Sunday, June 15, 2014

What Our Fathers Taught Us

Hank's Father--maybe in 1950 or so?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Happy Father’s Day, everyone! I have two Dads, my birth father, who lives in Washington DC and is a great pal and we are kind of collaborating on a short story right now! He’s terrific, brilliant,  sentimental, emotional, loving, a poet and incredibly well-read. He was the music critic for the Chicago Daily News and then joined USIA, the foreign service, and lives abroad most of his life. He speaks a million languages, and teaches a seminar in Beethoven’s Ninth.

My stepfather—the opposite of Dad. A tough, incredibly successful corporate lawyer.  Tough tough tough. You either agreed with him, or you were stupid. He taught me to be curious, skeptical, confident, and persistent. And ambitious.   He taught me how to argue, and how to persuade, and how to prove a point.

He had a terrific sense of humor. A world-traveller. And was a wonderful storyteller.

I am so grateful to both of them!

And here’s Jonathan’s father—a lawyer and judge--just because this is the best picture ever. I am so sad I never met him.

Deb's Charlie
DEBORAH CROMBIE: My father taught me to read Dick Francis, to love horse racing, and never to bet more than you could afford to lose.

He taught me to smile when you answer the phone, because people can hear the smile in your voice. He taught me to be generous, to respect other people, and to treat people the way I would like to be treated. He taught me that education was priceless, and that real Christmas trees were a must (no matter how much my poor mom objected.) He taught me that travel was a wonderful adventure and that every meal was an occasion to be anticipated (unless there were beets or cucumbers, which he couldn't abide.) He taught me that you should always sing, even if you can't.

He taught me to make an absolutely killer margarita.

But he never managed to teach me to love golf...

I miss you, Charlie.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I can't name too many practical things my father taught me. He taught me defensive driving ("Always assume every other driver on the road is an idiot") and sailing ("Always assume the boom is coming around.") He didn't teach me how to ride my bike, or how to swim, or to dance.

Julia's dad, John Fleming, in his courting days.
My dad came into my life when I was almost fourteen. He lived two and a half hours away from our home in Argyle, NY, and would visit weekends, always staying at my grandmother's house. As near as I could tell, his courtship of my mother consisted of an occasional dinner out and an endless stream of chores, repairs and improvements to our old house. He would tease and joke - his nickname for me was "four-eyes" - and he would send funny newspaper clippings for me in his weekly letter to my mom. 

He wasn't, and isn't, a real sentimental kind of guy (although he has an endearing habit of tucking little notes to my mother in her suitcase when she travels!) but all of us - my mom, my brother, my sister and me - felt secure in his love. After a childhood that was very insecure in many ways, it was wonderful. Dad taught me that a real man's worth lies in his actions, not his words. He worked long hours to support his family, taking overtime in howling snowstorms and threatening rain. He drove me back and forth to hundreds of rehearsals and showed up to every play, choral concert, and awards ceremony.  He mowed the lawn in the summer and shoveled snow in the winter and sat at the head if the dinner table every night at six and in the church pew every Sunday. (Moving to a condo complex means he's been able to retire from yard and home maintenance, but he's still in church on the Sabbath. And my folks still eat promptly at six!)

Ordinary American dad type stuff. But coming to it it my teens made it very precious to me. Thanks, Dad. I love you.

RHYS BOWEN:  I  still smile when I think about my dad. He was a big old softie. My mom, the school principal, was strict and scary when we were growing up. My dad would be the one who would slip me the money I asked for, buy me the present I secretly longed for, drive me wherever I wanted to go. But he was firmly protective. He'd say, "Yes you can go to the party. I'll be outside at ten."
Of course I'd wail and protest that all the other girls would be allowed to stay until eleven, and even take the bus home, but he'd never budge.
He was amazingly kind. He ran a factory and visited an old employee, dying of cancer, every night in the hospital. He was very social and would stop to chat with everyone he passed on his evening walk after he retired and they moved to Australia. I still miss him.

Lucy's Dad
LUCY BURDETTE: My father was quite a social animal. He talked and laughed with his brother often--every day toward the end of his life. He stayed in touch with old Army buddies and neighbors and loved digging up distant family relations and dragging us four kids to meet them. He loved camping and traveling and history (although John says he ruined me for history because of our forced march as kids through the battlefields of the civil war.:) And besides calling and visiting, he wrote long letters to all of us.

