By JAMES H. SWAIN
I’ve been blessed and highly favored.
Daddy has been around for as long as I can remember. He turned 94 this year. He still has his mental faculties and can still, with a little help, get around. Last week we went fishing “down at the pond” below the house he shared with my mom for about 20 years after they moved back to Bedford, Virginia from Philadelphia where they raised my sister and two knucklehead little boys (my brother and I) into adulthood.
As a child, I revered him, I saw him as a superhero of sorts: tall, powerfully strong, and on the side of right. I also respected him in the sense that I loathed the thought of him (or my mom) discovering any misbehavior on my part. Partially because I feared punishment but more so because I hated to disappoint them.
You see as I grew older, before I started school and thereafter, Daddy would take us to work. He worked a full time job as a cook at the Veterans Hospital in Philly and later in Valley Forge. But Daddy had mucho skills. We went with him after work on his job. He worked doing almost everything:
plumbing and heating, hanging wall paper, painting, and working on cars. We would clean up, sweep, pick up trash, load and unload the various cars (like the old Dodge station wagon with the push button transmission). Sometimes we would just stay in the car all day Saturday outside his job. We’d wait for him to finish, entertaining ourselves with toy soldiers, flash cards and comic books.
Through it all, we learned first-hand how hard he worked to put food on the table, pay the mortgage on our modest three bedroom West Philly row house, and keep us in clean clothes and decent shoes. We saw the sweat dripping off his chin on those hot summer days in the converted horse stable garage he rented for twenty five dollars a month to work on cars. He would do all kinds of automotive work like body work, engine tune-ups and change the brakes on his co-workers cars. When I was tall enough, it was my job to pump the brakes to get the air out of the system. I can hear him now: ”Alright pump it…keep pumping it …hold it… push down… are you pushin’ ?” My brother and I had all kinds of ancillary duties, and adventures, with Daddy in the garage.
As I grew older, the first thing I wanted to do was get a paying job. My thought was, if I’m going to spend my spare time working (with my dad) I might as well try to work somewhere and get paid. I started “junkin’” with my friend Rabbit, and cleaning at Mrs. Hill’s house, when I was about 11 years old and there was no turning back.
I also began to learn more about my superhero Dad. As I grew taller than him, he was still tall. As my brother grew stronger than him (I don’t think I ever was) he was still strong. I learned that he was a WWII era Navy Veteran; worked in the coal mines of West Virginia as a young man and maybe finished eighth grade (no wonder he and my mom were so hot on us getting through school). As I grew into manhood I began to see him as a man, with faults, shortcomings, and having made some mistakes along the way. In short, as a man having lived life. But he was never less to me than the father I’d always known, loved and admired.
On our fishing trip last week, we got stuck three times – twice getting down to the pond and once getting back to the house. Although he doesn’t drive on the street anymore, I gladly turned the wheel over to Daddy to navigate the truck out of the mud and milkweed each time, getting us to dry land so we could move forward. Oh, the score: Daddy caught eight keepers, I caught none.
Through it all Daddy has always been Daddy. He has never been my “friend” although I‘ve always loved him and we’ve almost always been friendly. I’m not one who has had a lot of friends. But I’ve always been happy to have a father who was a father. He doesn’t have to be my friend, I have friends and will hopefully have more. I won’t have another Dad and, because he is who he is, I won’t need another one.
Blessed and highly favored.
Happy Father’s Day Daddy. firstname.lastname@example.org