ODE TO A FATHER (or, how my dad shaped me to be who I am)

Dad, entertaining us with a story

Following a couple of stints in the US Marine Corps (thank you for your service), working as a cook and a hod carrier (Google that!), my dad settled on being a business man. First working at a travel agency, then owning his own, later building a nursery and garden center. And then back to the travel business. On occasion, Dad traveled for work to places that, as a child, fascinated me.

Dad always had a strong work ethic, which he brought home on the weekends. It seems like he always had projects at home that required hard work. When we were big enough to pitch in, we were (almost) always doing something during summer weekends, like building rock walls (we collected the rocks on the hillside in our back yard) or railroad tie walls, or tearing down the wall that we just built, so it could be rebuilt slightly differently. We weren’t always working though. I was fortunate enough to be born into a family that belonged to a country club, and man, did we ever get use out of that swimming pool, and later, the golf course. But we had a lot of simple pleasures too, like a few acres in the mountains that we could explore for hours and hours. Growing up, we played a fair amount of sports, including baseball, football, ice skating and ice hockey. Later, we skied a lot. I never really excelled in any particular sport, although I eventually developed into a plausible gymnast, specializing in the still rings in high school. That’s the only sport I could ever beat my dad at!

When my parents owned the garden center, all four of us kids would help to unload the semi-trucks that were nearly constantly there with deliveries, be it trees, sod, decorative rock or bags of ready-mix concrete (that’s the only one Mom didn’t help with!) We took work pretty seriously. It was good, hard, honest work.

So, how did my dad shape me. Well, he taught me to treat things pretty seriously, including work, sports and play. Let me give you an example from sports. My brother, Jeff, and I played on the same baseball team. This was when I was in about the 4th grade. I played first base, and Jeff was probably someplace in the outfield (he’s two years younger than me). After every game (and practice???), we would stop at the ice cream shop for an ice cream cone. One day, after a game, we drove right past the ice cream shop. I mentioned that to Dad. Dad said, “I didn’t see any baseball today”. So we went home to work on the fundamentals of the game. Sure, I missed the ice cream, but it taught me a far more valuable lesson. You gotta show up to play the game.

Another baseball memory, probably from that same year. At one game, there was no umpire, and my dad volunteered to officiate. When I got up to bat, the first pitch sizzles right past me (or whatever speed a 4th grader can throw at). “Strike one!”, announces my dad. No problem. You always let the first one go. Next pitch: I stand there watching as it again sizzles past. “Strike two!”, declares Dad. Shoot. Okay, this pitcher can’t be that great. Here it comes… I stand, watching as it goes past. It’s outside, I’m sure of it. “Strike three, batter’s out!” I bow my head and get a lump in my throat and make my way to the dugout. After a few moments, between innings, Dad comes over to the dugout. He looks at me squarely, and asks, “Did you want me to lie, and call it a ball?” No Dad, I honestly didn’t. Just honestly, like always. It’s okay. You were right.

One more tale, that is barely sports-related. When I turned 13 years old, all of the ice hockey teams in town had filled up. Except one. That one team was the team from the Myron Stratton Home. At that time, the Myron Stratton Home took in children who could not be looked after by their parents. Those were my teammates. And they had their own practice rink. It was an outdoor rink, and it got pretty chilly on some of those evenings. So, on the first day of practicing there, Dad drove me. He always watched practices and games. But, because I knew that there would be no other parents in the stands, I almost asked him to wait in the car. Almost. Dad sat in those cold bleachers at the ice rink for the entire practice, which included a scrimmage. He’d occasionally cheer us on, shouting words of encouragement to each of us. “Skate number three!” “Shoot number seven!” I don’t remember what I thought about that, because I was focusing on the practice, but I always loved how encouraging he was to everyone. Immediately at the end of practice, every one of my teammates rushed into the stands to talk to Dad. What an idiot I was, to think Dad should have waited in the car. This really taught me to never be embarrassed to have parents (and probably why I feel free, and happy, to have embarrassed my own children more than a few times!) Sorry Tim and Stephanie (not really!)

Dad shaped me to deliver on what was promised, to be honest in my dealings, to put my best foot forward and to treat people with respect, if they have earned it. In a way, he taught me to conduct business following the Dale Carnegie principles (which is sort of an expansion of the golden rule). He taught me to keep my head still when I’m hitting a golf ball (he’s always been a wonderful golfer, and once out-drove Arnold Palmer, and went on to beat him on that hole!) Darn it, that’s enough about sports. Thanks Dad (and Mom). I wouldn’t be the person I am today without your help in shaping me.

And Dad, I’m sorry that we immediately ruined that igloo you worked so hard on, all those years ago. But it was still fun!

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I love you.

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Comment (1)

  1. Ellen Ulrich

    June 12, 2019 at 6:34 am


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