So many more things I could say, but basically he was a sweetie--and through his life he taught me about the value of being utterly devoted to family and friends.
(The picture was taken at Hidcote Gardens in England in 2008, with him and my dear stepmother, Mary Jane. Boy am I glad we took them with us!)
Oh, and ps, he loved to eat too. He was not above choking down two eclairs, while parked in the driveway so his wife wouldn't scold him...

HANK: Wonderful! Any father stories, Reds?


  1. I am incredibly lucky. I got to spend time with my father this last week. He is a wonderful, Godly man who is plain fun to be around. Whether it's hiking or playing games, we had a blast in Yosemite. And when I need some advice, he is just a phone call away.

  2. What wonderful growing-up memories
    Happy Father's Day . . . .

  3. So many memories, and how lovely of you all to share yours. My dad was a shy high-school geography teacher, an intellectual who wrote long typed letters, a man who loved to eat and laugh, and a caring, supportive, firm father. He liked "hillbilly" music" before it became folk and bluegrass, and even though he never got to Australia, he used to tape (reel-to-reel) the BBC news from there. It just hit me yesterday that he died when he was the age I am now. Maybe that's why this year's Father's Day is much harder for me than usual. I still miss him. He would have been incredibly proud of my sons and of my recent writing successes.

  4. Well, let's see. My dad is/was a big tough cowboy who raised cows, and was conscientious, protective, and occasionally mushy about them ("Sometimes a man just needs to talk to a cow.") but loaded up the herd to the slaughterhouse when the time came. And then he got a new herd of cows to love, so I guess you could say he taught me about writing in that way.

    When my dad caught encephalitis from his horse (or so the story goes), his fellow cowboys stepped in to care for his herd. None of these men were full time cattle ranchers, which meant they worked all day at a paying job, then they came home to work their cows, and then for that month, to our pasture to do our cows. I was a little girl. I remember so well the doorbell ringing and man would be there to say, "Tell your daddy I did the cows today" and then tip his Stetson goodbye.

    Damn. Why is this screen suddenly so blurry?

  5. My dad could do anything he put his mind to. He bought an accordion while he was serving overseas and taught himself to play it (and play it well-- and that's no mean feat, because not only does each hand do something totally different from the other, but if you don't keep pumping, it won't make a sound). He painted and sketched, built things, supported us all through college and grad school, and all summer long went out at five in the morning, before commuting from our lake cottage to his office in the city, and would catch the fish we would eat that night for dinner (alas, to this day, I can't eat freshwater fish).

    He had finished the first two years of medical school before WWII, and he served as a triage officer (the company he commanded was caught in the Bulge). He read voraciously, and I am still trying to dispose of the overwhelming number of books that he and my mom amassed.

    He and my mom loved to dance, and he taught us all how to look graceful on a dance floor. But the last twenty five years of his life, he suffered from Parkinson's, and eventually even walking was denied him. He never complained, but then again, he was never very communicative unless you asked him about history or the War.

    I used to make a bagel and lox run for him on Father's Day. He loved food, especially desserts. There are some sweets that I never buy without thinking of him. I miss him a lot.

  6. Father's Day is bittersweet for me, since my own dad, who was an alcoholic, died when I was 17, just a month after my high graduation. (Which neither he nor my mother attended.) I have no photos of us together, and a lot of really scary memories of him and his rage, but he did teach me almost everything I knew about cooking until much later in life.

    However, I've been extremely fortunate to have three fathers-in-law, two of whom were incredibly loving, kind and wonderful to me. My husband's dad was in my life for years longer than I had my own dad, and I had a chance to tell him how much that meant to me, and how much his presence in my life made me a better person. I also had two stepdads, but neither of them were anywhere near the influence of my father-in-law. I still miss him, eight years after he passed away. And his son, Steve, has been more than great as a stepdad to my own daughter. He has always treated her no differently than our daughters together.

    Fathering is a lot more than just passing on genetic material.

  7. oh, gee, I have enjoyed this so much, but have cried some big tears. Father's Day is hard for me. I miss my dad something fierce, especially on Father's Day. I still have little "chats" with him fairly often while I'm driving, or when I come across anything especially beautiful, be it a sunrise or a passage in a book. He was a quiet man, but SO funny. The saddest thing in my life is that he died before Donald came into my life. They would enjoy one another. I've shared my Father's Day memories at Meanderings and Muses -

  8. Sometimes a man just needs to talk to a cow. ANd whoa, Ramona. My screen is a little blurry now, too.

    That is a wonderful story.

