November 12th, 2008
My Dad's birthday today. He's fifty-seven years young today. Boy, I'd like to be inside that mind as he goes about his day. Another one in a long line of days. A life filled with twists and turns, hardship and loss, but very good things too. A loving wife. Three decent kids. Two grandkids. A warm home on a fine piece of property on The Ridge. The place he and my Mom have called home since I was a baby.
He's done a lot, my Dad, and I am thankful for and appreciate the sacrifices he's made. It is something that is rare these days. People willing to sacrifice for the betterment of others. But he did it. Worked hard to find and stay on the right path. And even though he has much, it's from him that I learned the importance of the little things.
This is a while back. We were in his garage. Working on one thing or another. It's hard to keep track of all the things that have entered that garage broken, but come out not only fixed, but often times better than new. This thing, whatever it was, was giving us trouble. Not an easy fix. It was cold. The middle of winter. Wind hurling icy flakes. Drifts building up all around. The garage door open because we needed more light than the single shop light would give. Cold air chilling deep because the only heat we had was what we were making and losing under our coats. And there was Dad. His strong bare hands working against steel.
"Damn," it just won't budge, he said.
"Here, let me try."
And to my surprise, he stepped aside. Put his hands in his pockets.
"Have at her," he said.
This was new to me. Quite a surprise. In the past, all my offers to help had been dismissed. Not because he didn't believe I could help, but because he was always so focused, a man on a mission, wanting to get it done, get it done right, and get it done now. I stepped up to the shop table. Heaved on the metal. Gave it my best shot. Tried once more for good measure. Then stepped aside. I put my hands in my pockets.
"Sure is cold," I said.
I thought maybe this would prompt a break. A little time to duck into the house. Drink some coffee. Stand by the woodstove. Get warm.
"It's not too bad," he said.
Then we stood in silence. Dad just staring at that part. Whatever it was. Me looking around the garage. Filled side to side and bottom to top with all sorts of things. What it needed was a thorough cleaning. But Dad didn't and still doesn't have time to give it a thorough cleaning. He has long days that start early and end late. Working with machines and steel hour after hour. All day. Every day. Work that has forged his forearms into iron and made his grip as strong as a vise. What my Dad needed was for this old garage and everything in it to be torn down, thrown away, and for a grand new garage to be built in its place. One with insulation and storage compartments. One with bright lights and heat. And suddenly, I felt pretty damned awful. Disappointed that I hadn't done more in my life to help him out. All the fixing, time and effort that he put into that garage for us—his family—deserved more.
If we only had money, I thought. But the thing is, I didn't think it. I actually said it. Albeit quietly and to myself, but Dad had heard.
"What's that?" he asked.
"Oh, I was just thinking how much easier it would be if we had money. If we were rich. Then we wouldn't have to be out here in the winter and cold fixing another thing that's broken. We could be inside, where it's warm, doing something else. Somebody else could be doing the fixing for us."
"Yeah, but think of all those rich assholes that don't know how to fix anything," he said.
And just like that, everything was put back into perspective.
Dads, good Dads, have a way of doing that. And so he leaned over the workshop table, beared down with those iron forearms and that vise grip, and whatever it was we were working on gave way.
"Holy hell," I said. "You did it!"
He turned around. Smiled.
"Determination," he said. "That's all it takes."
"Determination," I said.
"Now," Dad said, "Let's take a break. Warm up by the woodstove and drink some coffee."
That's how it's supposed to be. In my world anyway. And that's what's helped me most recently. Being a new Dad. A new husband. My own little family, living miles away from The Ridge, as I go from day to day, trying to do the best I can, but always getting slowed by the little things. Broken pipes, bad wires, seized parts. And I can't help but think of my Dad. Every day. Especially when I'm out there in my own garage. Bearing down with determination. On whatever it is that needs to be fixed.
Thanks Dad, for setting me on the right path. Happy Birthday from all of us. Me, S.B., and Little Man.
(copyright © 2008 by K.J. Stevens)