Father’s Day is always a little poignant for me. This is especially true this year, since I am several states away from my children, and my own father has been dead for 27 years. My father’s absence is always weird. Dad was a good man. He was a wonderful blend of masculinity and tenderness, with a touch of shyness worked in. One of the pictures in my mind that I have of my dad is very masculine, and one could even say a little foolhardy.
Our family would spend fairly significant periods of time with my Aunt Phyllis and Uncle Melvin. They lived in the country. Specifically in the high plains region of Southwest Kansas and Southeast Colorado. Aunt Phyllis was my dad’s sister. In my early childhood, they lived near Campo, Colorado; a tiny burg on the road between Springfield, CO and Boise City, OK. The major source of economic vitality was dry-land farming, and the creative adaptability of farmers in a land where rain was scarce. Going to Campo was always an adventure for me. For my parents, it was a time of reconnecting with family, but also of joining in the hard work of farm living. Uncle Melvin was a custom harvester. He would follow the ripening grain from the south to the north, and cut grain for farmers from Texas to the Dakotas. The whole family would join him as they became a caravan of trucks pulling: a travel trailer (their summer home), a trailer with the combine on it, a short school bus which was a combination crew’s bunkhouse for the summer as well as tool shed, and a pickup pulling a trailer designed by Uncle Melvin to carry fuel as well as the cylindrical “head” which would be attached to the front of the combine after it was unloaded and ready to harvest the grain.
Intermittently, my family would go with Phyllis and Melvin for at least part of the harvest trek. Dad and Melvin worked well together. Dad would drum up business when he wasn’t driving truck, and Melvin worked in the field. Melvin was always a hard charging spirit. His ethic in life was, “No matter how fast the sign says, you can ALWAYS take the curve at least 20 mph faster.” Melvin also was always up before 7 am, and wanted eggs and bacon for breakfast. That meant that Phyllis needed to be up at LEAST as early… a habit she wasn’t nearly as happy about. Mom would help Phyllis cook when we were in harvest. Life was hard work, during long days; sometimes stretching late into the darkness, when the forecast was for rain. The harvest HAD to be brought in.
However, life wasn’t always just hard work, though. Sometimes, play would spontaneously erupt at random times. And this is where the picture of my dad comes in. Melvin owned a 1969 “Avocado-puke” green Chevy Impala. He was notorious for driving fast down the dirt roads of the country with a rooster tail of dust flying behind; when suddenly, he would veer off the road, through the ditch, and into a winter wheat field in pursuit of a coyote. Melvin didn’t hate coyotes, it was just his sport… it was a game. There WERE times, however, when we would go jack rabbit hunting in the same car… in wheat fields…. at night… with no light other than the headlights of the car. One night in particular, I was along for the ride. The picture I remember of my dad is of him seated on the right, front fender of the car… just above the headlight, with a .22 caliber rifle in his lap, desperately trying to hang on while Melvin sped across an open field of short, winter wheat. Every so often, when the lights shine on a jack rabbit, they will stop running in their zig-zag pattern, stand straight, and still because they are blinded by the light. My dad would then lift the rifle to his shoulder, take aim, and fire. When he hit it, and if it was a kill shot, we would put the rabbit in a burlap sack, to take it home for dog food. Once, dad’s shot only wounded the rabbit. After considerable begging from me, I was allowed the final “kill” shot. I approached the screaming rabbit to within a couple feet, pulled the trigger, and heard the muffled “woompf” as the bullet went through the rabbit and entered the earth beneath. I’m not sure what I imagined I would feel after the killing, but I remember being surprised by how sickened and sorry I felt. I only killed one other animal for sport with a gun, and after the second, determined that I didn’t want to do it anymore. It just didn’t seem fair to me to callously take an animal’s life. I have no problems if others hunt, if they use it for food, but I have no desire to do it myself.
I remembered this picture of Dad a couple weeks ago, and saw it through adult, city eyes. “What were they thinking?” I remember saying. As I began to think further, though, it occurred to me that my father was exhibiting some very masculine qualities to me, his young son.
The Importance of Taking Risks:
Whether in play, business, or life; it is a thoroughly masculine quality to willingly take a risk. Risk doesn’t deny the possibility of failure, but the willingness to jump exhibits a confidence to come back from injury or failure, yet relish the rush of not fearing either. As a man, I have learned the value of saying, “What the heck…” At least sometimes…
I have a friend who lives by risk in approaching women. He told me once, “I always go to the prettiest girls in the place. Although many of them turn me down, some of them don’t”
That’s risk, and a certain level of confidence.
The Importance of Fun for No Apparent Reason…
Although this isn’t solely a masculine ethic, men often are made fun of due to their:
“Big boy toys…”
…as well as a tendency to watch and play sports enthusiastically.
I think the subtle mockery is misguided. Men need a time when they can lose themselves in wild, energetic fun. I think it helps to lighten us up, so we aren’t so serious. Physical play can also be a place where the tensions of the work week can be released.
I fondly remember my dad and Uncle Melvin acting like kids as we sped through the field at nearly 60 mph. Whatta rush!
The Importance of Valuing Life…
I learned the balance of the natural world in the country. There are predators, and there are prey… they are tied in balance to each other. In fact, all living things are connected in some way in a ecological dance. We forget that to our own detriment. I also learned that the thrill of the hunt can be experienced with a camera instead of a gun. I am not against hunting, I just choose not to do it. However, if I needed to do so for food, I would.
Several years ago, I attended a Promise Keeper’s convention and for the first time heard the term “Father Power.” The speaker wasn’t introducing some new demand for rights of fathers or any demand at all for that matter. His point was an observation about how important men are in the lives of their kids. This is true whether the man did a good job of being a father or whether he was the most despicable father or whether he was absent completely. I don’t think we men really understand that. In fact, I think we either shrink back from the recognition of Father’s Day, or are hard on ourselves due to our self-perceived imperfections. I do know that fatherhood is far more than shared genetic material. Fatherhood is influencing the next generation in a thoroughly masculine way. Fatherhood is a celebration of the value of healthy masculinity.
My daughter posted on Facebook today that she was thankful for the four fathers in her life: me, her step-father, her grandfather, and her boyfriend’s father. I will admit that it stung at first that I was part of a list… However, after some consideration, I am glad that she has so many positive male figures in her life. That is a good thing. I just have to wrap my heart around it a little…
Fathers know the value of teamwork…