|Dad and my niece Maggie|
I always thought Dad was an excellent listener…..well, until the day I realized the “Uh-huh, uh-huh, ooooooohhhhhhh” was simply patter he did by rote. I didn’t realize this for a long time. One day I realized this patter had evidently been used for years to make me think he was paying attention. In retrospect, I don’t think he really listened to a word I said growing up. He was really reading the paper. But it worked for me, I guess. I felt like he listened and I really never waited for feedback. Just needed to talk it through and reach my own conclusions. Am still very much like that. Will listen to advice, and consider it, but I best solve problems by thinking out loud or writing it all down and then going with the conclusion that seems right for me. Good thing I didn’t really need someone listening, huh?
My dad was one of those parents who actually enjoyed the “new math” (while my friend’s parents talked about it in cursing tones). He was eager to help us with our math homework, because for him it was fun. He bought math books himself so he could read about it and if I remember correctly maybe even took a class so he could get a bit of extra knowledge. We spent hours at the side of his chair, watching him work through the problems. I never captured the bug. I usually did well at math, but probably due to his guidance and natural ability….there was no love there for me. Definitely no passion.
Besides math books and the newspaper, his other reading material was Popular Science. Or a manual or some sort. He’d read the complicated text for a night or so and then go take a test and Bang!….he was a licensed plumber. Another one and Bang!…he was a licensed electrician. During our childhood Dad read no fiction, ever. He read the directions….for everything. He memorized the directions, in fact. I, who only will read directions as a last resort and often will just give up and throw in the towel to avoid it, did not inherit this from him.
Dad is the slowest reader ever (sorry Dad….but I really think you are) and that drove me crazy. He devoured every single word. He remembers everything he reads…I guess because he thinks about each word carefully as he reads it. He probably remembers the intricate details of things he read 50 years ago. But if you had to wait for him to finish the Parade magazine in the Sunday paper before you could read it (and it would only take you 2 minutes), this was not something you would appreciate about him. In fact, you would find it annoying. Thankfully I didn’t want to read anything else he read….but every Sunday morning I waited and waited for that Parade magazine. And no….he wouldn’t consider reading anything else for two minutes so I could get it read. The newspaper must be read in a certain order, Parade magazine came first…and Dad exercised his parental first reading rights when it came to the newspaper. His darling children could have wrinkled the pages or something if we had first look, which would have been totally unacceptable.
When my friends bought their first cars, their dads spent hours discussing and advising with them about it. They went with them to the car lots to test drive. Many bought it for them. When I asked my dad for advice, he said “Kimberley, you can research it as well as I can. Do your research and go and talk to them and ask questions.” When I whined that all the other dads were going with their daughters he said “You’re a smart girl. You can handle it.” Yeah, there was a little bit of pride that he felt me capable. But I still would have preferred he do it for me. Honestly, I am not independent by nature. It was born of necessity.
Dad doesn’t usually see the emotional side of things. Someone can insult my dad to his face…but they won’t get a reaction. Even if he would happen to notice (and honestly, I don’t think he does), he really doesn’t care. Tell him some juicy gossip, he will not pass it on…..it wouldn’t occur to him to do so. He either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care. Someone can throw a dramatic scene in front of him….he is not going to react. He either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care. You snub him by not inviting him to a social event. He either wouldn’t notice or wouldn’t care. As I have gotten older and noticed how my dad handles this sort of thing, I recognize the wisdom of it.
While he doesn’t notice things that other people do, oddly I have a hyper-sensitivity for noticing those sorts of things. I tend to notice every nuance and every slight. Intuition is a great thing, but it also can lead to pain. I have learned that when I find myself getting over-emotional about these people-type issues, Dad’s handling has merit. I should refuse to notice or if I do, I shouldn’t care. Amazing, but when you take out that emotional factor and look at things logically, you find out that there are lots of things that produce anxiety in our lives that just really aren’t that important. And being mad at people for silly things (and most things are silly) is really your own time wasted. I think possibly Dad figured out the road to contentment a long time ago. I find that as I am older I am leaning toward that direction, but I am not quite there yet. I will still notice if you are mean to me. But I also will probably get over it. Or get over you. But there probably won’t be much drama.
Dad has always been so strong…..both physically and emotionally. Definitely someone you can lean on if you need to. The kind of dad whose arms you will jump into if he tells you he will catch you…because you know he will. He can do almost anything. He is amazing at fixing things and figuring things out. If something breaks, Dad usually can fix it. (Or, as in the case of electronics, will acknowledge that it is out of his realm.) Another thing that he didn’t quite pass on to me….but something that I have always taken for granted about him and enjoy seeing in the other men in my life (brothers, brothers-in-law, nephews and friends.)
While Dad spent a lot of his time devoted to work growing up, he has changed as he has gotten older. I would have never believed he would enjoy retirement, but he does. He is easily amused….a quality I definitely (and gratefully) got from him. He can putter around and find some silly thing to capture his interest for hours. He needs little to enjoy his life. He actually reads fiction now….I would never have believed I would be swapping reading material with him….and liking it! He is an amazing gardener and keeps their yard flawless. And he mows my lawn, too….just because he knows that if I mow it with my push mower, it takes a bit chunk of my free time. It’s such a gift to me.
Dad’s media setup is like the internal workings of NASA spacecraft….too complicated for me to even turn on the remote. Especially since the first problem is to find which remote to use first.
Dad doesn’t usually tune me out these days…..he now seems to listen to what I have to say. When he gives me feedback it is logical and sound and demonstrates that he recognizes who I am am. He still does not dictate how I should live…..nor does he force an opinion, though like me at heart he is quite stubborn and opinionated (I was doomed….I got this from both of my parents.) He still thinks I am a smart girl who can make good decisions for myself. He allows me to talk through things, occasionally interjecting a question or comment here and there (and an occasional eye roll…something I must have inherited from him), and is still confident that I am going to come up with the right answers on my own. Or if I don’t, I will find a solution. There is no pressure to adopt his way of thinking or to be any way in particular. I get to live my own life.
Dad has been a constant and stable force every day of my life. Like my mom, he was ready to be a parent when they had children. And they were partners in raising us. Fatherhood was a bit different back in my growing up years, and with different expectations. For most there was commitment to the responsibility that they took on. Today I often see kids with parents who aren’t fully committed….parents whose own needs come before the needs of their children. Parents who don’t care much about the kind of human beings they are raising or the kind of example they are to them. Parents who just don’t spend much time with them. Even when my dad was preoccupied with work when we were growing up, he was there every night (probably somewhat due to my mom’s insistence.) Yeah, maybe he was ignoring my words when I rambled during those childhood years, but he was physically there. And he listened when it mattered. And he built trust. I don’t only love him, but I respect him. It is for a reason…I have watched him, seen his consistency, and know he is solid. He is a man who can be counted on. For life. That’s my dad. And I think I will keep him!