Sunday, June 17, 2007

My Dad

Since this is Father's Day I'm going to write a little bit about my dad. While I hold the fond memory of my mom being the one who pushed me along on a little blue bike and taught me to balance and ultimately ride a bike, my dad taught me so many of the important things about balance in life, about deciding to go and preparing and going. He taught me what's important but more importantly, he taught me to understand what's not important.

I remember in the early 1970s when digital watches first came on the market. I thought they were so cool but my dad viewed them with a bit of skepticism. "Sure they tell you what time it is, but most of the time you're looking at a watch to see what time it's not." I didn't quite understand, so my dad elaborated, "Say I have to be at school at eight, I look at my watch to see how close it is to eight. With hands I see at a glance how much time I have, with numbers I wind up subtracting. I do enough damn math every day, I don't want a watch that makes me do more." My dad was a science teacher for years and years and yes, he did math every damn day. But no more than he had to. I also remember seeing his checkbook one time and noting that he rounded up and only tracked dollars. "I just need to know if I have enough money," he explained. "If I wanted to track every penny I would've become an accountant."

My dad taught me to tinker, to wonder, to use tools and open things up and sometimes fix them. He taught me that you can build some things, fix some things and other things you just live with or realize that you can live fine without 'em. I think it kind of surprised my dad that when it came to motor vehicles I wound up lumping them into the pile of things I can live fine without.

Dad taught me that often times you can figure out machines but people will almost always surprise you. My dad still manages to surprise me. I remember years ago when my dad was giving me a ride back to college. He was flipping through stations on the radio dial and he stopped at a particular station playing a particular song. Now you have to understand that my dad tends to favor Patsy Cline over Patti Smith and George Jones over George Thorogood, but the station he stopped on was the rock and roll station out of Duluth and the song was "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen. My dad didn't turn the dial away but he did turn the volume up. I was stunned. And when the song ended, my dad said to me, "I don't know what that was, but that was a damn good song!" I knew right then that you can spend your entire life with someone and you still will never know everything about them. Machines might be interesting, but people are fascinating.

A few years later my dad, my brother-in-law and I were fishing up on Crane Lake in northern Minnesota. One of us hooked a large Northern Pike which we then hooked to a stringer that hung over the side of the boat. After some more hours of fishing without catching we decided to head for camp. To this day we debate over whose duty it was to pull in the stringer, but the important fact is that the stringer was not pulled in. A fact that we all became aware of when there was a loud thunk from the back of the boat as the Northern Pike hit the spinning blade of the propeller. All that was left of what was supposed to be our dinner was the head of the fish. One of my dad's more printable comments was "you know, we don't have to tell anyone about this."

But of course we told everyone. Because, as my dad later explained, "a good story is worth a lot more than a little embarrassment." Dad taught me a lot about story-telling but he also taught me the most important thing, the thing I echoed years later. I was riding a brevet somewhere and one of my fellow randonneurs said "you just do these things for the stories, don't you?" "Nope," I replied, "I do these rides because they interest me. If you do interesting things, you get interesting stories for free."

3 comments:

Steve said...

Kent,
Thank you for your story about your father. He certainly thought "outside the box" before that phrase was coined.

The watch story reminds me that too many of us are in the moment, but don't "live" in the moment. Isaac Asimov wrote a story called, "Dial vs. Digital" about the onset of digital clocks. He wondered how the next generation would describe "clockwise/counter clockwise" in the digital world. Your father reminds me of what is left in time.

My father was an engineer and a child of the Depression. It took me years to realize he was teaching me lessons everyday. Your father's idea of
"building/fixing/living with or without" reminds me of my father.

Thank you again.

Steve
Central CA

Alberto said...

That just reminds me how lucky we are to have or have had the Dads we’ve had. My Papá was a the greatest friend I ever had – yes, in the whole wide world; wish he were with me – teach me how to fix them breaks, still. Thanks for the reminder, Kent.

Gerry Lauzon said...

Great article. Fishing stories are always a riot. I fell off my chair I laughed so hard...

Gerry