Friday, April 27, 2012
My dad is just great. He was what I would call, "The Best Dad Ever." He is kind, calm, wise, loyal and steadfast. Long before they ever made the poster, he used to say, "I thought I made a mistake once, but I was mistaken." He wasn't always right (well, probably not...), but seriously, he must have the best track record of anyone I know.
He was a principal. One of my earliest memories is when he was promoted from being principal of Coon Rapids Junior High to being principal of Coon Rapids Senior High. Among other things, they gave him a canoe, which we stored behind the garage.
My dad was a great principal. He kept everything running smoothly. Of course, when things go the way they should, you never hear much about it. People just assume that's the way it should be. They only notice when there is a problem, and then they complain. There was not much complaining when my dad was principal. He was that good. After he retired and the district got a new principal, that's when they realized how great he had been. But that's life. I always knew my dad was a great man.
My dad could organize anything and make it work. He understood crowd psychology and individual psychology, and he had more common sense than it's even fair to put into one person.
He told me that the way to serve a potluck dinner is to make lots and lots of lines.
"Just make sure you get some main dishes and some salads and some desserts in each line," he said.
"But," I said, "then people might not get a chance to take a dish that they wanted, because it is in a different line."
"If you only make one line, " he told me, "the people at the end of the line get nothing. And what they do get is stone cold. Would you rather wait for thirty minutes so you could scrape the cold remnants of the dish you wanted out of a mostly empty pan? Or would you rather wait three minutes for a mildly limited choice of hot, plentiful food?"
I had to admit, he had a point.
When I was in school, there was a rumor that floated around. It went something like this: "Don't ever pull a fire alarm. There is some special, high-tech substance on those alarms, and if you pull one for fun, they can find you and shine a black light on your hand, and it will show up. It won't matter how much you wash your hands. It won't come off, and they will catch you."
One day, I mentioned this rumor to my dad and he started to laugh. Apparently, way back in the past they had been having trouble with kids setting off false fire alarms at his school. He had a pretty good idea who it was, but he needed proof. Having painted his way through college, he knew of a type of powder you could add to paint to make it glow in the dark. He stirred a little of this powder into some Vaseline and planted it on the undersides of the pulls for the fire alarms in his school. The next time there was a false alarm, they grabbed the kid whom they suspected and took him into a darkened room where they examined his hands for the glow. Sure enough, he was guilty and they had proof. My dad. Genius man. Root of folklore. Maintainer of justice.
I thought my dad was the handsomest man in the whole wide world. I loved his face and his balding head, his blue eyes that tipped down on the outer corners, giving him a particularly kind, calm appearance. His gentle smile that he saved for people he liked, like me.
He could fix anything. I loved hanging around him while he worked on stuff. His garage was so clean and tidy. He showed me how to plant radishes and tomatoes and beans, how to mix up grout for tile ("It should be just the consistency of shaving cream," he said, stirring it luxuriously). He taught me how to measure and how to set a nail, and how to turn off the water under the sink or behind the toilet before you did any plumbing.
I spent hours just hanging around, watching him wallpaper or lay tile or dig up shrubs. Sometimes he'd ask me to do something for him, and I felt so important, so excited to be able to help. He was very patient and never yelled at me.
He built me a playhouse, all by himself. He even designed it.
When I was little, every night after dinner he would give me a reading lesson while my mother did the dishes. I sat in his lap, and we read The Cat in the Hat and One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish and Go Dog Go. Sometimes he read me longer stories. I loved to listen to him read.
After story time, he usually gave me my bath. By the time I was three-and-a-half or four, I had long hair, and back then it was rather thick, too. Dad washed it with Breck shampoo, dipping me down into the water on my back and lifting me up to check to see whether the suds were rinsed out. We always had to do this a number of times to get rid of all the soap, and he made a game of it: "Way down in value," he would say as he dipped me down. "Way up in cost," as he raised me up. Or he would change it up, "Way down in cost... way up in value," and sometimes even "Way down in value, way down in cost," followed by, "Way up in cost, way up in value."
One night (this was probably when I was four), I surprised him by saying, "We like it best when it is way down in cost, way up in value, right Dad?" He laughed and said, "You figured that out? How did you figure that out?" I thought it was pretty straightforward, but I was absolutely delighted that he thought I was smart.
When I was about five, he told me I was big now, and needed to take my bath by myself. I said, "How will I get all the soap out?" He said, "You can do it." I found out I could, but my baths took a lot longer when I took them by myself, and it took me awhile to get used to being all by myself in there. I was one to stay in the tub until my fingers and toes completely wizened up, so my dad called me Prune. That was his name for me, Prune.
He sang me hymns before I went to sleep at night. I liked, "Mercy there was great and grace was free, pardon there was multiplied to me..." I heard it as "Pardon there was MALT-i-plied to me," and once I said, "Please sing me the one about the malt shop." It took him awhile to figure that out, but he did. I cannot hear that hymn without having fond memories of Dad tucking me in to bed.
I liked to be with my dad whenever I could, so weekends were great. Being a principal, most weekday evenings he went back to school for a school function, a game or a concert or whatever was going on. When I got old enough, he'd often take me with him. Sitting next to him on the bleachers, I learned rules and strategies for football, basketball and baseball. "Baseball is all strategy, " Dad told me, "almost like chess." He'd tell me what they were going to do next, and they always did. During a football game, I once told him, "I like when they line up and knock each other down, but why does it take them so long to measure in between?" He laughed at me. It felt so good when he laughed at me. I grew up cheering for the Coon Rapids Cardinals, which made it just slightly awkward when I became an Anoka Tornado.
Dad also took me to plays at his school. That was my favorite! I remember walking into the lobby with him, the white and gray terrazzo floor, how he would buy our tickets. I never thought he should have to pay, but he always did, to support his school. They had a beautiful thrust stage; he was really proud of that stage. Oddly, I do not remember specific plays I saw, but I remember being absolutely enchanted.
Often, if Dad was home in the evening, we would sit together on the long, green sofa and I would nestle up against his right arm and shoulder. He would read his Bible, and I would read my homework, and we were just there together, quiet.
Once when I was in college, during finals week (I lived at home and commuted), I was near tears with anxiety over an upcoming exam. In a calm, ever-so-slightly-gruff voice, he told me, "You'll do fine. You know a lot more than you think you do." Since he was always right, I believed him. And I did do fine.
My dad is just great.