Walking Parker, mostly, when I'm alone in the early mornings.
Or driving by myself to/from work.
I hear his voice; see his smile; remember...
He was a great dad. Not perfect, but definitely above average as far as I'm concerned. Did he make mistakes? Certainly. Were there things about him I would like to have seen him change? Absolutely.
Do I miss him?
He gave us all so much. I feel like all the gifts and wisdoms he provided over the years have revealed themselves over time, as if they weren't all there when he left us in 2006 but have come to the surface in the intervening years.
I guess that has more to do with my changing than his...
I learned much about being a husband and a father. About being a dog lover and an Eagles fan. About being a man devoted to his family and his faith. About the importance of good citizenship and a good shine on dress shoes. About the restorative power of the sea and the magic in a sky full of dazzling constellations. About the fun of whistling a tune or playing mumbletypeg. Kite flying. Pinewood derby racers. Lionel trains. New York Times crossword puzzles. Shoveling snow and cutting grass.
So many lessons.
Among my favorites of his lessons are these top five:
- Do what you have to do. This one wasn't so much preached by him as lived by him. As his career with the U.S. Navy was entering its final stages (about 10-15 years before he could retire), Dad's position was relocated from the Philadelphia Navy Yard to the Lakehurst Naval Air Station. In one stroke of a pen from a commanding officer, his commute went from about 40 minutes to about 90. He and his colleagues organized a bus to take him to and from work, but the commute must have been grueling. He seldom complained. It was just part of his overall philosophy: You can't change it; you can't fix it; so there's no use bellyaching about it.
- Make music part of your life. I experienced this lesson two ways: one familialy and one personally. On the family front, there was the giant Fisher console stereo that he wanted in the living room. The purchase of this monstrosity of a music machine was at his direction, I learned later. The household budget at the time forced a decision between a state-of-the-art hi-fi or a color television. Choosing music over the Mickey Mouse Club, Dad opted for the stereo. A color TV wouldn't come into the house for several years later. But the idea that music was important was driven home. The second aspect had to do with my church work and choir participation. Singing next to him in the adult choir of church -- our voices intertwining in intricate harmonies -- remains one of my warmest memories of him. What I wouldn't give to re-live one of those Christmas Eve Masses with him next to me.
- Tell a good story and tell it well. Both Mom and Dad had good senses of humor that often came out in the stories they told, but Dad had a much more magical approach. Whether he was relating a tale from his own youth (pranking fellow Boy Scouts as they used the outhouse) or his courtship with Mom (replacing Grandpop Cloney's stolen Christmas tree, taken from atop the car during a Yuletide tipple at a local tavern), Dad could keep a listener rapt. I know he inherited it from his father, who could blarney with the best of 'em.
- Love your children a lot and your wife more. Mom and Dad never had cross words in front of us. Never. When they would argue (and this was rare, but I remember some of it associated with the Nixon years and their opposite political views), they would take the heated discussion to the basement and spar in front of the roaring clothes dryer, assuming that its roar would drown out their harsh words. (The technique was only semi-successful, as we'd listen by the heat registers.) But when it was over, it was over, and there was no lingering resentment in the aftermath.
- Be a great father and an even better grandfather. On this last point, the picture below says it all:
Happy Father's Day, Dad. Miss you...