  9. It teaches me so much to hear from you all...thank you!

    ANd we learn smoothing, whether our fathers were lovely and Fred MacMurray--or not so wonderful. xoxo Karen.

    MArk, that's terrific. Yes, you are lucky!

    And yes,Edith, the moment when we realize we're the same age as--makes our parents seem like del people, and not just parents. I once realized that was a certain age, it was the age my mother was when she had five kids, and I was the oldest at 20 . I thought wow--I would have NO idea. And maybe she didn't either.

    Ellen, my Dad was in the Battle of the Bulge, too!

  10. I have always been one of those kids who believed that her dad is the best dad in the world. He taught me unconditional love, commitment, compassion and so much more. His family was his priority, and he taught by the example of his life. One small story: I remember when I was a teenager --- and awful awful teenager --- and one time my dad and I got into a huge fight. I guarantee you it was all my fault, and he was just trying to hold his ground against the bewildering experience of a teenage girl. In any case, I huffed off to school, and at some point in the day, I reached my hand into my coat pocket. And there inside was a small note: I love you, Dad. He has been that kind of dad all my life and if I don't stop now I will tell story after story after story. I feel so lucky that he is still healthy and very much a part of my life.

  11. PS - Ramona - I love the thought of your dad saying, "Sometimes a man just needs to talk to a cow." That is so wonderful and priceless!

  12. There are so many wonderful, wonderful men out there who stepped up to fatherhood when the time came and never looked back--whether they were birth fathers, or stepdads, or fathers-in-law. And I can see them all from your descriptions--big hearts, all of them! I won't add to the stories--my screen has been blurry for some time this morning....

    And since we are on the subject of fathers and this is Jungle Red, well, I love to find a book with a great father! Thinking of Anne Perry's character Oliver Rathbone and his father Henry. It's always a pleasure when Henry makes an appearance.

  13. A book with a grandfather--that is SO interesting. OU hardly ever see that! Hmmm...

  14. My dad died when I was 10 so all my memories are from when I was small - he would play Monopoly with my sister and me for hours on end, stay up with me to watch Creature Features (and once went outside to rap on the window to scare us!), I reciprocated by watching wrestling with him. He cooked interesting lunches for us - I have a vague memory of some kind of bread-egg fry that I thought was delicious. All of my memories are of a gentle, patient man.

    Now I am enjoying watching my grandson-in-law be the dad for my 3 gorgeous great-grandchildren, with #4 on the way.

  15. Oh, f-i-l was a wonderful man. He liked being a grandfather more than just about anyone I've ever met. Taken from us way too soon.

    I love FChurch's idea about mysteries with great fathers. Katherine Hall Page's Rev. Fairchild? Oh, and of course, Kent Krueger's Cork O'Connor. He's really defined by fatherhood, and his relationship with his three kids moves the plot in many of the books.

  16. My father was 52 when I was born (mother was 43) and worked in his real estate business until he was 92. So, the first thing I learned was that age is just a number, and you're never to old to do some living. He was a visionary, developing two subdivisions in our small community before anyone else really knew what a subdivision was. He valued hard work, his Methodist faith, and a good conversation. I'm sure I inherited a gift of gab from him. He never saw a stranger, and when I was growing up that was sometimes annoying because, well, I was an impatient kid wanting to move on. Now, I realize how enjoyable talking to people is.

    Being the baby of the family, my father had somewhat mellowed when I came along. He was still strict, but he had been worn down a bit. He wasn't a sentimental man, but he did bring me back a necklace and little carry case from a trip once, and it meant the world to me (still have them). He was generous with all four of his children, and provided us all with a car when we got our license. Of course, that was partly because my mother didn't drive, and he had had to cart us all over the place growing up.

    I learned my love of cheese from my father, too. The man would not take no for an answer when he wanted you to try a new cheese he'd found. Luckily, I enjoyed cheese. I never did get a taste for green olives and sardines, and, thankfully, he didn't push those.

    I can't say that we were super close, like talking on the phone or sharing long talks together, but I knew he was always there for me, providing me with so much to give me a great chance in the world.

