I was raised by a real man in a time of real men. Now, that’s not to say I didn’t have a Mother and that she didn’t play a big part in my life- I do, and she did, but this is about Fathers on Father’s Day.
I grew up in the late fifties and sixties. Every day after school I would run home to watch the obligatory afternoon movie with John Wayne, or Robert Taylor, or Humphrey Bogart and then I would wait for my Father to come home from work. In between the movies and the inevitable return of my Dad, my little brother, Howard, and I would play war, or Cowboys and Indians- oddly enough, we mostly liked to be the Indians because they seemed to be the more interesting of what we read of the untamed west. I mean, after all, they could ride wild horses without saddles, and could hunt and kill buffalo, deer and bears with just a bow and arrows they made themselves! Pretty cool stuff for a nine year old. Dad wasn’t a Cowboy or an Indian. He was a soldier during the Korean War, but never saw any action of which he spoke. Of his three older brothers, all served in the military, two served in World War II, and the oldest, Curt was wounded in action in Germany.
My Dad and his brothers have always fascinated me. Curt was the oldest and then came Nels, Harold and Lee-Roy; my Dad. (Actually, his name is Carroll, which may be the reason everyone called him by his middle name, Lee-Roy. I’ll bet that growing up in the thirties and forties with a tag like ‘Carroll’ was cause for more than one black eye, bloody nose and split lip!) There were three sisters mixed in there too- Emily, Thelma and Wilma all older than my Dad, but as I have already said, this is about Father’s Day.
I never got to know Uncle Curt and Uncle Harold much. Curt was a stately and quiet man of sparing words. He had a pencil thin moustache, an angular face, square jaw and a shy knowing grin. He and my Uncle Joe- Aunt Thelma’s husband- Curt’s best friend and another of the tough guys, always seemed to me to be like kings holding court at family gatherings. I would approach them with the same cautious veneration of a lion cub approaching the dangerous pride males, or a peasant drawing near to the throne of royalty. Not that they ever rebuffed me, but even as a small boy I knew because of the regal way they carried themselves to reverence them. Uncle Harold was a large joyful and expansive man who was always glad to see me, but lived too far away to visit very often. He would shake my hand; look me square in the eye and ask me how I was and I always knew he really wanted to know.
I got to know Uncle Nels rather well and I loved him and admired him almost as much as I love and admire my Father. He was a thick muscled trunk of a man with a broad waxed mustache and rare smile; a smile that hinted of more than a little menace and mischievousness, who took me hunting and showed me nothing of the danger and mischief belied by his impish grin. I only ever knew of his kindness. But, he was a tough guy and I knew it. He could work all day and hunt all night and he did. He could drink you under the table, slap you down, pick you up and dust you off, and then drink you under and slap you down again. And, he often did or so I’m told. But, I never saw that side of him. I saw his hunting rifles, his trophies and his re-loading equipment. I ate his cherry-wood smoked, homemade jerky made of the raccoons he killed. I knew his dog ‘Blue’ and played with his custom made bowling ball. I rode in his Jeep on the far-flung back roads in the hills surrounding Corvallis while ‘coon’ hunting, and drank hot coffee with him while we waited to hear the hounds commence to baying. I suspect he treated me and my brother, Howard, with a deference he reserved for my Father’s way of life, which revolved around church, spirituality and sober living, which says something about the respect my Father’s sometime brawling big brother had for him. I don’t recall a harsh word from Nels or any of my uncles. I only recall that they always seemed genuinely glad to see me and I love them for it.
It’s fair to say that I idolized my father and his brothers. They were prototype men, the quintessential example of what men should be. They were all tough, strong, willing and able. They had wives and families and they knew how to work hard and support them. They hunted and fished. They drove trucks and logged in the forest. They pulled lumber and farmed. They are the salt of this earth. Compared to them, I’m a creampuff and I know it. Compared to them, today’s men are poor imitations, anemic reflections of statues and monuments erected in honor of a time when giants roamed the earth. And, I am proud to say that I am the son of one of those giants.
Dad raised me to be a giant, but I am a failure at that. Oh, I tried, but the shoes are too big to fill. I recall watching him pull lumber on a green chain at the local lumberyard knowing that I could never do it myself. Years later, I pulled lumber but not nearly as well. I watched him garden and enjoyed the spoils of his ardor. I garden now, after a fashion but my table is not so equally filled with the fruit of my toil. I blame it on the clay-ridden soil in my back yard, but the truth is I’m no farmer. He’s a carpenter and backyard mechanic. I can do neither to satisfaction without injury or screwing it up. I used to hunt, but that’s about all I ever did… ‘hunt.’ I only ever jumped game out of the forest and thickets by accident rather than skill, and I fish but again, I can only catch those cursed slippery creatures more by mistake than purpose. Dad raised five children with Mom, and the two of them have been married for forty-nine years. (More than fifty years at the time of this publishing.) I did not raise my children. My first marriage ended in divorce and my ex-wife raised our sons. I am a pitiful poor example of a giant, which makes me admire my Father all the more.
And, my Father, the giant loves me. I’m not sure why. As a failed giant I should be a grave disappointment to him, but I’m not and I know it because he tells me. Maybe it’s because he spent his life casting a large shadow and that shadow, the dark secret outline of a Goliath is there to give shade and comfort to the weak. Maybe it’s because he knew the world was changing and not for the better, and since I would never be a giant, I needed the comfort of the shade of a giant more. Maybe he knew that the only shoe of his I would ever come close to filling was the one of love. I think that’s it. I think he knew I would only ever be capable to love, and so that’s the shadow he cast on me. I wanted to be a giant, but you can’t teach that to someone. You can only teach love. My Dad and his brothers were good giants, but they are great lovers and for that, I thank him and them. Mostly, I thank my Dad for being the kind of man I could admire. I thank him for the deep and dark shadow of love he cast on me and for the giant shoes he left that will always be too big for me to fill. I thank him for trusting his brothers with me and for letting me admire and love them without jealousy.
I’m glad I’m the son of a giant, and I’m even gladder still that I’m not one myself. I wasn’t made for it, but I got to know them, to walk among them, to see how they lived and loved, and how it is supposed to be done. And, so to my uncles and especially my Dad, whom I have taken to calling ‘Pop…’
I love you Pop; and God bless all giants!