I was lucky enough to know my daddy for thirty-two years. He died of lung & liver cancer in 1986, at age 54. He was a man of few words, but he taught me lots of cool things when I was a little girl. I was the first child, so I was his little blonde sidekick. He picked me up from nursery school on his way home from work and we usually stopped at a drive-in market. He got a beer & peanuts, I got a small Coke in a glass bottle and a candy bar, usually Payday or Goo-Goo. No wonder I had so many cavities!
I was curious and didn't mind getting dirty. We went fishing together where I mastered putting a worm on a hook, but never could stand those ugly crickets. He converted an old shed into a playhouse just for me. I'm sure I was in the way, but he let me hand him tools when he built something or worked on the car. Later he showed me how to to change the oil, spark plugs and tires. He let me play pinball with him and when I was tall enough, I got to shoot pool. My mama says he even taught me how to cuss, although I believe that gift came from both of them.
Daddy was a plumber, so I learned about leaky faucets, soldering copper pipe, and how a septic tank functioned. We went hunting; he showed me how to handle a gun. I helped him skin squirrels and rabbits, then we fried them up for supper. We camped in the boondocks, planted gardens and grew corn, beans, tomatoes and squash.
Naturally, as I got older, I became more interested in school, my friends, boys and clothes. By then my little brother was the main sidekick, so that was ok. Daddy always left most of the discipline to my mama, but now and then he put his foot down. Like the time he wouldn't let me ride Frankie's blue Honda 50. He thought women who rode motorcycles were trashy. That went for pierced ears, too. I did both after I got married; he just shook his head.
As an adult, I realized more valuable lessons from looking back on how he lived. He left school after eighth grade to work and help support his family. Daddy enlisted with the Marines to fight in Korea, but the horrible experience of war was something he didn't talk to me about. He was extremely proud of his service. He sometimes worked two jobs to put food on our table and to give us the extras we wanted. He always wanted us kids to do better and have more than he had.
Even his bad habits taught me about life. I saw first hand that it really wasn't that cool to smoke or get drunk. All the adults on both sides of our family smoked; it was ordinary in the '50s and '60s. I helped clean house; emptying stale ash trays and scrubbing the film off windows makes you see how nasty a habit it is. I never even lit a cigarette. Over-drinking isn't pretty either. It did amaze me that while battling alcoholism, he never drank on the job. I didn't touch the stuff until my late twenties, which probably kept me out of a lot of trouble as a teen. I finally decided that drinking an occasional beer or glass of wine wasn't going to turn me into an alcoholic.
So today, on Father's Day, I raise a glass to my Daddy. I wish I'd talked to him more, that he'd lived longer. But I'm thankful for all those days we had as sidekicks! By spending time with me and teaching me practical skills, he helped me become an independent, well-rounded woman who isn't afraid to try something new. I'm proud to be his daughter.
Useful Notion: Daddy taught me that if you stick your head in the sand to avoid a problem, you'll either suffocate, you'll miss something important, or someone will run over your ass.
"My father didn't tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it."
~ Clarence B. Kelland
~ Clarence B. Kelland