I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Summer solstice and Father's Day

European Association for Astronomy Education
Today we in the Northern Hemisphere will celebrate the summer solstice, the longest day and shortest night of the year. That picture above is of the sun coming up at Stonehenge, built between 3100-1100 BC for reasons that can only be speculated. But the sun coming up between those two stones right at sunrise on the solstice draws crowds of people from all over the world. Today they'll be watching the sunrise at Stonehenge at 9:38am my time (PDT).

And I will be home, or outside enjoying another day of sunshine here, with only a few self-imposed tasks to accomplish. The first is to write this post, so here I am, with little to no idea of what I want to write today. Since it's also Father's Day, my dad has been on my mind, so I'll write a little about who he was to me.

Daddy was born April 25, 1917 in southern California. He married my mom during World War II, on November 16, 1941. I was born, the first of seven children, a year later. (One sister, Tina Maria, only lived for a few days.) I grew up with six siblings as the oldest of the bunch, with twenty years between me and my youngest sister. Daddy and Mama essentially raised two sets of kids, as my sisters Norma Jean and PJ followed me within seven years, and then when I was sixteen my parents eventually had four more, starting with my brother. My two youngest sisters were born after I had left home and become a mother myself.

I grew up while Daddy was in active duty in the Air Force, so we moved often during my early life. We did spend five years in one place in Fairfield, California, and I was also born in California, so for a long time I considered it to be home. But getting used to moving everything and going from one school to another was enough to make both Norma Jean and I learn different methods of coping. For me, I didn't mind the disruption because I am outgoing and gregarious, while she is introverted and makes friends slowly. When we talk about those years, I know that she found them to be painful, while I enjoyed the adventure of moving.

I idolized my father. He was larger than life to me in many ways. There were times when he would be on TDY (temporary duty) somewhere else, and he would be gone for months at a time. I remember those times as being difficult, because all of us geared our home life towards Daddy, including Mama, and when he was gone it was like we entered some sort of limbo. Mama often didn't prepare a dinner for us kids, but when Daddy was home we always sat down at the dinner table for a full meal. I remember many times when he was gone that we would have breakfast food (cereal or eggs) for dinner.

He was not much of a disciplinarian; he left that to Mama. But when he would get mad, I remember being scared if he were angry at something I had done wrong. He didn't allow any of us to sass my mom, so we never did that in his presence but waited until he wasn't around. Then again, he was as softhearted as anybody I have ever known. Sometimes he would read stories to us (Norma Jean and I, anyway) when he was home, and I remember him beginning to sniffle when he read us fairy tales. Yes, Daddy could be very emotional sometimes. He hated to let anybody know, however, because in those days it was not socially acceptable for men to cry for any reason at all.

Mama and Daddy loved each other, and I feel very blessed that I grew up in that environment. We were a demonstrative and affectionate family. Now that I am an adult, I realize that many of my friends didn't have such role models or grew up in a family that was dysfunctional. We may have had our problems, as all families do, but mostly we had a safe haven in our home, wherever it might be in the country.

You would think that I would have had a much better time finding a husband and settling down, after a childhood like that, but no, when I left home I was pregnant by a man I hardly knew. When Mama found out I was pregnant, she arranged a quickie marriage and I learned many years later than my father never knew. Back then it was a terrible disgrace. My, how times have changed in fifty years.

And Daddy has been gone since 1979. He was only 62 when he died of a heart attack. I remember when we would linger at the dinner table, Daddy would always finish up dishes he especially enjoyed. Although he wasn't terribly overweight, he loved to eat, and Mama fed him everything he liked. Whenever I would come home to visit, it never occurred to me that Daddy was anything but the picture of health. After he had retired from the Air Force, they bought a home on Lake Worth in Texas, and the last three kids grew up in one home, a wonderful place to live. Totally different from the life that I had with the same parents.

Mama called me one day in the summer of 1979 to tell me that Daddy had had a heart attack and was in the hospital. One by one, each of us who had left home traveled quickly back to Texas. When it first happened, nobody knew how bad the heart attack was and whether he might recover. He lived long enough for all of us to come back home to see him. He was sitting up in bed when I saw him, and I noticed that his pupils were very small, which I learned later was from the morphine that they were giving him for pain. Otherwise he didn't look much different. He knew, though.