    My father's family and his religion were his foundation for all he did. Visiting his sisters, my aunts, was a routine Sunday activity, and it helped me learn the importance of keeping your family in your life. He was a good man, and we respected one another. I'd say I was pretty lucky to have had him. He died at age 96 in 1997, and he said he was ready to go if God wanted him then.

  17. Kathy Reel, my dad lived to be 96, too (I was born when he was 45) and worked in his own business until he was over 90. When people would complain about having a birthday and being another year older, he would always say, "Well, it's better than the alternative!"

  18. My entry disappeared!

    My dad, I thought I said... taught me the Lindy. I also owe him my love of the theatre, that frisson that goes down my back when the curtain rises and the show begins.

  19. Karen in Ohio... I wonder how many of us had alcoholic fathers. I did, too, though he did not die young as yours did. And sadly it's the main thing I remember about him.

  20. Hallie~ I put in your entry-I know I did. Weird!

    Kathy Reel --I love the cheese story!

    We have part of my step-father's wine collection...and we toast him every time we open one! But I do think it's interesting that they COLLECTED wine, Instead of drinking it, you know?

  21. My grandfather became a father to two of my cousins and me. Each of us had different stories behind us, but he managed to step in and make a home for us as if it had always been that way.

    We played games at the kitchen table, sometimes for hours. The dining room table was for homework and all other important events. Thanksgiving dinner. Christmas dinner. Tea for political candidates... before my time, but one was a very young congressional hopeful named John F Kennedy. It was also the place where a family member's things were placed after they died. People would choose something and take it home with them. If it happened in the dining room it was very important.

    My grandfather and I did things together. He took me to the yacht club where he kept a very small motorboat. "You can have your sailing in Marblehead, but this is all I need to catch fish." He caught a lot of fish and brought it home where he and I cleaned and cooked it for Friday night supper. It was wonderful. Everyone enjoyed it. And I felt important.

    He took me to Quincy market on Saturdays. We went to church on Sundays. He made sure I went to school during the week. The beach or the woods during the summer.

    The worst day was when my mother took me back. Not because I didn't love her. Because she took me away. Because I knew she would "disappear" again. My grandfather could not save me from that. But he was always there, for me to remember with hope.

  22. I enjoyed reading these well written tributes to fathers.

  23. AH, Reine. xooo

    Thank you, Unknown! :-)

  24. Hallie, I'm a big believer in the adage, "That which doesn't kill you only makes you stronger".

  25. My father became the father figure for his eight siblings and by extension a sort of paternal figure for not only his own four kids but his 19 additional nieces and nephews. He wears it well, even if he carries the weight of the world on his shoulders sometimes, even now. I've always said the best thing I could do is become like him.

    He also had a rule when I was growing up: any book I would read, he would help me get ahold of. My grandfather grew up poor enough that he had to scrounge for food out of dumpsters, but became a great reader for his entire adult life, and I think my dad saw a lot of his own father in me. He tolerated a lot of long, wandering trips to the bookstore. Never said no.

  26. Just want to say how inspiring this day has been.

    Reine, I love your grandfather, too.

    Matthew, my father had an 8th grade education. He believed that reading was priceless, and that books could not only change your life, but change the world. I still think he was right.

    Thanks for sharing, everyone.

  27. sometimes he was Dad but mostly he is remembered as Daddy!

  28. My Dad loved reading. He believed in education. He went to church daily when possible, but taught me that "sundays don't count during lent." (they don't. Really. Count the days.)

    He fought in WWII, after enlisting at the age of 16. He said he thought older men were cowards. Then as he matured, he realized that they were smart, and had lives worth going home to. He made it home and married my mom in Wisconsin.

    He went to college on the GI bill and became an engineer. When his company wanted to promote him, he said no, because he would have had to work more hours. He had a wife and seven children and he wanted to be a part of our lives. It meant less money and making do, but it also meant he knew us and we knew and respected him.

    He mowed the lawn. He took care of the pool. He loved us unconditionally. He did his best every day, and my heart aches remembering how we buried him on St. Patrick's Day, two years ago. He was half Irish, half German, and the veterans who saluted his service and the priest who administered the blessings each represented huge elements of his life. I know he's still watching.

    And I married a man a lot like him, and I tell my son the best thing I did for him was to give him a father who will be for him like my father was for me.

    Dad was a marathoner, and he supported my marathoning, my skydiving, and my decision to go to law school. He never gave up on a daughter who made plenty of mistakes.