My father was an extraordinary man. Some of his behaviors were corrosive to our family relationships, but in some of his eccentricities he turned out to just be ahead of his time.
He was punching holes in gourds and tin cans to make lanterns long before Martha Stewart thought of it. He was an organic gardener when no one was very concerned about putting chemicals on food. He canned and froze the summer bounty from our orchard and garden with abandon not only because it was good for us, but because it kept us fed on a teacher’s salary during the long winter months. He built and then taught himself to play all kinds of instruments when he became intrigued with them in museums and books; we had steel drums, lawnchair chimes, and the ever popular spoons. He even built a stand for his musical saw. You can imagine that there was quite a lot of embarrassment around our house when Dad pulled out his current project to show our visiting friends.
Dad become enthralled with genealogy early on — as the eldest child, I spent quite a bit of my childhood in courthouses and cemeteries looking up family information. I know how to use divining rods to find unmarked graves in burial plots, and before Mr. Internet was there to help us, I could find a will in an old courthouse record in minutes. I still love cemeteries, but he would have LOVED today’s internet genealogy programs and the instant access available on the Web!
As Dad learned more and more about our various family connections, he began to create books of photos and anecdotes. This hobby grew and grew until family members no longer wanted to take more of his scrapbooks. “Enough was enough,” we said. As digital imaging become more available, we encouraged Dad to get his original collection scanned so that the old photos were captured for posterity. That was the point that he discovered that libraries often take genealogical records, and he sent his scrapbooks to pertinent libraries in various places across Ohio and Indiana. With computer access to library catalogs, Dad’s work and name was visible on internet files. He was thrilled because he had a new audience for his hobby. When I checked the catalog of the State Library of Ohio, Dad got 39 hits! He would be proud that his work lives on.
In Dad’s later years, he began to write reminiscences and what were essentially religious tracts and disseminate them to family and friends via electronic mail. Unfortunately, many of his family members didn’t read them, and some didn’t really appreciate them. He would ask what we thought of his work, and would be disappointed that we didn’t want to talk about his writing. I remember being annoyed about his frequent emails that didn’t actually have any family news in them. I regret it now.
Someone once told me that a person’s writing is like poop. Little kids are horrified when, after painstakingly teaching them how to use a toilet, we flush their “results” down the drain. As writing teachers, we do the same. Our students present us their gift of words, and we rip it to shreds, usually with a red pen. How cruel is that? And I did that to my dad by being critical of his precious writings.
Today I am that writer, the one that pretty regularly produces “results” for my family and friends to read. I am often disappointed to find that some of my loved ones don’t read my blog posts. I try not to take it personally; they are, after all, busy with their own lives. I had not really thought about how much that makes me like my father until I was back in my hometown for Mothers’ Day. I can see why he continued to try to get us to value his work, and in hindsight, I understand how deeply we may have hurt him.
My father was born on May 11, 1923, and died on June 6, 2009. Over the next weeks my family members will each remember a father, a grandfather, and a husband, a man who was sometimes difficult to love but ours all the same. If he were alive today, I would try to get him to stop talking about his own work and read mine :). In any event, I’m sorry, Dad, that I wasn’t as supportive of you as I should have been.
Today’s post is linked up to Mama Kat’s Writers’ Workshop. After reading and commenting on my post, stop by Mama Kat’s site and check out some other writers’ work!