Sunday, June 15, 2014

A Tribute to My Dad on Father's Day



My earliest memory of my dad is when I was about 4 years old. I remember wanting to retrieve an item on the top of our living room fireplace and standing on the seat of my backless child-sized chair to do so. As I grabbed the item, I fell off the chair, with my underarm sliding into one of the two steel rungs that would have held up the linoleum back on the chair. The blood was pouring out as I cried out in pain and my parents ran over to inspect me. Somehow my dad made the bleeding stop and soon afterwards he repaired the back of the chair. I forgot all about my injury when he fixed my chair so that it was good as new. I knew that I had nothing to fear from that chair anymore and that I had something to sit in that was like new. New anything was rare in our home – dad worked as an ironworker after he returned from World War II and work for him in the winter was rare.

As a sergeant in the war with the Fifth Army, dad had been stationed in France and North Africa. He had earned a purple heart, a bronze star, and other medals I didn't understand the meaning of, but the one thing I did understand was that he was my hero. To me, he looked like more handsome than a movie star in his army uniform, with his easy smile and his thick, wavy medium brown hair and hazel eyes. He had a story for every old army photo he had and he had written some very romantic love letters to my mom, which I loved to read. He was a tall, handsome, gentlemanly farm boy, who spoke French at home and English at school and she was an attractive, shapely, intelligent city girl who was also fluent in both languages. Both came from pious Catholic families and shared a love of the faith.

The love between my parents was real and it was sacrificial – there were many things they gave up for one another and for their children. Most often those things were material items that others considered essential to their existence – such as family vacations, new cars, and new furniture. We often did without these things, yet managed to be happy.

My parents loved one another very much and it was obvious to everyone who knew them. They were always demonstrative in their feelings for one another and for us. My dad welcomed frequent hugs and kisses from all his five children and often seemed to be patient and tolerant with us. One of my favorite things to do with him when I was little was to play hairdresser and to give him all kinds of new styles, including: ponytails, braids, buns, teasing part of his hair straight up in the air (similar to a Mohawk, but with hair on the sides) and every other creation imaginable. He let me do it and never complained.

One of my favorite memories of dad is on the day of my First Holy Communion. Dad had built a grotto for the Blessed Mother from stones he had collected at various worksites and had planted several beautiful rose bushes in front of that special shrine to Our Lady. When we returned home from Mass, my mom took some photos of dad and me in front of the grotto. It was so special to me because it was just the two of us together in front of the sacred spot that he had built with his own hands. Although I don’t remember any words spoken that day, I knew he was proud of me and happy for me just by looking at that photo and remembering how he made me feel.

Growing up, there was one activity I enjoyed doing with my dad that I doubt many women share. I loved digging for night crawlers with him and putting them on the hook when we went fishing the next day. Fishing was my favorite activity with dad. Other activities I liked doing with him included: planting a family garden (each one of us children had his/her own row to plant), playing baseball in our backyard, going on family picnics, and going to baseball games with him (He was a die hard White Sox fan who was like “an encyclopedia on baseball” – a real trivia buff.)

I never realized just how much dad loved me until I grew up. I suppose it was because I had been so close to my mom in so many ways. Mom was the parent I spent the most time with, while dad spent most of his time working outside of the home. When dad retired and my parents moved out of state, he became the main letter writer (most likely due to the fact that mom had developed arthritis in her hands). He became the encourager, the one who advised me, and expressed his love and concern. Mom had developed cancer along with other chronic illnesses and he had now become the caregiver. Several years later, after mom had recovered from her cancer, dad was diagnosed with lung cancer, and went on to his eternal reward a short time later.

Today, daddy, I want to remind you of one thing – I love you and always will. I hope to meet you again one day on that beautiful shore. Happy Father’s Day!

©Jean M. Heimann June 2014

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