After the Fact: Dear ol’ dad


“Unit comes complete with 473 screws and (snickering in the background) 471 nuts.”  Have you ever tried to assemble one of those prefabricated pieces of furniture they sell at WalMart? The directions are written in Spanish, French, Chinese and Sanskrit. It’s only slightly worse if you’ve ordered online for home delivery. As revealed in a recently leaked military supply training manual, “Things that must be together to work usually can’t be shipped together.”

This pretty well sums up my dad’s life. Not much ever went according to what was planned, particularly if it involved any one or more of his children. Instead of an orderly line of ducklings following in his wake, dad had a tribe of independent thinkers who, often as not, were wandering off in five different directions.

That I was born a “Patricia” instead of a “Patrick” was a mild disappointment; “Michael” was, instead, “Michele” (Micki). Dad would have had better luck with two guppies than he did trying to figure out the care and feeding of two little girls. We didn’t come with instructions. He must have been mightily relieved when the third child was a boy. And the fourth. By the time Jami came along, dad had it figured out: he bought a horse and let it raise my youngest sister.

As every other house in town at the time, ours was “government issue,” prefabricated and put together almost like the Walmart étagère. Dad had visions of a lush lawn, a small orchard (dwarf trees) and breath-taking gardens. Despite application of every kind of fertilizer from road apples to Miracle Gro and every kind of grass seed from Kentucky Blue Grass to Will-Grow-on-Concrete-Blocks, not much would take root in the 1/16th inches of dirt that barely covered the rock on which most of the neighborhood was built.  Several of his dwarf fruit trees grew to rival the giant redwoods of California while the dwarf cherry produced only enough fruit to make one pie. Unless the birds got there first. Happily, several of the trees died, leaving only a small, manageable forest in the back yard.

As soon as we were tall enough to push the lawn mower, dad relinquished that chore to his home-grown serfs. He preferred an electric lawn mower so he’d sit on the patio with a large glass of iced tea and shout out directions to the pushee: “Don’t run over the cord!” With every turn at top or bottom. “Don’t run over the cord.” I still heard his voice when mowing my own lawn, even with a gas-powered mower. The only person to ever run over the cord was dad. Later, we could hear him telling a friend from work that he’d spent the whole weekend mowing the front and back lawns. No wonder he needed a nap in the afternoon.

Dad’s preferred punishment for any infraction was “grounding.” I’ve been grounded for life so many times, I’d have to live into the 41st century to accommodate all of them. He must have forgotten that Steve, the younger brother, owned his own Jeep when he took away driving privileges and hunting trips with the edict, “No wheels and no shells!” It’s become a family mantra. Along with “Your grandfather would be so proud of you,” the highest praise my dad could think of to congratulate me on graduating from college. 

For someone who hadn’t a clue, dear ol’ dad did a pretty good job of raising all of us.  You can’t go far wrong in this life if you just mind a few simple rules like, “Don’t run over the cord!” and always remember to do the things that would make grandpa proud.

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