September 25, 2015

To my Daddy on his birthday

This summer, on my Mom's birthday, I did a blog post about her. And now, it is Dad's turn. There is a line of a Jim Croce song that is appropriate here--" So I have to say I love you in a song" I am no good at saying this sort of thing in person. I am always more comfortable writing about emotional things. So I'll have to say I love my parents in blog posts. 

This guy is pretty awesome.

Dad was born in a suburb of Philiadelphia, Pennsylvania to two Irish parents. His father had emigrated when he was a teenager, his mother born here. But both were Irish. Like Mom, his parents were older when he came along. He was the youngest of four kids, with three older sisters, Barbara, Kathleen (Hope), and Charlotte. 

Wesley Sr, Charlotte, Ellen
Barbara and Hopie
(For whatever reason, I can't find any pictures of Dad when he was a baby. Those photo albums are missing in action. So I stole this picture of the family before Dad was born, from my cousin Maya's facebook page.)

Dad as a kid. 
He has a lot of stories, terribly interesting to young kids, about the pranks the kids in his class got up to in the 60's. People climbing from window to window, going up the heat ducts, scaring the teacher out of their wits. He also liked to tell us that every teacher he had in elementary quit the year after he was in their class. One of his teachers told him, the week before the end of school, that unless he did all the homework he hadn't done for the whole year, she was going to hold him back. So he did it, under great duress. He has never believed in doing something (like homework) just because everyone else is.

His family
Wesley and Ellen in front
Barbara, Dad, Charlotte, Hope

Dad as a teenager. Apparently he liked reading way back then too. Books, used books, are one of Dad's weaknesses. As anyone who has ever visited their house will know, Mom and Dad have thousands of books. 

I love this picture. Wesley Sr and Wesley Jr
Poppy was Wes and Dad was Lee

I was only three when Poppy died, so I never really knew him. But he was a character. He worked hard all his life; when he first emigrated to America, he worked to send money back to his mother, whose husband had abandoned her and the kids, and then later, when he married at 40, he worked for his family. His father had left the family because he hated the religious beliefs my great grandmother held. But they were so important to my great grandmother, she let nothing stand in the way of them. And that made an impression on Poppy. He and Gammy raised Dad with the firm belief that nothing could ever be more important than loving God. Ever. And to this day, nothing has been as important to Dad. 

Dad's graduation picture. He graduated in 1969, in the midst of the Vietnam War. He was issued a draft number, a fairly low one, and he thought he would probably be drafted, like so many other boys his age.  But he escaped that somehow. 

Dad and the younger two of his sisters being majestic. If you can be majestic when your brother has grease on his forehead.

Poppy and Gammy by Dad's Blazer
Dad bought this Chevrolet Blazer (which I forgot to get a good picture of) brand new, after he graduated. He was working for a car dealership as a mechanic (if I have my story straight) to earn the money. He still has this blazer. It went to Alaska and Delaware, and is now resting in quiet grace in a back pasture. He is fiercely loyal. Even to vehicles. A few years ago, someone said Dad talked about cars as if they were old friends. Dad tells stories about traveling with them, like they were active participants in the journey. And to Dad, they were. 

Dad looking as smug and greasy as ever a teenager that lifted an engine ever looked. This was one of Dad's passions. Back when vehicles had no electronics and were understandable. Just last year, Dad was talking about how nice it is to have tools now. When he was a teenager, all he could afford was a small little mechanics set of tools and he just had to make the tools work, even if they didn't want to. Now, he has a shop with most of the tools he or his sons would need for farm or car repair. 

I am not even sure if this is Dad. But it looks like him. And I hope it is because I love this picture. Dad loves Alaska. It was always a dream of his to go to Alaska, while he was a kid. After he graduated, one of his friends was drafted and stationed in Alaska, so he headed north, driving up the Alaskan Highway when it was still dirt. He lived there for four years. This picture makes me think of part of a Robert Service poem that Dad loves, The Spell of the Yukon

It's the great, big, broad land 'way up yonder,
It's the forests where silence has lease;
It's the beauty that thrills me with wonder, 
It's the stillness that fills me with peace.

