My dad didn’t hold prestigious jobs. The first job I remember him having was as a Cook Coffee Company salesman. He drove an orange and brown panel truck and had a regular route on which he delivered packages of ground coffee to customers each week. There were times I was allowed to go on “rounds’ with him and though I was only four or five at the time, I can remember always having my little bag full of coloring books, crayons, and a doll as we started our day. I felt so important. Mom would pack enough lunch for both of us and off we’d go. On those special days, I couldn’t imagine ever being happier than I was in those moments with my dad.
As our family grew, Dad needed a better paying job and went to work in a machine foundry. I don’t remember what was produced there, but I sometimes went to work with him and always came home covered with grease and grime from all the machines and the dirt floor under them. The foundry was located in the south end of town and was set back from the main road, so it was a common place for people to drop off unwanted animals. There were often litters of kittens or puppies abandoned there and of course the cowards who did the deeds were never seen nor heard. Dad and his co-workers did their best to make sure those animals had a second chance in life. They would each take one from the litter and take it home. They never left an animal to fend for itself. I’m quite sure my love and compassion for animals comes from having my dad as an example and mentor.
The foundry closed with little warning and Dad had to find another job. We had just moved to another house and he hadn’t anticipated being out of work. He searched until he found something that would allow him to support our family of six. Dad’s official title at his new job was, “maintenance supervisor”, but some would have called him a janitor. It didn’t matter what the job was called, Dad took it seriously and worked proudly. He never seemed to mind going to work. He loved being able to provide for us.
There were times when it seemed all Dad did was work, sleep, and eat, and that seemed to leave little time for us. His new job required him to work the second shift, so he'd be ready to leave the house for work when we arrived home from school. The weekends were the best times with him. I now realize he must have been tired from working all week, but he made time to play with us.
When I left home for nursing school, it was Dad who helped me get through the nights of intense studying. He worked just a mile or so from my dorm and would either call me or I’d call him and ask him to come get me out of there for a little while. There were nights he took me to Isaly’s for ice cream. It never dawned on me that he might not have the time or the funds to do so. Not until years later did I learn he had to make up the time he’d been gone from work to be with me.
One night in particular, he and I stopped at a Kresge store and he bought me an amber colored glass mug for my dorm room. It wasn’t expensive, but I loved it and it resides in my kitchen cupboard to this day. He also bought me a small blue hand towel with which to decorate my tiny dorm bathroom. He never wanted to take me back to the dorm without giving me a few dollars since I had no money of my own and little time to earn any. He once offered me the last two dollars he had. I took one and insisted he keep the other. I told him if we each had one dollar, neither of us would be broke. He thought that was funny.
I had no idea my dad would so soon be gone. I graduated from nursing school in 1971 and Dad suffered a fatal heart attack at work one cold February night in 1972. A few months earlier, he had been smiling and proud as he walked me down the aisle to marry my beloved. I remember being scared and nervous before we started our walk. He leaned over and said, “Don’t worry, your ol’ dad is right here for you”. And so he was.
During his funeral, many people related stories about how Dad had loaned them money (though he had little himself), or how he’d helped repair a flat tire for someone at work. We heard how he was eager to put in good words for others who sought jobs at his workplace. Whether his superiors needed someone to pick up baggage at the airport or paint their homes, Dad was the first to volunteer. He was also known to take people home from church while we waited for him to come back afterward and get us. We weren’t always happy about the choices he made, but we always knew his heart was in the right place.
One day last year, as my sister was helping our mom in the basement of her home, she found some simple etchings Dad had left near the ceiling, on the beams. There was nothing profound written there, but it was a nice surprise to find after having lost him so many years ago. It seems that every Christmas Day for quite a few years, he had gone to the basement and left his name, the date, and a word or two. No one knows why he did it, but maybe he hoped we'd find it long after he was gone and remember those days.
Thank you Dad, for knowing what was important in life. You were strong in your faith and strong your relationships with family. You were generous to a fault and always very compassionate toward people and animals. Though you didn’t have a college education, you had “people skills”. I know you genuinely loved your family and friends and I continue to marvel at how comfortable you were while talking to people and how you could put them at ease with your humor. You had a work ethic that surpasses any I’ve ever known, and you didn’t just do the job for which you were hired, you went the extra mile for anyone needing help. You loved to dance and how I wish I had taken the opportunity to dance with you more often.
Thank you for teaching me, by your example, that people are worth the effort, that animals need to be loved and cared for, and that hard work blesses one’s life. Thank you for all the times you were strict and all the times you weren’t. I know you were trying to teach me to be a kind, decent, and honorable person. Although I still have a lot to learn, I hope and pray that I’ve made you just a tiny bit proud. I remain very proud of you.
I love you, Dad, and I miss you more than words can express.