Friday, January 29, 2016

Remembering my father

 My father’s been gone since 1977, but I never fail to mark his birthday which is today. I hesitate to tell you how old he would be but will say he was born at the tail end of the 19th Century and fought, for Canada, in WWI. Obviously I was a late in life baby. Dad was a dignified, disciplined man with a firm sense of right and wrong and a deep love for his family, though I don’t remember that he often played with us. He loved to tell the story of taking me sledding in the park in front of our Chicago house when I was probably three or so. Another man happened along and said, “I guess I’ll go get my granddaughter too.” Dad was crushed. In my teen years I worked for Dad—he was director of a hospital and president of an osteopathic college, though the former took most of his time. I eventually became his executive secretary before I went off to graduate school. What I learned from him has stood me in good stead through the years, and I could still be the best executive secretary you ever saw.
Dad’s avocation was his garden. On weekends he’d be out on his hands and knees, working in his garden as shabby as any homeless man. His appearance never bothered him, even when neighbors, friends or students came by. In retirement he had a lavish garden in the foothills of North Carolina. And he adored his grandchildren, laughing at their antics, taking them walking in the snow, showing them flowers. He always said Megan brushed her teeth with such enthusiasm she was going to brush them right out of her head. Jordan was six months old his last summer—none of us knew then about the aortic aneurysm that would kill him. He would sit on the porch in North Carolina and watch her on her blanket on the floor for hours—he seemed to think she was created for his amusement.
He would be proud of my children today though there are some aspects of their lives that would worry him, and he’d probably sneak me off in a corner to tell me what they should do, as though they were still children. I try to talk to my grandchildren about him to keep his memory alive. He was a proud member of the MacBean clan (actually we spelled it MacBain) and I feel that Highland heritage strongly. My two oldest children took me to Scotland a few years ago, and we visited the MacBain Memorial Park, high above Lochness. Nope, no sighting of Nessie. But my house has many Scottish things, and my oldest son is the keeper of the tradition. Grandfather would be proud of that. My youngest son is a devotee of good Scotch, and his grandfather would approve that too.
Dad was also a newshound and devoted Democrat—we dared not talk during the news. I often think of what his reaction would be to today’s politics, but I know he would applaud President Obama. His heroes were FDR and Winston Churchill. To me, that speaks to the character of the man.
I was always in a bit of awe of him, I admired him, I laughed at his foibles—once when he thought it was time for guests to go home, he began to run the vacuum. But above all I loved him, and I miss him. I often wish he was here so I could consult him. I remember when he died thinking “There goes the last man who will take care of me.” (I was supposedly happily married at the time.) I will say my brother has stepped into that role nicely, not that I necessarily need a man to take care of me.

Wow! I started out to write about a day split between work and family and ended up with a paean to my father. He’s worth it.


Anonymous said...

My mother was the most influential part of my life. The one who would love me no matter what. The one I could trust with all my dreams and secrets. The one who I could consult about my kids and who's advice I would accept as gospel. The finality of death is hard to explain to someone who has never had that kind loss. I for one feel alone in this world now. The pit in my stomach, when I think about her has not lessen with time.
On the other hand I think how lucky we were to have someone in our lives who loved us unconditionally, someone we admired and someone who taught us what love really was; there are people who never experience that kind of love or that kind of finality.

Judy Alter said...

My mother was a big influence too, but that's another story for another day.