There are so many pictures of Dad, up to his elbows in grease and engines. When I was a kid, Dad's hands were always dark from grease and hard work.

This is the sort of picture Dad took. Friends, engines, and Pepsi. Dad had a crazy bunch of friends. He has oodles of stories about the things they did. 

I loved this picture when I was little. I believe the truck was loaded and emptied wrong, with the heaviest part in the front, which wasn't properly supported. So it was hanging out in the air. But I liked to think my Dad was just that strong. I think I may have taken this into elementary school to prove how cool my Dad was. 

Mom adoring Dad.
 When Mom moved down to Pennsylvania from Quebec, she hung out with Dad's sisters and cousins. When Dad came home from Alaska for a visit, he met her. He was writing to her, when Mom's guardian said he was too old (24) to write to Mom (16). So instead of trying to convince them of the properness of the age gap or waiting a year, Dad replied "Can I marry her then?" Some how, it worked. 

Dad brought her to Alaska for two years. 

Mom and Dad, in love with Clover, the first of eight babies they adored. Dad has always loved babies.

Mom and Dad moved back near family before Clover was born. They settled about an hour away, in Delaware, so we often went to Gammy and Poppy's for Sunday lunch after meeting. 

Poppy looks like he is showing Dad a smartphone or something. 
(Didn't they have wild wallpaper?)

Lindsey, riding with Dad on the Gravely. Remember what I said about Dad being fiercely loyal? We still have this lawn mower (or maybe it's descendants) in the machinery shed.

Dad and Cody

Dad and Tyler in nifty hats that are still floating around.

A family of seven (including Mom who was taking the picture)

And now, eight!

Dad and his boys

We used to have a lot of hymnsings, up on the back hill of the farm, with a bonfire and a miniature pedal organ. Dad would line a hay wagon with bales, and everyone would load up at the house and ride to the hill. We all loved them.

This is Dad, in his element. People at his house (Dad loves company), hymns to sing that he believes from the very core of his being, Mom by his side, and his kids all happily nearby.

Somehow, all the photo albums that have any pictures of Dad working on the farm are missing too. But as I mentioned in Mom's post, it took a lot of guts for Mom and Dad to move way up here to milk cows for a living, something Dad had never done before. But they managed. For thirteen years, Dad, with the help of Mom and us kids, milked cows. Through all this time, Dad was developing horrible arthritis. Finally, in 2001, several of us kids were heading west and Dad decided he couldn't keep the farm going. We auctioned off the cows in May. It was incredibly emotional. On one hand, we loved it. The freedom! Think of it! But on the other hand, those cows were a huge part of our life. I remember seeing Dad walk slowly from the auction area to the house in the afternoon, while the auction was still going on. When I went in later, he was just sitting there, all alone at our long kitchen table with his head in his hands. Just sitting. Thirteen years of back breaking work and immense sacrifice being done away with by the auctioneer's fast paced talking. 

I am not sure Dad has ever fully gotten over selling the dairy cows. They have beef cows now, but Dad still talks of dairy. 

Dad heading out to plow this past winter.

Dad and his sisters a few years ago. 

Dad, Charlotte, Hopie, and Barbara

Mom and Dad and the two youngest all grown up

I am not sure Dad is over all of us growing up either. But he does love having grandchildren. 

As soon as grandkids walk in the house, he is primed for delight. 

Like I said about Mom, Dad isn't perfect. He has never pretended to be. He can be stubborn, he has a bit of a temper (there were a lot of shouts of "stupid, cotton-picking piece of junk" in my childhood), and he loves a good argument, much to quiet loving Mom's eternal frustration.

But I couldn't have asked for a better Daddy.

Dad has the wonderful quality of thinking all his kids are marvelous. Even when he is arguing with us, or "gently" telling us our ideas are nonsense, all of us kids are fully aware that he thinks we are lovely. And even when he is having a rousing argument with Cody and Owen about fences (or haying, or barns, or fields), he wouldn't hesitate to give his right arm to the one and his left to the other. Dad has always loved us kids. He loved us as babies, as toddlers, as kids, as teenagers, and now as adults. I remember being a young teenager, fussing about my weight, and Dad would always say "Why do you want to be all skin and bones? You look fine. You're better off with a little meat on your bones." And while this did nothing to actually make me feel thinner, it did make me realize that Dad loved me. It was his way of reassuring me. He isn't the kind of Dad who pays lavish compliments. 

