It’s funny how you never second guess things when you’re growing up. You just assume every family is just like your family and your parents are no different than any other parent. It wasn’t until I was well into my adult years that I began to realize, my dad wasn’t ordinary; he was extraordinary.
First, I’ll start with what was normal about him. He lived in the country all of his childhood. He would tell of driving the tractor out in the back forty and singing Scottish songs like the one about “Two Irish men digging in a ditch” at the top of his lungs. When I was growing up, it wasn’t unusual to hear him singing funny Scottish songs or “I found my thrill on Blueberry Hill,” or “I’m in love with Barbara Walters. She’s on my TV menu every day.” Then he would crack up laughing. He also loved to give dance lessons on how to do The Twist. He would tell you to grab the ends of an imaginary towel and pull it back and forth, pretending you just got out of the shower and you’re drying your behind. It actually works. Every time I want to do the twist, I think of that and then jazz it up a bit.
He loved kidding people. Not to be mean. It was always in fun. Whatever he thought might push your buttons, he would mention. The neighborhood I grew up in consisted mostly of Polish people, so – you guessed it – he loved to tell Polish jokes. If someone, in the same kidding spirit, would give it right back to him and get him good, he would burst out laughing. He had a quick wit and loved it if someone would rise up to the challenge and have a great come-back.
I remember us kids bugging him when we were young because we had never been out of Michigan. One day he told all of us to get in the car. Mom and us six kids got in and he drove. We wanted to know where we were going. “Never mind. You’ll find out,” he said. He had that twinkle in his eye. We got on I-75 and were heading towards Detroit.
Tiger Stadium? Detroit Zoo? Bob-lo Island? We badgered him with questions. He just kept grinning and driving. Soon we were past all the Detroit exits and saw “Welcome to Ohio.”
Ohio! Yah! We’re going to Cedar Point! That had to be it.
Nope. After a while he pulled into the parking lot of a huge sporting goods store. We went inside. It was amazing how much athletic stuff they had. Rows and rows of it. He spent a lot of time looking at baseball gloves and bats. He ended up buying a catcher’s glove for my one brother and, if I remember correctly, some bats and another baseball glove for one of us.
We got back in the car. “Where are we going now Dad?”
“Home,” he answered, smiling. “Now you can’t ever say you’ve never been out of Michigan.”
Not funny, Dad!
Actually, it was funny. The whole round trip we laughed and kidded each other. It was exciting and a fun time.
My dad and my two sons.
He always had time for us. He would help us with our math homework, play catch with us or take us up to the baseball diamond so he could pitch to us and we could practice our hitting. When we went up north to Grandma’s cabin, he would spend hours driving the speed boat and pulling us on the zip-board and teaching us to water ski. Another thing he liked to do with us was take Grandma’s pontoon boat out in the middle of the lake and drop anchor. He would let us jump off and swim and he would get in and swim with us. He was lots of fun!
When we were kids, Dad took my brothers fishing a few times on Lake Michigan. I wanted to go! It was the chauvinistic sixties and seventies and girls didn’t get to go on these trips. My brother kindly explained that girls can’t go because they can’t pee over the side of the boat.
But how do you argue with that logic? I did finally get to go fishing with Dad on Lake Michigan in 2001. I spent the day with my three favorite men in the world; my Dad and my two sons. I’m not exaggerating when I say that day was one of the most enjoyable days of my life. I’m not even into fishing but I’m a water fanatic and everyone was relaxed, laughing and having a good time. Oh, I didn’t have to pee over the side of the boat either. We went on the Sea Joy II Charters in Frankfort and the boat came complete with a cuddy and head.
My Dad watching the First Mate clean our fish.
Dad was strict. One thing he didn’t tolerate was disrespect. I only remember getting the belt once. He didn’t like giving corporal punishment, so he made it memorable. He didn’t have to do it a second time with me. Dad had a tone. When he used that tone and said to me, “Watch your attitude, young lady,” I watched my attitude! Dad was an awesome dad and I felt awful when I got in trouble or let him down.
So far, my Dad sounds like a typical Dad, right? Well, he had another side to him. He loved singing funny songs and listening to country or fifties music, but he also liked Classical music, Jazz, Blues and yes, even Opera. Christmas specials were another thing he enjoyed. Each year he would watch the Nutcracker and other Christmas classics. If there were holiday music specials featuring a good orchestra or opera singer, he would watch those too. He would even “let” Mom watch the ice skating competitions during the winter Olympics. Truth be told, he loved watching the figure skating as much as Mom did. He even liked watching Hallmark movies. On TV we got a well-rounded variety, because he liked his westerns, sports, Laugh-In, Happy Days and the like, but we also got a dose of culture too. I never questioned any of this. Didn’t all dads cheer for their favorite football team one night and listen to Opera the next?
My parents never went to church in their early years of marriage. Sometimes my Mom would take us around Easter time, but getting six little kids ready by yourself was a job. It never lasted long. When I was in grade school, my Dad had bleeding ulcers. He ended up in the hospital and almost died. He made a deal with God. “If you let me live, I’ll start going to church.” God kept his end of the deal.
