhouse and flower shop, and that’s been true for so long now that I’ve almost forgotten what it was like when Dad was a machinist and Mom was working customer service desk at a retail store. My dad worked a lot of tough hours in that machine shop, standing on hard cement all day, with the danger of getting injured pretty high (fingertips chopped ending guitar playing, metal chips directly in the eye). There was also the half hour commute each way, meaning he’d be up by 3:30 or 4am on the snowy days, or staying with my grandma closer to work on the snow storm days. Such hours also meant he was early to bed, meaning I had limited time to catch up with him in the evenings, many times relegated to us arguing over old math vs. new math at the kitchen table. He’d sometimes work Saturdays, which always really bugged me as I didn’t understand why he couldn’t be around one of the two days a week I didn’t have school; I can still remember watching the local TV network’s old movies on Saturdays at noon, waiting impatiently for him to come home as learned about every movie and star from my Mom. (I suspect this directly led me to my job today.) As I got a bit older, I got it, that he was working extra hours so that we’d have enough money to get by, a fact that became even more clear as my Mom picked up more and more hours at her service desk job, and we were still struggling.
One day, we stopped by a local greenhouse to pick up a lily for my grandmother and ended up being there for well over an hour as my Dad talked to the owners, I was frankly bored and thought it was a passing fancy that the place so fascinated my father. What I didn’t expect was that my parents would decide to take a huge leap, quit their jobs, move us away from the country and into town, and scrape together enough money to buy that greenhouse, or why the heck they’d want to do so. Craziness! So scary, sinking all that money into a business venture when my mom had never designed a flower arrangement in her life and my Dad had only farmed big crops in a field. But I underestimated my parents, and my Dad in particular, and it foolishly took me years to realize it. Within a few years and many conversations during hours of early spring transplanting sessions at the potting bench, I grasped the value of my Dad having control of his own course, to be his own boss, no matter how physically and financially tough it would be. There is an immeasurable pride in having to answer to no one but yourself, to learn by trial and error, and to make mistakes because even though they’re errors, they’re YOUR errors.
It took me more years than that to understand how very hard my Dad was working to not only make sure that I’d have food, clothing and shelter, but also how hard he and Mom worked to always be involved in my life. Learning baseball and snorkeling and clowning were fun and interesting, but they were especially important in ways I couldn’t possibly realize at the time. I was getting to actually spend time with my parents (as I learned many kids my age never did), and maybe even more importantly, I learned about who my parents were, that they weren’t just Dad and Mom, but individuals with unique talents and tastes. In spending time with me like this, they showed me the importance of working hard, but especially of finding ways to do things that excite you, inspire you, make you feel alive. I learned that being busy isn’t a bad thing, but should be a balance of things that you must do with those that you love to do. Taking the time to teach me all of this by example is something that couldn’t have been easy during the machinist/service desk years, and particularly during those first years of getting the greenhouse business up and rolling. But still, there they were at every home and away basketball game, at every band concert, and the home and away football games when my best friend Karen and I were managing and doing stats. Even when I was editing the newspaper, they wanted to know what happening, and always wanted several copies, and asked questions. They encouraged me to write. Music was everywhere, and I can’t remember them ever telling me I couldn’t listen to something; if anything, they kept handing me new things to hear, and talking to me about the records. They pushed me, but not so hard that I couldn’t look around and see what options were out there. And just as they were getting the business to a workable point, I wanted to go to college. I remember visiting my eventual choice with my parents, and sitting in the Dean’s office for my interview and hearing my Dad’s gasp in the room next door at the cost per year, and figuring the place was probably just too much for us. But somehow, when I got accepted, they sat down and found a way to make it possible when combined with grants, loans and a few scholarships. I still don’t know how or why they did it. There’s so much more they could have done with that money, but they placed their faith in me, and I didn’t want to let them down. I still don’t.
So, as my Dad continues to work, work, work, I’m glad to report that they’ve made it through another spring season. Even better, they made enough that they can take a vacation next month, a proper one, something they started doing after I graduated from college and they weren’t helping me pay tuition any more — I was so excited that they were finally doing something just for themselves. I went with them on one of those first real vacations, and it was then that I saw my Dad for the first time ever, at rest, sitting in lounge chair and not moving from it except to swim all day. It was amazing then, and it’s still amazing to see now … thus the picture above. I hope there will be a vast deal of lounging in his future, when Mom isn’t dragging him to Playa del Carmen.
Best of all? Dad and Mom are visiting me here in August! I hope to see Dad at rest early and often during that time.
All my love, Dad. I thank you everything above, and more. And sometimes? It’s okay to actually sit still when you’re not on vacation. Seriously.