But he is the kind of Dad who will come pick you up when your car breaks down. Even if it is the day before Father's Day and you just totaled his car, four hours away. And when he gets there, he checks to see how you are before he glances at the car. (Although, if you happen to make a ridiculous statement, like "I was only going the speed limit!" after your car has slid off icy roads into the ditch, he will remind you of it for... well, so far, 14 years and counting.)

He is the kind of Dad who wouldn't let us take ourselves too seriously. He never let us think that the point of life was to have fun, but he also taught us, by example, to find fun and laughter in almost everything while you were getting on with the serious business of living.

He is the kind of Dad who taught us to never be so interested in making money that we forget to have a life. Money was scarce in our childhood, but Dad never let us think that meant we were worse off than other people. It might be annoying that we had to worry about money, but we were the lucky ones. We didn't want to be like everyone else. We had better things to be. 

He is the kind of Dad who would tell us exactly what he thought we should do, but made us realize we had to make our own choices. 

He is the kind of Dad who expanded our horizons, with stories of Alaska and his travels, instilling a wanderlust in all us kids.

He is the kind of Dad who would tell us to be better than normal when we are with our friends, just so we would never discourage them from doing what is right. He told us frequently as teenagers to "abstain from any appearance of evil." When we were having get-togethers, he refused to let us mail or email any kind of invitation, since someone could feel left out if they didn't get one. He wanted every person to feel just as invited as any other person. We had to invite everyone, or no one at all. He loved us entirely, but he never, ever let us think we could just coast on past good behavior. There was always a better and brighter version of us to be had if we just kept trying. 

He is loyal, almost refusing to listen to anything negative about someone he loves. And if it is true, he refuses to dwell on it, stoutly believing instead that best intentions were somehow misinterpreted. 

He is generous and thoughtful. Last year, we stopped to pick up some BBQed chicken from a fire fighter's field day and Tyler's fifth grade teacher was in front of me in line. As we slowly moved up the line, she told me about Dad coming in to help spread dirt or something for a flower bed the class was making. After an hour of work by the class, she went inside to get the kids all ready to go home. She said she was exhausted and could hardly make herself go out to pick up all the tools and mess that a class of fifth graders could make. But when she got there, it was all picked up and orderly. Dad had tidied it all up. And all these years later, she cried when she told that story. Said it was silly, but it just meant so much to her at that moment. She also told me she still had a letter Mom had written her about how much they appreciated her as a teacher. 

I have pretty great parents.


Evan and Clover and Co. said...

He's a pretty great Daddy. Like, my very favorite.

Nanette Lundell said...

What an honor to READ about your dad, and an even greater one KNOWING him (but not very well until just now). Thank you, Bethaney.

bvlenci said...

Lee is actually there in that first picture! My Mom was six months pregnant.

Jolene Crites said...

You have the most marvelous talent of writing so elegantly and thoroughly about things, and I have loved these posts about your parents. You DO have great parents and furthermore, you really appreciate it. And that's pretty great too. I have always marveled, and continue to do so, at the wonderful bond of love that binds you guys together. Truly a beautiful thing.

Cecil and Amy said...

I might have to disagree with you that your dad is the BEST Dad on earth (maybe we can agree that he's the best LIVING Dad on earth!), but you have encapsulated in your wonderful writing style a great biography of one of my favorite people on earth. Tears again. (hey, I couldn't cry about your Mom's and not about your Dad's, right?)

Geri Douglas said...

I loved all the posts and you do have Awesome parents! Philip and I just got home from a month in Europe, so I am loving reading all the posts I have missed! Happy Birthday Lee

Bette Lu said...

I didn't meet your dad till this summer and have not met your mother yet, but thru the children I have met, I value them. If a bit of themselves are in each one of the kids, I already love the parents even tho I haven't met them or been around them for any length of time. Thank-you for sharing. Bette Lu Lerwick