A few years later, my little brother, Don, who was five years old, fell off his bike. The handle bar turned and caught him hard in the gut. At first it looked like one of those accidents all children have, but he kept getting worse. Not better.
Dad and Mom took him to the South Macomb Hospital emergency room. The doctor, after examining him, determined he couldn’t help him. Don needed to be rushed immediately to Children’s Hospital in Detroit. It was a little unusual, but the doctor went with them as they rushed him down to where the ambulance was waiting. Mom overheard the doctor say to the driver, “Every second could mean his life.”
They got from South Macomb to Children’s in a hot minute. The staff there were waiting for their arrival. As soon as the ambulance arrived, Don was whisked away through doors where a surgical team was waiting. Don had ruptured his spleen and needed it removed.
Dad and Mom were left on the other side of those doors, with nothing to do but wait, worry…. and pray. Dad once again made a deal with the God he had ignored and turned his back on. “Spare Don’s life and I’ll start going to church.”
Once again, God kept his part of the deal. This time, Dad did too, but he wasn’t a happy camper about it. At that time, we had moved to the town of Montrose where Dad and Mom grew up. Dad, Mom and us kids started going to Grandma’s church. My parents took bible classes and my Dad had questions. He was an Engineer and had a logical mind. He wasn’t going to believe something just because a man in a black robe said so. He needed proof. He needed facts.
Dad had tons of questions and Pastor Ehlers loved his interest and rose to the challenge. Pastor started coming over to our house about once a week. They would sit in the Family room or kitchen with books all over the kitchen table. They discussed everything from creation to Jesus’ life, suffering and death to bible prophecies. Dad and Pastor became good friends.
Dad and Mom’s faith grew and grew. For the next 30 + years, until they died, their faith and love for God remained strong and they passed that love onto us kids.
One year I asked Dad what he wanted for Father’s Day. He didn’t want anything. After a while, he changed his mind. “There is something I would like,” he said. “I’d like to have all my family come with me to church on Father’s Day.” I don’t think he actually thought he’d get it. They lived on Chippewa Lake and their church was in Big Rapids. Us kids lived scattered all over the mitten and we all had families and busy schedules.
I secretly told everyone his wish. Three of us, and our spouses, came up for the weekend and went to church with him on Father’s Day. In the parking lot, Dad saw a car drive in. “That’s Connie and Jon. What are they doing here?” Then he saw more of our family getting out of cars. All six of us with our spouses and most of the grandkids made it. Dad was pleasantly surprised.
The above picture was taken on that Father’s Day. My Dad did stained glass as a hobby and the cross in the picture is his handiwork.
Dad, Nolan and Mom. Dad is showing his grandson, Nolan, how to pet the doggy.
This tribute to Dad wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention what a great Grandpa he was. He loved teasing his Grandsons about being Michigan football fans. Dad was for Michigan State. They enjoyed giving him some digs back.
Don, Bob, Becky and PaPa Chicken
He was a great babysitter too. One day he was watching two-year old Becky. They just moved back to Michigan from Colorado and she didn’t know Dad well. She was being quiet and shy. Dad wanted to cheer her up and make her feel more comfortable. He started walking around the kitchen clucking and strutting like a chicken. Then he started to sing “Ain’t nobody here but us chickens. Ain’t nobody here at all.” Becky started giggling and wasn’t sad anymore. She started calling him Papa Chicken and that name stuck.
All of us thought his chicken song was something he made up, but years later I was looking up B.B. King songs on the internet. My eyes fell upon “There’s Nobody Here but Us Chickens.” I couldn’t believe it. I clicked on it and sure enough – that was Papa Chicken’s song! Now I had all the lyrics.
Dad was a big supporter of education. These pictures are my parents with my sons when they graduated.
From the time my oldest son, D.J., could crawl, he started getting into everything. He was fascinated with how things worked. My Grandma had one of those old counsel T.V.’s that had all the buttons at the bottom. D.J. wasn’t allowed to touch the buttons. One day he saw his chance. No one was in the living room. Quickly he walked out there. He was watching the screen while turning all the buttons. One button turned the people’s faces green. The vertical button made the picture move upwards. The actor’s heads disappeared at the top and showed up at the bottom of the screen. I’m guessing he found the volume button too and that’s what got our attention.
When we went in there, D.J. was having a great time and had the TV settings all messed up. Instead of being mad, Dad cracked up laughing. “It’s a good thing,” he said, “that there isn’t a button hidden somewhere in this house to set off a bomb, because if there was, D.J. would find it, push it and we’d all be blown to smithereens.”
Dad loved a variety of things and he introduced us to a wide plethora of music and activities. He encouraged us to follow our passion and dreams whether it was writing, sports, music or something else. We had his support.
No, Dad wasn’t ordinary. He was extraordinary.
Love you Dad!
Happy Father’s Day to everyone!
(Dad joined Mom and his Savior in March of 2010 during holy week.)