|My dad, on the right, and me right next to him with the big
shit-eating grin. Those are my grandparents (dad’s parents)
and my sisters and brother. My mom is behind the camera.
Well, a tribute to my mom just wouldn’t be complete without a follow up tribute to my dad. His name is Norval and he was named after his father, Orval. (When I told someone this once, she said, “So, he was the ‘new’ Orval?” It was after my grandparents were gone and I couldn’t ask if that was true or not, but it has always made me giggle since.)
I am not sure if my memories of my childhood are so filled with crazy stories about my dad because he *is* wonderfully nutty or if it’s because my mom was the one holding the camera. It does seem that when there was a child doing something uncharacteristically ornery, my dad was often the real instigator.
I was born when my dad was 45 years old. (My younger sister was born when he was 47.) Yes, he could have been old enough to be my grandpa and I had the same-age nieces to prove it. He always said that kids kept him young and I believe it is still true. He lights up when a baby comes into the room and is particularly fond of children around 3-8 — as they are old enough for him to share the wonders of simple things and young enough not to care when he hands them a worm.
People often made fun of me for having a dad as old as their grandparents, but other than surviving some childish teasing, the age was probably more of an asset than a problem. Because of his age and job, he owned his own business and worked hours of his choosing, which made him available to be home with us when we were sick or needed rides somewhere. (A part-time stay-at-home dad in the 70s was unheard of.) He retired when I was in high school, which made him available to take me to school, work on my car, build me a bunk bed and a whole bunch of other cool dad stuff. He was – still is – unbelievably well-read for a man with an 11th grade education. He has one of the most naturally mathematical minds of anyone I know. I can still remember when I was taking advanced math classes, he would ask about my work and draw pictures of how he interpreted it — and he would be right.
In every picture of myself from childhood, I am cracking up. Not just smiling, but big ol’ grins, twinkling eyes, red cheeks. I know in many of those pictures, my dad is nearby. My earliest memories are of my dad making me laugh. I always knew when he would come home, things were going to be fun.
He is such a tough man, even at 86. In the year I was first diagnosed with cancer, he had open-heart surgery the same month. A few months later, as I was finishing chemo, he had a double-knee replacement. That was a fun year.
He has an incredibly tender heart — for kids, animals and women. Despite my mother’s disdain for taking care of animals in addition to her gaggle of kids, Dad would bring home all sorts of cats, dogs, chickens, geese, even a pony. He doesn’t like to see anyone in pain, especially his daughters and his wife. A few weeks ago, I was sitting in a car with him as Mom made her way toward us and he said, so wistfully it broke my heart in two, “I hate to see her get old.”
While my mom can be very creative in really unique ways, my dad comes up with the freakiest, most hair-brained ideas in the world — some work, some don’t. A few years ago, he acquired a garage from the neighbor across the railroad track for free or cheap and decided he would move it — on a trailer. Now, this is an old country railroad track, where the road leading up to it goes high into the air and steeply drops off on the other side. No worries. He got a few buddies (probably octogenarians, too), jacked the sucker up, backed a trailer under it and took off. Turns out, the trailer couldn’t get past the road signs. Never fear: that’s why God invented torches. They tried again the next day and got the thing stuck on the railroad tracks. That’s when I mentally checked out of that story, so I can’t remember how they got it off the tracks, but I can tell you that no one was harmed in the finale and, three years later, that garage is in use just a few feet from my parents’ home.
These kind of stories are ENDLESS with the old man.
Besides being a crazy old, sentimental fart, my dad is also an expert at living. Almost 20 years ago, he gave me the best piece of advice that I still use to this day. I was sitting in the living room reading a piece of paper telling me I was not going to be going to grad school unless I paid for it myself (not possible). As my heart sank and he saw the disappointment, he simply said, “Well, I guess it’s time to fall back and regroup.” So, I did.