June 2017: I Am My Father’s Daughter

 

 

This is truly a terrible photo of my dad and me in Alaska. One taken long before smart cameras that could automatically adjust for back lighting. Yet it captures, for me, much of my father, and it is one of a very few photos of just me and him alone, although we spent many days together as just the two of us. But back then, “selfies” were a thing of the future, and neither of us ever thought to bring along the one camera we owned on our adventures.

You see, my father’s love of nature, connections with animals, acute interest in science, and keenness for maps hooked me from the beginning. We shared many loves and interests and, therefore, we shared a great deal of time. In this photo, you can see his strong hands. His job as a ventilation engineer required both brawn and brain. Those hands had turned many valves and wrenches and had built many structures. He often used them to give me a “love squeeze” that was so powerful it bordered on pain. “Hurts nice, doesn’t it?” he’d ask, grinning from ear to ear.  It shows us outside, in the elements, and smiling to be so. Nearly all my family photos are outside in nature, and the vast majority of my most treasured memories of Dad and me are out there, in the mountains, along the streams, in all weather and all seasons, out there hiking and fishing and searching for gems with our picks and sample bags, out there away from clocks, the judgments of others, and unrealistic expectations, out there where just being was enough.

My father would be 100 years old on June 15, 2017. He was born into a very different world than I and my children now occupy. His father died when Dad was five years old, leaving him to be raised by his mother, grandmother, older sister, and several maiden aunts. They were formidable, resourceful and fun-loving women. They worked tirelessly, gave generously, played with spirit and vigor, and thought themselves equals in all things. Dad thought that too. And he passed it along to me. He cut me no slack, thought me no less capable physically or mentally, and believed in my capacity to carve my own path. It is a gift for which I am ever grateful. He gave me spirit and confidence.

 

Family Photos: Montana, Highland Lookout Where I Worked, Washington, Alaska

 

He was shy, never involved in any sort of group activities, and often felt socially awkward. You had to be sitting next to him to be in on his quiet jokes—and they were zingers. He could smell dishonesty and arrogance in any room. He avoided confrontations of any kind, simply letting things be, but summing it all up with a few words to chosen ears. He had little room in his life for fools or for society’s norms. Always pleasant and properly dressed for any occasion, he would seek the sidelines to observe and converse quietly with those close by. Diffident by nature, attention made him nervous. With an incredibly even emotional keel, I have no memories of him being angry or out of control. Unafraid to speak his mind, he always did so in an assertive rather than aggressive way. You knew when he was determined, when he was serious, and he commanded great respect.

His shyness and diffidence may have been a hindrance in some social settings, but it made him an excellent animal companion.  Animals sought him out. They well understood his peaceful nature, his ability to quietly observe and listen, and truly take in the energy and needs of others. He poured his love of animals into my heart and mind; I think of him constantly as I go about my life with all of the Dunrovin horses and dogs. I wish he were he to share it with me. I used his name to give to the first foal ever born at Dunrovin—on his own birthday the year he died—the Lovely Lady Lonza.

 

Dad as a Boy with his Dog

 

Sentimental, generous, and empathetic, Dad’s emotions were unbridled and unfiltered. I remember my father crying and laughing and giving things away with ease. It never occurred to him that men don’t cry. He cried at my wedding; he cried during movies; he cried when our family dog died. He constantly pressed people to take things they might need. Even as he was dying, he wanted to give away his few remaining possessions.

Dad treated absolutely everyone with the same degree of respect and consideration. We lived in Butte, which was a town of contrasts, with great wealth and great poverty. Dad was the chief ventilation engineer for the Anaconda Company mines, which meant that is was his responsibility to see to it that thousands of miners had air to breathe. Everyone knew him, everyone liked him, and he liked every one of them. He was possibly the least judgmental person I have ever known. What you did and how you treated others was what was important to him, not who were or where you came from.

Dad’s most overused word was dandy. Everything was dandy. The fried chicken and french fries were a dandy meal. Going to Disneyland was a dandy vacation. We had several sets of dandy neighbors. But most of all, Montana was a dandy place to live. While Dad always found something to like in almost everything, his love for Montana was visceral. Our homecomings to Montana after out of state visits always included Dad’s ritual of  getting out of the car and kissing the ground – I and my children unabashedly continue this tradition, cajoling innocent fellow passengers into participating.

I am indebted to my father, yet I know that he would not want me to put it that way. His gifts to me came without debt or obligation. His gifts were pure and sweet and from the heart of a beautiful man. When he died, I wrote this poem in tribute. It may be amateurish and sentimental, but it comes from that same place in my own heart where all things pure and simple and gracious start.

 

The Gifts My Father Gave Me

To Bill from SuzAnne

 

The gifts my father gave me

Are beautiful and rare

A love of open spaces

Of crisp, clean mountain air

The thrill of rainbows jumping

To escape my fishing line

Dazzling rocks and crystals

The bounty of the mine

The joy of knowing an animal

As a lifelong friend, so dear

The comfort of a passing hand

On a soft and furry ear

A greater understanding

Of pride’s dark and lonely side

That humble men with open hearts

Have less to fear and hide

With a quiet sense of humor

And a “dandy” repartee

He showed me how to laugh about

The absurdities of each day

His generous, giving spirit

Was with him to the end

When all he had were buttons

To press onto a friend

He whistled while he worked

And then he taught me how

I take his music with me

He whistles through me now

My father’s name was Goodman

It fit him like glove

He lived his life with dignity

He filled his life with love.

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