Wednesday, January 11, 2006

My Own Maximum Dad...

As with most things in my life, I stumbled into this blogging thing by accident. My cousin got me involved in an online community. From his tribe, I migrated on to others I found interesting, and one of them linked to Thomas, the Art Lad. (If I'm ever half competent with this thing, I'll link too!) From Thomas, I wandered over to the Masthead in which MM (the Art Lad's Dad) discourses about damn near everything. And from there, on a whim, I made my own - fully expecting to post once and never return. I had not reckoned on my addiction to my morning fix of the furthering adventures of that wacky magazine family.

I'm not a regular blogger by any stretch but I've become kinda fascinated with the idea of this blogging thing. It's like a message in a bottle except I don't have to strand myself on an island, get sunburned or remove sand from orifices.

So this evening, instead of going home and cleaning, I spent an enjoyable hour or so rereading some of my favorite "episodes" from the life and times of the Magazine Man. One that I totally relate to is about his blue-collar dad and his system of management. In this particular anecdote, his dad is threatened by a disgruntled newly ex-employee with a knife. I won't go into his solution, but it makes me think of my dad, and some of his exploits.

My father has been an electrician on the nightshift at a really big tire company for over 40 years. He went through an apprenticeship program and in turn had apprentices of his own. Keep in mind that I spent several summers working for my dad as a kid while he supplemented his income working as an independent contractor, so I sympathize completely with his hapless apprentices... like the guy Dad and his best friend strung up by his belt, ten feet in the air from a telephone pole near a major intersection, where they left him for nearly an hour while they went to lunch. It was the last time he threatened them with his ninja karate skills. Or the guy that was vehemently in favor of banning weapons, only to have Dad build a 'gun' in about 20 minutes that sent a ball bearing through a concrete block wall, 2 toolboxes and a workbench using odd and ends from his toolbox. Or the guy who never checked whether the current was really turned off - until after a well-planned jolt of 220 sent him flying backwards several feet. Or the guy...

Well, you get the idea. My father is something of a legend in the hallowed halls of the tire company - and his network is unbelievable! When I was 21, I went hairing off to California for several months. One evening, I was walking along the beach while wearing a jacket given to me by Dad that was well marked as being from that tire company. A large, leathered, Mr. Clean sort ambled over and asked where I got the coat. I smiled sunnily and told him that I stole it from my father, and I answered when he asked who my dad was... at which point he started laughing and demanded 'you mean *insert last name here* spawned??' Yes, thank you. I am *last name* spawn. He kept laughing and told me that it would serve the old man right if I was just like him. Yup. Two thousand miles from home, on a distant shore, and I stumbled across one of Dad's old apprentices.

You can't go anywhere without running across someone that he knows, and if he happens to be with you, you'd better add time 'cause people will come of the woodwork to reminisce about old times and some of the stories they know. It is a point of pride for his former apprentices that they survived him - rather like the t-shirts worn by those who've successfully navigated a class 5 rapids. Every one of them will regale you with tales of the abuse they suffered at his hands, and what a right bastard the guy is, and then they'll stop, kinda smile and say, 'but I learned more from him than from anyone else.'

His teaching methods may be a bit, well, rough, but if you made it through with him as your instructor, you are now a world class electrician. And, 20 years after he last saw you, he'll still give you ten kinds of shit about what you screwed up... but he'll do it while he's helping you fix your car, or your house or install a new furnace or whatever you need done.

He can be much like a bear - grouchy, occasionally downright surly, frequently impatient, prone to solitude, and physically imposing as well at 6' 3" and stocky. When I was a kid, he used to grow a beard in the winters. Between that and the flannel, he looked more like a lumberjack than most of the lumberjacks I've met. (It's no wonder I don't scare easily.) But he's the most intelligent person I've ever encountered. There is nothing the man can't fix, or at least jury-rig until he figures out some other solution. He just understands things, their function, their parts and what makes 'em tick. If I ever manage a fraction of his mechanical talent, I'll count myself fortunate indeed. And his favorite thing is to watch the light dawn on your face when he makes you understand what he just knows.

