Thoughts About My Father on Father's Day
Copyright 2013. ThomasHofbauer.com. All rights reserved.
It’s another Father’s Day - our tenth one without my dad and, as always, I’m sad.
I know many of you have lost your dads, too, and I share your sorrow.
Today, in honor of Father’s Day, I wanted to post a few words about my dad that I was honored to deliver at his funeral.
Growing up, one of my favorite books was The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery. In this book, the little prince is a visitor from another planet who has been traveling to many distant asteroids to get advice on how to care for his rose, the only flower that grows on his tiny planet. In his travels, he meets a very wise fox who tells him, “It is the time you have wasted on your rose that makes your rose so important”.
I remember liking that quote. And in later years as I got to know my dad as not just a dad but also as my best friend, I remember thinking that the wise fox was talking about my dad.
Our dad “wasted” lots of time going to music performances and sporting events, dance recitals and plays, graduations and inductions. He spent just as much time attending toilet de-cloggings, water main replacements, and furnace repairs. When it came to his children and his grandchildren, there was never anything too small upon which he could waste his time.
He was known as Bill or Billy or Dad or Papa. Some of his work friends called him Huff-n-Puff. But no matter what you called him, you knew him to be a thoughtful, honest, compassionate, loving, gentle man who always had time to give a hand, lend an ear, commiserate, advise, or just to pass some time with.
To us, his children, he did all of that. He was a teacher, a disciplinarian, a chef, and a handyman. He was a cheerleader and a supporter. And he was a hero… to each of us.
He was “green” before “green” became the fashion. There is not one of his offspring who wasn’t told, “When we stop at the intersection, I want you to get out and pick up those aluminum cans”. And we all did it. We would hop out of the car and grab those ridiculous, sticky, ant-covered soda cans and bring them back to our green warrior.
Dad could always be depended upon for a favor. For a period of time, Jim lived in an apartment on Potter Street in East Toledo. He had his own room but he shared a common bathroom that was separate from his apartment. One cold winter morning, Jim went to shower only to accidentally lock himself out of his apartment. Clothed only in socks, underwear, and a tee-shirt, Jim ran several long blocks to the Blade newspaper station on Starr Avenue to call Dad and have him bring out a spare key. Doing his best “super hero to the rescue” routine, Dad put Jim’s spare key in his pocket, hopped into his car, and made his way immediately to… the AAA office. He had forgotten. (No judgment here… seems like we ALL do that at some point).
As he stood in line at the AAA, patiently awaiting his turn, he put his hand into his pocket and pulled out… JIM’S APARTMENT KEY.
In a panic, he immediately left the AAA office and raced over to Jim’s place. Jim was patiently waiting - in his underwear in the freezing cold - for Dad to arrive. As Dad pulled up and sheepishly handed Jim the key, he said, “Go ahead and yell.” Without a word, Jim took the key and went back into his apartment. And Dad never made that mistake again.
I mentioned that he was a teacher. I remember once telling a lie — once? Okay, on one of many occasions, I remember telling a lie to cover an indiscretion. I was clearly wrong. I clearly lied and he clearly figured it out. But there was no paddling, no whipping, no Ivory Soap sandwich. Instead, that afternoon he called me to the kitchen and he pointed out a small pile of cut-up pieces of paper, each about a half inch square, on the table. He informed me that there were a thousand of these pieces of paper scattered throughout the front yard and my job was to go out and pick all of them up.
I went out to gather those scraps of paper. I would get a handful and put them in a pile on the sidewalk. And just as I was going back to pick up some more, the wind would come along and blow my little piles away. After several attempts at this fruitless exercise, I went inside crying to my dad that “I couldn’t get all the pieces of paper”. At that point, he informed me that each of those pieces of paper represented a lie and that when I told a lie, I could never get that lie back.
Now I’d love to say that I never lied again but that would… be a lie. But I never did forget that lesson.
Dad was also a man who wanted to set a good example. Let’s be honest, just about everyone swears at one time or another. But I never heard my dad swear - and I’m not talking the big “ten dollar words you can’t say on television” type of swear word. I’m talking your garden variety “every grade schooler knows” type of swear word. I never heard my dad swear until I was well into my late 20s.
And while on the subject of swearing, for all five of his kids, eating vegetables was a swear-worthy event. We weren’t crazy about vegetables but we had to eat them. And why not? Dad always ate his vegetables.
Many years later, after we were all out of the nest, my dad and my mother went to visit my sister Ann and her husband in Virginia. Ann made a delicious meal with lots of vegetables. LOTS of them. And Dad politely declined them. Ann said, “But Dad, you LOVE vegetables”. Well, as it turns out, just the opposite was true. He hated them. And not just your “garden variety” vegetable hatred but a white hot, “words you can’t say on television” type of vegetable hatred.
Yeah, all those years he spent raising his kids, he ate all those vegetables only to set a good example.
The stories about this amazing man could fill several volumes and perhaps someday they will.
But today, as I think about another Father’s Day without him, I think of him holding each of his children and grandchildren in his hands, hands roughened from years of hard, physical labor. I think of him as that gardener, gently tending each of his fragile blooms and helping each of us to grow in the beautiful roses he dearly loved.
We love you and we miss you every day, Dad.
Thomas Hofbauer © 2015