My dad has been dead since 1990, almost 30 years and not a day goes by that I don’t miss him and think of him. It isn’t because we were extraordinarily close, or that I was the favorite among his three daughters (quite the contrary in fact). But he was an immense presence in my life. And mostly as it turns out, for good, and I am thankful for that. I wouldn’t have said that when I was nine or even 13, when his frequent temper problems too often got the best of him and he struck back with a face slap or a hard spanking. But that was only a part of what he was and that quality dissipated with age.
You must take the whole of a person, consider the time and place, and see between the lines. And the years have added him up. Not in a fantastical way but like dominoes stretching up to the sun. He is gone, but he has aged well.
He was always big, larger than life and perhaps the person I most wanted to impress. That said, I was my own person and in the end, that was one thing he really respected about me. Did he tell me that? Of course not, it was the 60’s and 70’s and I was a female who needed to fit into his conservative worldview of what that looked like. But he respected me enough to argue politics with me, take me fishing, and bounce ideas on and I was his only family conduit that would do that or wanted to.
He was poor growing up as well as fatherless. His father left when he was a small boy due to alcoholism and mental illness, and an often-sick mother mom and independent grandmother raised him. He always said “he never understood women” and maybe that was right. But on some level he did understand people and related to them well. I used to call my dad Mr. President. He was active in the J-cees, the MO press association, the Kiwanis club and the Masonic lodge. And he was president of each club at one time or the other. He was an extrovert and people just naturally gravitated to him. With a cigarette in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other, he “talked” to people. He looked in their eyes. He saw them.
He was also just plain funny. He could tell a joke like nobody else and he had very few hang-ups’. I don’t think he was particularly insecure, or no more than anyone else, and he had a strong sense of self. In addition, he was a self-starter and always wanted to be his own boss. He was a small town newspaper publisher, editor and columnist and he was good at his job. And he was his own boss until his dying day although he never made a lot of money. As the father of three daughters he was strict, but you could talk to him. You could break through his façade and really get some good stuff. Like when I would talk to him about the newspaper business, or how he got started, or about his family when he was young. He was a good storyteller and I hung onto every word.
But it was his presence and sense of fun that dominated my life and made me very like him in many ways. I think as a parent or a teacher (which I am now) “presence” is the most important gift a mentor has to offer.
Sure, they can teach you right from wrong and guide you, but it is the presence they have and code they live by that truly sticks to you. And my dad and I are sticky together. In life, and even in death.
It was my dad’s presence that said, “go out there and just do it.” Stick with it. Don’t give up. Dance on that stage, play that violin, act your heart out. Just do it.
That was a gift that most young girl in the 60’s and 70’s didn’t get. I was lucky.
I got my dad.
Clover Mahoney has been writing for over 30 years, both fiction, non-fiction and poetry. She has had several publications first for poetry in journals such as The Southern Poetry Review and The Alabama Literary Review. She has also had non-fiction articles published in popular blogs. Clover is from the midwest, and has moved a lot, but now lives in NC where she teaches college English and writes. She is married and has a rescue mutt named Zoe.
Image courtesy of Brittani Burns.