My last memory of my Dad was the day before he passed away some 20-or-so years ago. My father was retired at that point and I believe 64 years old. It was an amazingly special day for him and that kind of day that prompts one to think that there is some sort of grand plan predetermined for us. My father loved many things, but he loved his family the most. My brother and I had since grown up and moved out of the house, but on this day we both happened to swing by the house and spend some time with him. It was a beautiful, sunny day and he was out working in the yard. The next day, he died doing what he loved; working on a project. My life with him had a giant range of memories from skating in the ice rink to fishing on the lake and I thought this, the Friday before a Fathers Day weekend, would be a great time to share.
My father was a Renaissance Man. He was able to be the hero to both my brother and I. Despite the fact that my brother and I had absolutely nothing in common, we had my Dad in common. I was the jock hockey player. I played hockey all the time and went to prep school and college based on my hockey ability. My father played semi-professional hockey when he was young and loved the sport. My brother was a car buff. He went to technical school and got a job at a garage right out of high school. He owned 2 cars before he turned 18 and loved working on them. My father was a big rig mechanic for years before he finished technical college and loved restoring old cars. My brother and I were so different, yet my father had interests and experience that seamlessly bridged the gap.
Unfortunately for my brother, my interests worked more in my favor. Hockey bought me an incredible amount of time with my father. He coached a number of my teams in my youth and never missed a game after his coaching tenure was up. He loved the sport and loved to see his boy play it well. We talked about it all the time and I excelled at it, which brought him a large dose of pride in me. I remember father/son work day when I was about 10 years old. My father brought me into IBM where he worked loyally for 38 years. I must have met 50 people that day and every single person started the conversation with, “Oh, is this the hockey star?!” It did not occur to me until much later in life that my father had actually been bragging about me to all of those people. Realizations as such warm the heart, especially now that I am a father myself and brag similarly about my hockey player son.
Another fond memory I have of my father is on the water. He told me once that he used to build power boats and race them, but unfortunately I never got more information than that and I likely never will since most of his family is gone. We spent our summers in a house (that my father built by himself) on a lake in southern New Hampshire. We had many boats over the years including an 12′ aluminum skiff rowboat, a 12′ fiberglass skiff rowboat, a 14′ Starcraft powerboat, a 10′ sailing dinghy, and eventually a Larson 16′ 170hp I/O ski boat. I probably spent the majority of my boating youth in the fiberglass rowboat, fishing and catching turtles, but I adored every boat we owned.
I remember going out in the fiberglass rowboat with him at sunset one evening and rowing over to his favorite fishing spot. He showed me how to cast and open-faced reel and how to fish a jitterbug. I didn’t catch anything that night, but he taught me that fishing isn’t about catching fish. It’s about the time spent doing something that you love. As I fished out one side of the boat, my father pulled out his fly rod that he had made. It was one of those slow-motion moments in life that live on in my brain as clear as a Kodachrome slide image. The tall rod snapped gracefully back and forth as he pulled more line out with each cast. The line rolled out back and forth as the fly at the end of the line got closer and closer to an overhanging tree by the shore. Just as it looked as though the fly would hit a branch and snag, he yanked out a final length of line, dropped the pole down parallel to the water and snapped his powerful forearm forward. The path of the line ran flat along the water and magically rolled out along the water away from us until the fly dropped quietly on the under the tree. The sun was low in the sky casting long shadows on the glass-still water and the line laid down so softly that the mirror image of the tree on the water was hardly disturbed. It was such a poetic sequence to watch that it etched itself in my mind forever. About the time I picked up my chin from the bottom of the boat, a large splash under the tree prompted my dad to jump up from his seat and yank back hard on the long pole. “Heh hey!” He said. “Look at that!” I looked up at my father in awe. His arms were tight with flexed, lean muscle, his big leathery hands gripped the pole and pulled in the taught line, and his fishing rod folded over in strain. It was as if I was staring at a glorious statue in a museum. Something titled, “Man” and nothing less.
My father died many years ago and the sadness over it has all but diminished. There are certainly times that it strikes me and I miss him, but as the years go by, you know a person less and less and his memory fades more and more. These days, I sometimes have a hard time remembering what he even looked like, but I have memories like our evening fishing that I can always draw from. The hardest yet proudest times for me are those times that I am coaching my son’s hockey team, teaching him the joy of fishing, taking him out on the boat, or building boats in my basement. I can’t help to think to myself that my father would be so proud of me. Those times that I realize that I am essentially a carbon copy of my father and that I have become to Harry just the man that my father had been to me. A hero of epic proportion. I love you, Dad. Happy Fathers Day to all the Dads out there!
Thank you for reading.