Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Memories of our Fathers

For children reared in an orphanage, Father’s Day can be very sad.  It brings to mind loss, absences and disturbing memories.  This year, I hope to provide a positive means for some of those children who grew up, as I did, in the Ohio Soldiers and Sailors Orphan's Home (The Ohio Veterans Children's Home) to express love and appreciation for their fathers.  I've extended the invitation to post about memories of their fathers here, if it will be of comfort to them. I'll begin this series of tributes with a few of my memories of three men who acted as fathers for me, stepping in to fill the void after my father died. 

This is a tribute to my three Dads.

Richard was the Dad of my early childhood, my step-dad.  He didn’t talk much.  He was born with a deformed hip that always pained him, it made him surly.  It didn’t stop him from hunting though.  I loved to go hunting with him and he loved my company.  He never complained that I wasted shots over the heads of bunnies and squirrels I couldn’t bear the thought of killing.  One of the sweetest memories of him that pulls at my heart is seeing him limp in after a long day’s work at the foundry, covered in soot, with his black lunchbox in his hand.  He wouldn’t say anything, just hand me the lunchbox.  It was our game.  I knew he’d saved me something from his lunch.  At eight years old, sharing that game with him was the richest treasure.  He has passed on now, with no children of his own to mourn him.  I mourn him.  I always will.  Thank you, Dad.

Steve was the Dad of my teen years, my foster-dad: a man with a keen sense of humor who never raised his voice at me.  He gave of his time, and himself, without complaint.  One of my fondest memories of Steve is watching SNL with him when I was about 16.  It was so nice just being part of a normal family, doing normal things like watching a TV program and laughing.   I could relax.  I didn’t need to be afraid.  I could just be a kid for awhile. If not for Steve and his family, my life would have taken a very different turn.  In the past forty years, hundreds of other foster children have found safe haven in his home.  On behalf of myself, and them, thank you, Dad.

The Dad of my adult years is as hard to write of as he was to understand. My father-in-law,  John, was a quiet man, a man who put his head to the grindstone and kept it there from an ingrained sense of duty.  He understood sacrifice.   He was a man of honor, a decorated war hero. I always wondered what he was like before the war wounded his spirit, and made him so silent and withdrawn.  He rarely spoke. We spent hours together, fishing or pulling weeds in the garden we shared.  We never felt the need to talk much.  He’s been gone for years now. I see shadows of him sometimes in my son’s eyes: tricks of the light that take me back to our time together. When my grandson caught his first fish, I remembered the photo above and the sweetness of the moment his father caught his first fish: as Grandpa John and I looked on.  I miss John so much. Thank you, Dad.

This tribute is for my three dads, and also for the many, uncelebrated, men who step forward every day to act as ‘Fathers’ for children in need, often without acknowledgment or thanks.  These men do it because they care, and because it is the right thing to do.  Thank you, Dads.

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