Friday, December 26, 2014

Remembering My Father

“I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren't trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.”
― Umberto Eco, Foucault's Pendulum

My father, Lee Newman, when he was young.
There are many factors that conspire to make us who we are. Genetics, heritage, and the choices we make interweave to produce unique individuals, to such an extent that for each of us who can say how much of what we are is from within ourselves or from our heritage. It is one of life’s great mysteries.

There are over seven billion people in the world, with untold numbers of families. I have had the privilege of being born into a family where a man loved his wife, where Christian values were respected, and where responsibility and the possibilities of tomorrow were sown in my heart.

I think about these things because today, the day after Christmas, was my dad's birthday. He would have been 86 today.

When he died in 2006 I wrote a tribute to him for his memorial service that included many memories from growing up including deep sea fishing off the Jersey shore, milk shakes at McDonald's, the fort he built for us in our back yard, searching for crawdad's at Tinker's Creek, going to see the Indians at Cleveland Metropolitan Stadium, and the magic tricks he brought home to us from business trips where he had to be away, but had not forgotten us. (All four of us boys ended up trying to be magicians in one form or another as boys.)

Pitching horseshoes in their Florida community.
Another of Dad’s qualities was his humility. He never boasted of his strengths, never put himself forward as something he was not. The spring he passed away he won the horseshoe championship at their winter home community in Tampa. Mom was the one who told me because for Dad to say something would sound like boasting. But when I congratulated him on his achievement, he simply replied, “Well, I was lucky. All the better horseshoe players had a bad round when they played me.”

That’s only half the story. After Dad died, his pitching partner came to Mom’s trailer to ask what kind of horseshoes he threw. We found the shoes and cited the brand. Mr. Smith said, “I pitched shoes with your Dad every day. Your dad was the best.” I never would have known that.

Dad on the floor with my son Micah.
I likewise appreciated the fact that his family seemed his most important value. Whatever he was doing, it seemed that he would drop it if we asked him to play a game with us, or give us his attention. He didn't say it often, but showed it always that we were more important than nearly any earthly thing (except maybe Mom.)

Growing up he had a pretty hard life. They lived in a three room house, six kids in the living room, and my grandparents in the bedroom. No bathroom, or basement or attic. He was the oldest son and responsible to keep the furnace going in the middle of the night. Years later when I asked him about how we came to stay in furnished cabins on vacations, he said he'd roughed it enough while growing up.

When Mom took her four boys to church on Sunday mornings dad stayed home and listened to classical music while reading the newspaper. He'd grown up in a Nazarene church that practiced religion, not Christianity, and was through with that. My own enjoyment of classical music began in those early days with his Beethoven symphonies 5 & 6, Echoes of Offenbach, Scheherazade, and Dvorak's New World Symphony.

Dad's last birthday.
He was punctual to a fault, and wise in the way he handled money, enabling us to to grow up enjoying a better life than he'd been able to experience. He believed in education and hard work, and assumed a measure of responsibility in ensuring that we got a good start on our own life roads by buying a house in one of New Jersey's best school districts and helping us get a college education.

He didn't touch alcohol. He'd seen up close the pain alcohol could cause and this wasn't something he wanted to invite into our home. Pepsi became the drink of choice in our house, which in my teen years he had delivered in bulk so as to save money.

Dad was the major male influence in my life. He always remained involved with whatever I was doing. Even though he seldom if ever voiced it, mom said he was proud of my accomplishments as an artist or later a writer, even though growing up I always had the feeling he'd like to have seen me become an engineer. He hung some of my paintings on the walls of our house. He visited us in Mexico and wherever we lived in Minnesota. He never stopped being involved in my life, and I never stopped being his son.

* * * *

It seems like something more should be said here in closing, but not everything has been said. Which means maybe next year this tribute will have to be continued. 

1 comment:

Naomi said...

This is a nice post. It is interesting to read what other people post about their parents.
I wonder if his being punctual help you in achieving all your writing and artwork.