|"Dad and Me 💓"|
The following blog was written during my visit in August to see my 88 year old father. He just had heart surgery to fix a flap and was doing remarkably well. He was kept overnight and released the next day. I arrived the following day to Arcata, CA to begin a long weekend of serious father/son time. No activities were firmly planned. Maybe an idea here and there but nothing set. My main goal was to visit with my father and connect on a deep level. I am lucky that what I had wanted was achieved back to me ten-fold. Some of the following is written in present tense prose.
I sit quietly as my father sits in the corner of his bedroom on a rush seated ladder back chair; he is deeply involved in a book he wants to discuss with me. It is one of the major books by the esteemed author, wood block artist, Lynd Ward, who also happens to be my Dad's father-in-law. A compilation of Lynd Ward's incredible works.
With each movement, the wooden chair creaks even under my father's diminished weight. I have never seen him at this advanced an age but also never seen him more wise, more serene, more at peace. His wit is sharp and he has just the touches of a mild forgetfulness which betrays his age. But it does not betray his incredible knowledge and wisdom which puts me to shame.
I listen to his every word patiently, looking at his wavy silver white hair combed back. It is tussled here and there. The deepened crevices on his face show a man in his 80's who has experienced life: the wonderful to the extraordinary, the good to the painful. What has he pondered throughout his years? The wisdom he possesses and gives forth is thoughtful, sometimes direct, sometimes meandering. Oh how lucky I am to be a part of this man's life at this point.
The urge for me to question, to interject, to comment is put off. It's not easy for those that know me. Now is the time to listen. Now is the time to be that sponge that I once was in my youth. For my father still has knowledge and wisdom to give forth which I must take in. I am blessed to be here and know and recognize it.
Apparently there is still much to learn. He captivates me with his tales of his youth. His voice quietly telling me of his childhood, his difficult relationship with his father, his loving relationship with his mother, and his admiration for his father-in-law Lynd Ward, who became a surrogate father to him when he so needed it for his professional and artistic development. He saw his father-in-law as more of a loving father-figure to him than my real grandfather Leslie.
I came to understand this while listening to his soft voice. I knew Grandpa Leslie as a kind and loving man, far older than me. He was in his 80's when I was 10 or so. He had mellowed by that time. An elderly gentleman who was set in his ways but had softened. He has now more into his keeping his schedule and tending to his garden behind the 314 Jackson St home in Pueblo, Colorado.
Grandpa doted on Adam, Sheryl, and I. Taking time to show us trinkets, artifacts, tales and memories of the old West. He captivated us, ironically, in the same quiet meandering speech that my Dad now possesses. Smelling reminiscent of a mix of his favorite pine tar soap and aftershave, he always wore a crisp white shirt, cuff-links, tie clip, tie or bolero and slacks.
Grandpa Leslie was always perfectly dressed to this nines, even in his advanced age, he tended his perfectly manicured garden this way in the blazing Colorado summer sun. The yard smelled heavily of cypress from the trees looming over the small stucco shed in the back off the alleyway. Adam and I played ball back there and were often yelled not to go into the alley. My mother was a worry-wort.
As it turned out, Grandpa Haynes was not an an overtly loving father. He was an excellent traditional father, a disciplinarian, a scholared man. But not a man of emotion. He was a man of his time, a father from the 30's and 40's. Emotions were from the mother, discipline from the father. Dad continued on to tell me that Grandpa Leslie was exactly like Great-grandfather Dr Aaron Lorenzo Haynes. Doc AL Haynes was the same unemotional way as Grandpa Leslie. Thankfully, my father broke that pattern. He was a generous and loving Dad to my siblings and I.
Dad was not without his faults and he honestly admitted them to me with regret. He learned from those mistakes and did the best he could after them. That's all that anyone could ask for.
Dad and I spent the next couple days talking in the morning beneath the sunny warm northern California sun. Dressed for the coolness of the morning, giving way to the warmness of the afternoon, we sat together sipping coffee, sometimes a local beer for me and watered down Scotch for Dad. We spent the hours talking about important things in our lives to the unimportant bits and pieces.
It was a wonderfully incredible time rediscovering about each other, remembering why I love this man I call my father. How lucky am I to have him in my life, to gain from his wisdom, his opinions. I was also privy to his vulnerability, his fears, his regrets, his strengths, his emotions, but also his stubbornness at getting older. It touched me to the point of tears at some points but touched me to the point of love and pride at most times.
My Dad is an incredible man. I am the luckiest son to be able to spend time with the man that has molded me into the man I am today. But don't think I am too special. For if you have a father, you are able to do this as well. Give them time. Give them respect. Let them speak and JUST LISTEN.