Sunday, June 16, 2019

One man’s happiness

Father’s Day, and I’m sitting at my desk, worrying about all the dads who wanted to spend their day on the golf course. It’s almost as dark as night, and the thunder and rain have been constant all afternoon. When I napped, I had an anxious dog snuggled up next to me.

We went to early church—no wonder I’m sleepy—and afterwards had a delightful brunch, apparently Christian’s favorite meal. Now they have gone to Coppell to see his parents and pick up Jacob who spent the weekend there.

The internet is full of memories of fathers today, and most of them are being described as fun and crazy. Makes me think about my dad. He was never crazy but one of the most disciplined men I ever met. Fun? Only when you were old enough to appreciate his droll humor. Dad was Canadian and very much an Anglophile at heart. He liked order and routine, and Mom gave it to him.

I was his only child (a sister died at six months), though he raised my half-brother. Theirs was not always a meeting of the minds until John was old enough to appreciate Dad’s virtues and approach him as an adult. Dad was, among other things, a stickler for respect and table manners (the British version—I still want to switch my fork from the left, for cutting, to the right for eating—it drove him crazy, as did buttering your bread in the air. And elbows on the table? Never! No hats at the table either—perish the thought.).

But I got to thinking today, as I read about all these joyful fathers, whether or not my father was a happy man, and I concluded he was. Without boasting, I’ll say I know that I made him happy (except for the few major times I disappointed him). He was proud of me, as I was proud of him.

My mom made him happy. She ran what to his mind was the perfect household—meat and potatoes for dinner at six every night, served at a table covered with a white linen tablecloth and linen napkins at every place. Anyone remember napkin rings? And she was a perfect intellectual match for him, being equally as well read. She acceded to his belief that women should not work outside the home, though I think she sometimes longed to. She compensated with volunteer activities.

I think of three happy places for my dad. He, an osteopathic physician, president of an osteopathic college, and administrator of the associated hospital, liked nothing better than to put on old, disreputable clothes and work in his garden. When I was growing up in Chicago, we had a beautiful garden in the empty lot which was part of our property. Dad was equally happy on our annual vacation to the Indiana Dunes, where we had a primitive cottage—no electricity, no indoor plumbing. You had to walk a mile to get to it, carrying your clothes and groceries. But with woods to the back of the cabin and a sweeping view of Lake Michigan to the front, it was a little bit of heaven. Food tasted better, you slept better, and a swim in the lake was the highlight of the day.

Mom and Dad retired to North Carolina, the foothills of the Smokies where they had honeymooned, and Dad once again had a glorious garden. Mom had fresh roses on her dining table every day (the linen cloth had gone the way of all good things). Dad would come in from the garden, shower and put on a fresh shirt, and they’d have a proper British tea, with milk of course, never cream, and always some kind of biscuit.

Today it sounds like an old-fashioned life and maybe even by the sixties and seventies, it was. But looking back, I would say my dad was a happy man. He had professional success, a family he loved, and life that just suited him. Not many of us can say that.

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