Within a couple of days his lungs began to fill with fluid, since his damaged heart could no longer function properly. The doctors put him on a respirator, and when we saw him next he was unconscious with that machine doing his breathing for him. As we waited for news of his condition, we were all gathered in one room which the hospital had given for us to use, since there were so many of us. When we heard the "Code Blue" over the loudspeaker, we looked at each other and knew it was Daddy. They allowed us to see him one more time after they had removed all the machinery and drips. I went in with my four sisters, and we crowded around him and stroked his body while we cried. He was still warm with beads of sweat on his forehead. Oh, Daddy, we love you so much, even today I miss you as I write this.

Although he didn't live a long time, he had a very good life and dispensed plenty of love to his wife and children. We all remember him fondly and tell stories about his exploits when we get together. It's been well over thirty years now since he left, but he will always be my father, loved and cherished in memory. Happy Father's Day, Daddy!
Daddy contemplating his coffee

20 comments:

Tabor said...

Touching and shows how important he was in your life, even when stationed var away. We see much more clearly as we age, but parents forgive us for our lack of focus as children. I certainly do for my children.

Far Side of Fifty said...

What a lovely recollection of your Father on this Father's Day. Happy Summer it is finally here:)

gigihawaii said...

What a wonderful tribute to your dad!
He was very well loved by all of you.

Mel said...

This is a lovely tribute to your Dad. I miss mine badly today to, and am glad I found your post. :)

jo(e) said...

Lovely tribute. Your father had the same birthday as me! (Well, not the same year. I was born in 1961.)

Gwen said...

What a wonderful tribute. You are lucky you had such a wonderful father. :)

p.s. I now blog at: https://mysunnynook.wordpress.com/

Marty Damon said...

An honest and warm reflection on someone who many would have wished for a father.

John's Island said...

Hi DJan, You have written a wonderful tribute to your dad. The glimpse into your family life is quite interesting. It is curious to me how within one family the siblings can be so different such as between you and Norma Jean … outgoing vs. introverted. And you two were fairly close together among the six siblings. I have experienced the same thing in my own extended family. Some can be so different it is hard to believe they are from the same blood. Anyway, there is a large difference in age between me and my sister who was born 16 years before. Since from my earliest memories she was already out of the home it is sometimes difficult for me to know what a closer, age-wise, brother/sister relationship would be like. In any event, I have enjoyed reflecting on your story and thank you for sharing it.

Mersad said...

A wonderful tribute. Thank you for sharing with us, I'm sure you miss him a lot even today...

Mersad
Mersad Donko Photography

Elephant's Child said...

What a lovely tribute.
I am sure he is a part of you still.
My relationship with my complicated father was much more fraught, and I think of him often.

Gigi said...

He sounds like he was a wonderful man.

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

It was nice to read this and to learn more about your father. Have a great week!

Red said...

Great tribute to your Dad and a lot of family history thrown in. You could write a book!

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

What a beautiful tribute DJan! He would be proud - and humbled.

Rita said...

I love to hear about families who loved each other and miss each other. You were/are truly blessed. :) :)

Arkansas Patti said...

What a sweet memory of that special, loving man in your life. I felt the same way about my Daddy. He was my hero and few have ever measured up. Both our Dads set the bar high.

The Broad said...

Beautiful post DJan. It brought tears to my eyes as i also then remembered my father who i adored and who loved us all with abandon. My parents loved each other deeply and were a good example to all of us as to what marriage can be and how to strive for it. Many thanks for words that were not only moving but made me recall wonderful moments in my own life.

Deb Shucka said...

What a wonderful tribute to an amazing man. I love that you know how fortunate you were to have him as your father. I'll bet he knew how blessed he was, too.

Retired English Teacher said...

I was very touched by this story about your father. He was giant of a man. He was born a year and two weeks after my father. My mother was also born in 1916, so your dad and mine were of the same generation. I'm sorry you lost your wonderful father so soon.

John's Island said...

Hi DJan, Just stopping by again to say thanks for your comment yesterday on John's Island. I left you a reply on there ... I don't usually do replies to comments on my blog but I'm giving it a try on that post. Thanks again and have a good day!