Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father's Day

For those of us with no living father, the day brings inevitable memories of the past. I thought a lot about my own dad today. He was Canadian, an Anglophile in many of his tastes, particularly food--he put on a clean starched shirt for dinner every night, and we ate on a linen tablecloth with cloth napkins and that relic of the past--napkin rings. And we ate meat and potatoes--period. We had to mind our manners--that was drummed into my brother and me, and I've watched us both pass it on to our children. Dad was the president of an osteopathic medical college and administrator of the associated hospital, a leader in his profession. Students called him "Black Mac"--his name was R. N. MacBain, but friends and colleagues called him Mac. I went to work for him in high school, and I attribute whatever success I've had to that training--I could still be a heck of an executive secretary today. A pillar of the Methodist church, Dad had certain expectations for John and me, and to some extent we both disappointed him. But after he and Mom retired to the foothills of the Smokies in North Carolina and he relaxed a bit, all those tensions seemed to disappear. We were close, all of us, including my husband, even though Dad thought my marriage was a huge mistake--well, it turned out he was right, but who knew! The last summer of his life, we took my children for our annual two-week visit. Jordan, my youngest, was four or five months old, and Dad thought she was invented for his own private amusement. He adored that child, as he did all my chldren.
Dad was a gardener. As cooking is my avocation, gardening was his. He had a huge garden in Chicago and spent weekends working in it, wearing clothes that were embarrassingly dirty and shabby. It never bothered him, even when students wandered by to say hello. In North Carolina, he had a magnificent garden, and Mom always had roses on her dining table. I wish I'd inherited that gene, but I'm afraid I want it to look as wonderful as Dad's garden, but I don't want to do the work.
I remember Dad with a lot of mixed emotions--he was a strict disciplinarian, and I lived in fear, I think, of disappointing him. But I can't forget the life lessons I learned from him, and I know I am who I am because of his influence. And with great certainty, I know that he loved me, the only child of his later life. And I loved him a lot. I frequently wish that my dad--and my mom--were here to see their grandchldren and great-grandchildren. They would not always have approved of my parenting, but they'd be proud of the way they all turned out. And they'd be proud of me as a mom and of my career. Yeah, I miss them both--and dream about them a lot.
Today I don't know where my dad is buried, though a distant relative has given me a clue to finding out. I do know that he and my sister who died in infancy are buried in the family plot in a cemetery in Oakville, Ontario. I'll find them someday.
For Father's Day this year, I went to see Charles, who seemed frail but alert and was waiting for his son, Brian, to come visit. I stayed briefly, then left so he could rest before Brian arrived. And late this afternoon I went to Jordan's house to celebrate Father's Day and Jacob's birthday with the Burton family. (Of course, I managed to leave Jacob's birthday present at home on the dining table--good going, Judith). Good brisket, beans (I brought Bush's in a can, but they can't be beat), potato salad that Jordan's cooking-minded brother-in-law made (his first, he said) and banana pudding (I swore off that). With three little ones splashing in the pool and a nice breeze outside, it was a lovely evening.
I keep my car radio on NPR but for some reason, on summer evenings when it stays light later and I come from Jordan's in the cool (well, comparative cool--we are having a prolonged above average heat spell) I put the top down, pop in my tape of Alex Beaton's Scottish singing, and sing my fool head off along with Alex. I love it, from songs about Glenco and what the Scotsman wears under his kilt to Bonny Dundee and Scotland the Brave. A perfect end to a nice day and a great weekend and maybe a nice tribute to my dad, who was very much a Scot.

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