I couldn't let this day go by without posting at least a little something about my father. This is one of those weekends where Father's Day and his birthday fall on the same day, followed the day after by the anniversary of the day that he passed away. He would have been 73 today, but unfortunately he died the day after his 59th birthday. These kinds of weekends used to be very raw in the beginning, but it's been 14 years now and it has mellowed to merely a remembrance.
My father wasn't perfect and it wouldn't be right to turn him into a saint. He had really grumpy moments. It was my father who once, when he didn't want to speak to his mother when she called, added the phrase "tell her to go sh*t in her hat" to the family lexicon. (In his defense, she wasn't very nice.) He rigidly held to the attitude that his opinion was always the right one. He was not very patient at times.
There were many good things about him, too. Even in the grumpiest mood, he was never, ever negative. He could be lots of fun and he definitely knew how to laugh at himself when it was required. For example, he and I went food shopping during a trip to France and he bought a huge can of what he took to be mixed fruit ("Apples and apricots, what an interesting combination," he had said at the supermarket), but when we got back to the chalet, my brother took one look at it and said, "Dad, do you know what you bought? 'Confiture' is jam." Now realizing what a silly mistake he had made and faced with the most enormous can of jam that any of us had ever seen, he laughed, got out four bowls, dished out several spoonfuls of jam in each bowl, poured mineral water over his and sat down to eat. "Come on, kids, it's great with mineral water!" Of course he didn't expect us to eat it, but we gamely took a bite each when we weren't laughing. Making light of these kinds of mistakes was really his way of dealing with them.
He devoted himself to his family despite not having much patience for the nuts and bolts of child rearing. Instilling honesty, a good work ethic, cultural appreciation and excellent manners were of utmost importance to him. Academic achievement was really important to him. Over the years, he made a lot of sacrifices for his family and always worked really hard. When we were younger, he would often be gone for work before we got up and come home from work after we had gone to bed so that he could support his family. Weekends were always about family and because of his love of the outdoors, much of our childhoods were spent in the Adirondack Mountains, hiking, kayaking, x-c skiing, or camping, all on a shoestring budget. When we were a little older, he finally switched to a corporation which eventually gave him the opportunity to work overseas, which, with the excellent pay and hardship benefits, would earn enough money to pay for college and offer the opportunity to show us some of the world. He strongly believed in trying new things and he encouraged me to take flying lessons, learn to scuba dive, and study abroad during college.
I have many really good memories of my father, but I'm going to share one of my favorites. Right after I graduated from high school, I met my parents in Vienna, Austria, before we headed to the middle east for the rest of the summer. Early one evening, we went to the Stadtpark (City Park) for some cake and wine. There's an ornate, old building there where a small orchestra plays on the terrace where they've put a dance floor and my parents got up to dance a waltz. My father was a really wonderful dancer and I sat and watched them disappear and reappear amongst the other couples. At other times, I watched the peacocks wandering amongst the beautiful flower gardens and across the lawn. It was lovely.
As the sun was setting, we finally got ready to go and were only a little way down one of the gravel paths.
"Why didn't you dance?" he asked me.
"I don't know how to waltz," I confessed.
"You don't? Here, let me show you." He showed me where to put my arms and hands and there on the path in the twilight, to the orchestral music that was floating across the gardens, he taught me how to waltz. Of all the memories of my time with my father, those several minutes, dancing on the path in the twilight with my father is the one that makes me smile the most.
Happy Father's Day and Birthday, Dad, and Happy Father's Day to all you dads out there.