Reflecting On Dad by Begin Again
HAPPY “101” BIRTHDAY IN HEAVEN, DAD
Today, I can’t help but reflect on my life as your child. I should praise you and offer thanks for being taught never to say I can’t. I learned very early that can’t was an unacceptable action at any time. You gave me the undeniable strength to move forward regardless of the pain and sacrifice.
On the other hand, it is sad to remember the hollow, loveless world we shared. I can't remember emotions ever being shown inside our house, at least not happy ones. I don't recall anyone ever holding my hand, hugging me, simply saying I love you, or even that a job was well done. Later in life, I questioned your reasoning and wondered if you hated me because I wasn’t a son.
I remember straight A's were greeted by "Where's the pluses?" and "I can't" was punctuated with a leather belt. As a young child, I discovered you had one commandment - never, ever say can’t. Regardless of one’s efforts, it wasn’t good enough unless you continued to try and try again. Failure wasn’t acceptable.
The fifth commandment tells us to “Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.”
I believe, to the best of my ability, I tried to live up to that commandment. Doing so was far from an easy task, but one I struggled to fulfill.
Closing my eyes, I can see my German father towering over me, glaring and demanding my attention. He wasn't expecting me to answer because a child was to be seen, not heard, listen and obey, accept his word, and only his word, as law.
Raised during the Depression, he quit school when he was only eight. He worked at every sloppy, dirty, miserable job that anyone would offer a young child. He waded through knee-deep snow, tracking a rabbit so his family would have something to eat. As he got older, he worked two full-time jobs, often going without sleep for days. In his mind, he wouldn't live if he surrendered to the word can't, a thought he refused to entertain.
No job was too much. My father shoveled carloads of coal, carried fifty-pound blocks of ice, shucked ears of corn till his fingers bled, and cleaned tons of manure from area barns. He pieced together junked cars to sell and delivered heating fuel to homes. My father survived and declared himself a self-made man. He worked without any fuss, any questions, any whimpering or whining. He just got the job done.
He carried his philosophy into his marriage. While working a full-time job, my father built our home while my mother and I retrieved lumber, nails, and anything he needed. After the house was built, my mother and I dug a small basement, removing five-gallon buckets of dirt, one bucket at a time. Working outside the home was not an option for my mother; her place was at home, cleaning and making our meals. Thinking back, I never remember her voicing an opinion about anything. Our house was immaculate, and dinner was served, quietly; precisely as my father wanted it.
I respected my father for all that he achieved during his 96 years but regretted everything he lost. His tunnel vision of succeeding made him miss the panoramic view of his wonderful family. He never felt the enjoyment of laughing, loving, and sharing.
Today, as I reflect on our lives, I recognize that his drive and determination instill in me the qualities I needed to survive all the tragedies I have faced. People ask how I can continue after losing so much. I believe the much-hated word “can’t” is burrowed deep in my subconscious. His voice is repeatedly telling me not to surrender to my sorrow and weaknesses but to stand strong, support my family so they too can endure our troubles.
In the end, I must accept that my father believed his determination to build a strong foundation, monetarily and materially, was the greatest form of love he could provide. His definition was not the same as mine, but I did not face the difficulties and struggle to survive that he did as a young child.
I can’t say that I will ever forget the abuse, but I will honor his memory. Forgiveness and understanding come easier as time passes. Today, as he celebrates his birthday, I hope he has found happiness in the arms of the angels and smiles down on me. After my father passed away, my mother left me a note telling me that my father really did love me. As I love and honor my Mom, I will breathe deeply today, wish him a Happy Birthday, and believe I was loved.
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