Truth be told, we are peas in a pod. I too am grouchy, impatient and prone to solitude - actually more so than Dad most of the time. My mother despairs of us - she is a social creature and when she has people over, you can usually find Dad and I off someplace else. Dad has to stay on the move, 'cause he's the sort of man that men respect and they want him to like them so they tend to follow him around. Every now and then, at one of Mom's parties, I sit in my corner and watch as Dad tries to find a quiet corner only to be followed by some number of guys determined to make him listen as they ramble on about their tractor or their car or interrogate him on how to fix the sump pump or the generator or whatever. And I have to laugh, because I get a visual of a duck surrounded by squawking baby ducks, all demanding attention. When he starts looking like he's gonna blow, I'll interfere and distract whomever has him captive while he makes his getaway to the garage. It's the job my mom assigned me when I was still a small child, because if he is trapped for too long, he will blow, and rain abuse on whatever person pushed too hard for his attention. He's done it before, and probably will again.

He gets frustrated - with people who get in his way, with things that don't work the way he wants them to, with the world sometimes and he's got a nasty temper. I know how much control he keeps over it, because both my brother and I inherited it. My brother has the holes in his bedroom wall to prove it.

I think sometimes that Dad enjoys the intimidation that some feel around him, but he's not a bully. He's the guy the bullies watch out for. Nature and its wonders fascinate him. The outside birds will line up on the window sill and peck the windows if he's late with their seed and suet (which really freaked me out as a kid - I've seen "The Birds" thank you very much). The gold finches at our house don't bother losing their yellow color in the winters - Dad keeps them well fed with a special diet of already shelled sunflower seeds. His special favorites, the chickadees, follow him around when he's outside and if he's too slow to fill the feeder, they'll land on him, and his scoop of seed. We have several cardinals, nuthatches, three types of woodpeckers, and a large flock of the stripe-headed meadow sparrows (or whatever they're called) that the rangers at the wildlife center near us swear are very rare. They aren't that rare, they just all hang out at our house. One summer, a young bird in the midst of learning to fly was flapping about in the yard, a feathered dinner bell for the area cats. Dad picked it up and put it back in the tree... and then spent most of the day doing the same thing as the little bird apparently realized that elevator service was a handy thing to have.

He built a ramp so that rodents and other small creatures could make their way out of the pit in the garage. We have several grey tree frogs - and Dad chirps back at all of them as he works in the yard.

To steal from MM again, Dad puts the 'ack' in back way - he never met a main road that he liked. He's got 'detours' to get anywhere, and as he goes along, he checks the status of the wildlife he's discovered along the way. Here we stop by the side of the road to watch the swans with their young, and there is where that blasted kingfisher perches. (Blasted 'cause it vanishes anytime Dad's got a camera with him. It's amazing - that bird knows when filming is imminent! It's a constant frustration for my father.) There's a fox family in that culvert - he sees them sometimes on his way home from work, as the sun is barely peeking over the horizon.

He's very protective of all those under his care - people, animals, machines, land, whatever, and he would be a happy hermit. If his family is gathered nearby where he can watch over them, he'd be happy to close out the rest of civilization.

When the boy came to pick me up for my first date ever, Mom had the camera ready. Dad was cleaning his guns at the kitchen table. He rambled on for a while about how good a shot he was, and then looked very pointedly at the terrified young man and asked what time he'd have me home. Poor guy didn't stop shaking all night. He told me years later (when he finally started talking to me again) that he was sure Dad was going to kill him if he so much as looked at me.

And, yes, he is gruff, but if you (if you are his family) catch him in the right mood, he'll sing along with the goofy 50s music he prefers. He can make that wah-WAH-wah noise from the Clint Eastwood westerns until you want to whack him in the head. He can wiggle his ears, independently. He's a dead shot with a rubber band. When I was a kid, he'd tuck me into bed so tightly I couldn't move, and I've never felt safer. This was after he'd hold my brother and I up high so we could crawl across the ceiling. Then he'd drop us so we'd fall into the middle of the bed. Mom was convinced we'd break our necks, but we'd whine and nag to 'do it again, Dad!'

Last November, he turned 62. His hair is more silvered these days (and it wasn't all my fault) and he feels the cold much more than he used to. I see him, mostly, through adult eyes, and I like and admire who I see. I'm very lucky in many ways, and he's at the top of my blessings list.

Thanks, Dad, for being who and what you are. Love you.

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