Culture, Family, Love

Always My Dad–A Belated Fathers’ Day Post for 2023

It’s been 16 years since my father departed this earth, and I miss him every day.  Most days, I still chat with him, even now. (He can sometimes be quite helpful with advice for my life’s little projects and problems.  I’ve found that he’s not nearly as excitable as he once was, which can–on occasion–be a very good thing.)

Today I thought about him a lot as I was constructing a narrow side door for our small barn. The opening is only 24″ wide, and standard door height, and until about three weeks ago, it was occupied by a very inexpensive and used interior door that a neighbor gave us for the purpose some thirty years ago, when we originally built the barn.  There are eight-foot sliding barn doors on the driveway side, but if I just want to go in the barn to get something, or to toss a couple of bales of hay down to the sheep, it’s a bit of a drag (see what I did there) to get one of those large doors open, and then to pull it closed again.

The original little door was never designed for exterior use, and over the years its laminated layers have been coming apart and peeling off, and the coup-de-grace was delivered a few weeks ago by the dogs, who decided to eat their way through it.  (There’s an elderly male tabby cat who appeared from somewhere and has taken to sleeping in the barn, and I think Odo and Xuxa were determined to meet him.)  When they were done, this is what was left:

I got some plywood and covered it up.

This was excessively inconvenient.  For me, anyway.  I doubt the dogs even noticed.

So today, I decided to do something about it, and–mirabile dictu–without having to go out and buy a single bit of anything, I produced this from scraps and odds-and-ends:

The hinges are from the old door I removed yesterday.  The barrel bolt is from something-or-other I threw into a bonfire at some point, and which I then raked out of the ashes.  The lumber is bits and pieces–offcuts–from rough-sawn poplar fence boards, many of which were leftover from the remodeling project inside the house last year. (Much of the house’s post-and-beam structure was constructed with rough-sawn poplar and maple from a local lumberyard, and we needed some more for accents.  I thought the fence boards would work.  And they did.)

There’s at least a modicum of expertise involved (I have learned over the years) in producing something this rustic which fits in with the rest of the “look” here, and yet which (in the case of a door) hangs, opens, and closes properly.  I equate it to Dolly Parton’s famous remark that “It costs a lot of money to look this cheap,” or the extra skill that’s required for a world-class figure skater to do an awkward clown routine.  Not as easy as it looks.

But–perhaps with a bit of help from the Great Beyond–I did it!

Dad was an ardent Do-It-Yourselfer, in the days when being such wasn’t easy, because most supply houses didn’t sell retail to ordinary homeowners.  We were lucky though, and a local store–Brookside Lumber–was just a couple of miles down the road.  (This was in the late 1960s, early 1970s, years before Hechingers and Builders Square made it to Western PA, and decades before the advent of Lowes and Home Depot.)

Dad loved to go to Brookside Lumber.  And I loved to go with him.  Half a century later, I still love to go there, even though it’s about a 70-mile round trip these days.  Still, they have stuff no one else does, and their supply of hardwoods is unparalleled in this area.  A few years ago, when I replaced all the windows and doors in the house (I. Replaced. Them), Brookside Lumber is where I went to buy the new ones. And the spirit of Dad goes with me every time.

That spirit is never more present than on the day, at the time, when I am desperate to finish a project of small or large size, and I suddenly realize that I’m missing a small thing: A particular drill bit.  A bolt of a certain length.  A switch box.  A plumbing valve.  One. Thing.  And I could be finished with it, be done with it, have a beer, and put my feet up.

And I root through my piles of stuff, realize that I don’t have what I’m looking for, and resign myself to the thought that I’ll just have to go up the road to Washington, PA, and get it.

This is when the spirit of Dad intrudes and says to me: “Just go.  Don’t bathe.  Don’t change.  Don’t put on your face.  Just go.  Get the damn thing.  Come home.  Finish the job.”

Lord.  My poor mother.  She was mortified by Dad’s excursions, disreputable, filthy, tattered and disheveled, to Brookside, or American Hardware, or some such place.  He didn’t care what he looked like or what anyone might think of his personal appearance.  I know Mum suffered agonies, hoping against hope that Dad wouldn’t end up in a hospital emergency room where someone asking questions might discover their relationship, or that he wouldn’t run into a politician, a clergyman, or anyone from the University where he taught who might tell stories out of school.

And so–so many years later–I try to honor the tradition.  All it takes is a short text to my sister as I wend up the hill, disreputable, filthy, tattered, and disheveled myself.  “Off to [name of store].  Dad would be proud.”

And the inevitable response: “Hope you left your false teeth at home.  Otherwise, you’re not doing a proper job.”

To be clear, I don’t have any false teeth.  But Dad did, ever since he lost several of his own pearly-whites and a significant proportion of the lower half of his face when the vehicle he was in ran over a mine in the War.

And he’d regularly go out on such jaunts without them.  (To be even clearer, I never really knew if this was deliberate or not.  He was perfectly capable of leaving them behind on purpose, just for effect.  A secret which went to the grave with him.)

Today, though, no such trip was necessary, and I completed my little project without incident and further ado.

It’s Father’s Day.  Perhaps he was looking out for me.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.  Thanks for your boundless faith in yourself, and in all three of your children.  It’s taken me down some strange pathways over the course of my life (not least when the late Mr. She and I sold the Pittburgh house and moved into a field, living in a tent, in Washington County, PA, with the mad idea that we were going to build our own house and start a little farm), but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

I hope you’re proud of your older daughter.  She might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but she is–like all girl children of all fathers everywhere, a unique and special brew.

Certain is it that there is no kind of affection so purely angelic as of a father to a daughter. In love to our wives there is desire; to our sons, ambition; but to our daughters, there is something which there are no words to express–Joseph Addison

1 thought on “Always My Dad–A Belated Fathers’ Day Post for 2023”

  1. The false teeth reminds me of my grandmother. My parents and uncles were one night talking about their dental problems when my grandmother just said, in a lull, “whenever my teeth hurt I just take them out.” Half a heartbeat later the entire kitchen was howling with laughter.

    One of my father’s favorite jokes is this: 2 strangers are at a bar. One leans to the other and says “betcha 20 bucks I can bite my eye.” The other looks the first up and down and says, “OK, I’ll take the bet.” With that the first guy takes out his false teeth and “bites” his eye. “That’s cheating!” says the 2nd guy, now fleeced of his cash. “Sorry, but I’ll give you a chance to make your money back. Double or nothing says I can bit my other eye.” The 2nd guy agrees to the bet. With that the first guy takes out his glass eye…

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