I’ve had the honor and privilege to be “born of” a dad who seems to have known the right things to do when raising us. One could say as a child of 40’s, he was born in a culture and generation that loved and encouraged getting children. But men of those times, most of whom were very responsible dads, didn’t always openly and actively love their children. I know many my age who approached their dads with fear and trembling, and whenever they visited my home, they would marvel at how close and friendly dad was to us. He seemed an anomaly.
I’ve come to realize it’s those many anomalies that made Patrick special when we were growing up. He cooked for us interesting concoctions–I don’t remember men of his time in the kitchen. He showed me how to roast pumpkins on open fire, cleaned, gave me my first seeds when I was five and showed me a garden, said mine, if I could plant anything. I scattered beans and pumpkin seeds, got a kick when they actually grew, blossomed and fed us. By ten I knew what inch nails to use when fixing large or small fences. With my five siblings we were able to tend and milk cows, work in the gardens, and manage to be in school at the right time. He helped with homework, always asked how school was and listened attentively to what any of us had to say. It’s like we were at his level. He asked us for advice regarding land mostly, and often did what we suggested, so when it was his turn to advise us, we found mutuality instead of resistance.
We were always busy, bustling, planting, harvesting, building, destroying, and building some more. Hard work for sure, but Dad tried to make it fun mostly, telling stories while we worked, so by the time we realized his agenda of turning us into skilled and resourceful kids, well, we were already done. I keep asking my siblings how did we do all that we did? Dad too had a full time job as a lecturer and coach at National Teachers College, Kabale. I don’t recall a day he failed to ride his bike and go to work. I guess it was the element of fun and love in creating, be it a friendly home, a well-tended farm, a neat garden, a clean house or an assignment performed satisfactorily… that made the difference between joy versus tired.
Years down the road, at 72, although not well in body lately, Dad remains indefatigable when it comes to loving, giving, and caring at the expense of his own well-being sometimes. He can be so catholic! I like to blame him when I’m unable to slow down in my own world, a ball of energy constantly on the move. I tell him he facilitated it so he had better not think it’s just me. It’s us. That gets him laughing. It’s only mum who needs more explanation. But this is about my Dad.
My favorite Dad poem is Robert Hayden’s Those Winter Sundays. The first time I read it it struck such a chord, and I appreciate it every time I read it. Although different from my own Dad experience, I understand its sentiments which give me such overwhelming feelings of love and sadness at the same time.
Those Winter Sundays by Robert Hayden
Sundays too my father got up early and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold, then with cracked hands that ached from labor in the weekday weather made banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him. I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking. When the rooms were warm, he'd call, and slowly I would rise and dress, fearing the chronic angers of that house, Speaking indifferently to him, who had driven out the cold and polished my good shoes as well. What did I know, what did I know of love's austere and lonely offices?
On this Father’s Day, I’m grateful to all the loving fathers out there who support and cherish their children, families, and stand out in their communities. Here’s My Father’s Hat, a poem by Mark Irwin for your delight.
My Father’s Hat by Mark Irwin
Sunday mornings I would reach high into his dark closet while standing on a chair and tiptoeing reach higher, touching, sometimes fumbling the soft crowns and imagine I was in a forest, wind hymning through pines, where the musky scent of rain clinging to damp earth was his scent I loved, lingering on bands, leather, and on the inner silk crowns where I would smell his hair and almost think I was being held, or climbing a tree, touching the yellow fruit, leaves whose scent was that of a clove in the godsome air, as now, thinking of his fabulous sleep, I stand on this canyon floor and watch light slowly close on water I'm not sure is there.
To all the blessed gifts we call Fathers. To all the mouths that have pushed out breath and spoken love. All my love.
The Gift by Li-Young Lee
Whose Mouth Do I Speak With by Suzanne Rancourt
I can remember my father bringing home spruce gum. He worked in the woods and filled his pockets with golden chunks of pitch. For his children he provided this special sacrament and we'd gather at this feet, around his legs, bumping his lunchbox, and his empty thermos rattled inside. Our skin would stick to Daddy's gluey clothing and we'd smell like Mumma's Pine Sol. We had no money for store bought gum but that's all right. The spruce gum was so close to chewing amber as though in our mouths we held the eyes of Coyote and how many other children had fathers that placed on their innocent, anxious tongue the blood of tree?
What’s your favorite Father poem?