Dylan Jack James
My childhood memories of my father are bittersweet. My dad had a heavy hand. He believed in “Spare the rod and spoil the child,” and “Children should be seen and not heard.” He quoted these aphorisms frequently. He is the son of a strict father himself, a police lieutenant who disciplined my father harshly, and so it was that my father disciplined me in the same way.
He was a happy-go-lucky man when he wasn’t harsh. I remember him lying on his back on our family room floor, flying me high in the air, his feet flat on my chest, my arms outstretched over his head, his hands steadying mine.
I would shout excitedly, “Daddy, fly me like Superman, high in the sky!” I imagined myself in my superhero costume, red cape flapping behind me in the bright blue sky. Dad would play along as the announcer: “Look, up in the air, it’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Superman!”
I remember the day dad took my training wheels off my red Schwinn giving me a huge push from behind and an encouraging, “You can do it, Sport!” I was terrified, but with his encouragement I sailed effortlessly into the warm July evening, my fear vanishing as I rode back toward my beaming father, proud as punch, as if I had done it a hundred times before. Snapshots of that time, I felt his love.
The years flew by. I watched my father wake up every day for work, his dusky brown 70’s hair curled up at the edges, smiling at me with his bleary blue eyes as the day dawned and he marched off to work to deliver mail. He’d finish that job, come home, inhale his dinner, then proceed to his second job, a real estate broker. He’d wake up and do it all over again the next day, year in and year out. He saved every available penny for our family vacations.
A Civil War buff, my father drove my mother, my brother and I to every major battlefield of that war. Gettysburg was like a second home to me. We were there more than a half dozen times. By the time I was in fifth grade I could recount the battle in great detail to my history teacher who was impressed by my depth of knowledge. I’ll never forget the time my father took us to Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C. I stood in awe peering into the box President Lincoln was assassinated in, my Civil War Union Kepi hat tilted sideways on my 10-year-old head, my corncob pipe clenched firmly between my teeth as I imagined the scene. Dad stood behind me with his hands on my shoulders. “It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it son?” He spoke with a serious tone as we solemnly stood there together.
Through our historical vacations, my father taught me patriotism. A snapshot of love for country that only grew as I got older. A corporal in the U.S. Army, my father was stationed at Fort Knox, active duty during the Korean conflict. He authored a historical fiction novel about the Civil War in his later years, which has had great success in our hometown. I was so proud of him for the hard work and dedication he put into the novel, that the little boy with the tilted Union hat and corncob pipe was resurrected once again, proud and patriotic, as I witnessed my dad signing copies of his book in 2008 at Barnes and Noble. He has been a frequent guest on radio shows, and many articles have been written in the newspaper about his book. He also went on to pen his memoir, and he’s just published his third book, another historical fiction novel.
He’ll be 90 this winter.
I sit across from him in the family room where we played Superman all those years ago. He sits in his worn out recliner, the wrinkles and creases in his face reflect the troubles of his years, his stark white hair a wisp of what it once was. I try to get him to recall our vacation moments and happy memories, but these moments have been stolen away from him by age and time. He does recount to me various tales of his first car, a 1936 Plymouth which he painted with green house paint. “All the kids loved me and wanted a ride in my gangster mobile.”
He laughed and I could see the joy in his heart.
“My 1956 Chevy Bel-Air, what a beauty she was!” He grinned at me and I smiled back, happy to see my father remembering some things in between, asking me many times in a row if I had seen my sons lately. I answered him with patience as if he had only asked me the question once. I take a snapshot of this happy moment and save it in my mind.
The memories of his heavy hand are distant now, a memory I have left in that time and in that place. I’m so grateful to have him, sitting across from me, a shell of who he once was, yet the same happy-go-lucky dad I have always known.
He’s ill and his doctors have told us it’s only a matter of time. I wish him peace.
And on this Father’s Day I’ll let him know how very much I love him.