Father’s Day is just a few days away. My dad’s card is in the mail, and it might even get to Mandan before the actual holiday, which for me, is a small miracle. I believe in letting my loved ones think I forgot their special days by mailing their cards and gifts too late for them to arrive on time for the occasion. That way, when they finally do get their gift, it is the only one that comes that day, so it seems that much more special. Plus, it helps alleviate the letdown after the big celebration. “Look, another gift!” It has absolutely nothing to do with my being a procrastinator.
Last year Christian and I took Craig to the Surly Brewery for a tour and lunch on Father’s Day. That part was great. Then we went to the Stone Arch Bridge Art Fair in Minneapolis. We had a difficult time finding parking, we did not really know where we were going, and we were going to a craft show, all of which made Craig a little cranky, and then I got cranky because he was being cranky while we were just trying to make his day special. Christian and I were glad to leave him sitting outside with his brother Wayne and Kevin at a restaurant while we strolled the art fair. Before we went home, he made us stop at yet another restaurant when we just wanted to go home. The service was slow and the food was terrible. Christian and I were irritated. So all in all, not a great day, but definitely 1000 percent better than this year’s Father’s Day will be. The year before, Craig had to work the weekend of Father’s Day, so we invented FaThursday, which I thought was brilliant. Bernie, Jeff, and the boys had just gotten back from three and a half years in Japan, and I know Craig was thrilled to be spending the day with them and Christian and Jordon. We tried to make a big deal of Father’s Days. Craig liked to be celebrated. This year I am not shopping for gifts or making plans, and for some reason, this feels like it could be the most difficult of the “first year” holidays. I expected Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and Craig’s birthday to be terrible. Everyone said they would be, but actually, maybe because I was prepared for them to be terrible, they were not as bad as I thought they would be. Father’s Day, though, seems different.
I have a complicated history with fathers. My biological father was not interested in being my father, and growing up he was a name on my birth certificate, nothing more. We did not talk about him. To me, it seemed there was an air of mystery surrounding him…he was kind of like Voldemort, “He Who Must Not Be Named.” When I turned 50, I finally got up the nerve to write him a letter introducing myself and asking if he would like to share anything about himself. He responded positively, and we have since met. He has been kind, even sending cards and gifts for holidays and birthdays, but we are probably never going to be close. For my 51st birthday, he sent a card with $100 in it with a note that said he hoped I did not think he was trying to buy my affection or something to that effect. My daughter Christian read the card and quipped, “Wow! That’s almost $2 a year. What else could you possibly think?” It was mean, but kind of funny.
My Uncle Don was my first father figure. He and my Aunt Laura offered to take my mom and me into their home the day I was born, so that my mom did not have to put me up for adoption. For the first 5 years of my life, I lived as part of their family, not knowing that I was any different from my cousins, except that I had two moms. I don’t remember a lot, as I was pretty young, but I know that Don raised me and treated me as if I were his own and later I learned there were some nasty rumors about why he took me in. I do remember a few things about those years with Don…taking his shoes off for him when he came home from a day at his barbershop, sitting around the table with him at the head for lunch and dinner, and making popcorn in the evenings. I also remember camping and fishing trips in the school bus converted to a camper, but that was a little later, I think. My last memory of my uncle happened when I was very pregnant with Christian. We were having car trouble, and I was driving my brother’s old Camaro. I went to pick my Uncle Don up and take him out for lunch, and he could not stop laughing as, round as a beach ball, I maneuvered the car’s clutch while trying to see over the steering wheel from the low sports seat. My Uncle Don was a generous and kind man and left a big impression on me.
When my mom got married, my step-dad Tom became my father. He was very different from and far more boisterous than Don. I remember being a little scared while he was playing with me by chasing me around saying he was “Gonna get” me one of the first nights I lived with him and my mom. Tom was and is the hardest worker I have ever known. He gets more done in a day than most people can do in a week. That is how he showed his love, through his relentless drive and work ethic. There weren’t a lot of hugs and verbal declarations of love in our house, but there was no question that we were loved. He was not a perfect father. He sometimes had a short temper, and as a rebellious teenager who was sure I was much smarter and more sophisticated than my parents, we had some pretty significant clashes. No matter how snotty and disrespectful I was though, he never failed to come to my rescue when I needed him. He was protective, especially about boys. I remember being invited to a dance at Bismarck Junior College on a Thursday night while I was a senior in high school. I was already grounded because I had come home at some early morning hour the previous weekend, as a result of my first encounter with this young man whom I had met at a late night showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. (Remember, Rita, laughing in your car the next day because our lips were so sore and chapped from hours and hours of kissing?) After several minutes of begging while my hand covered the receiver, my parents relented and said I could go as long as I was home by 11. Did I mention that I was a little rebellious? Of course, I had no intention of telling poor Ken (that was his name) that I was supposed to be home by 11. This was a college dance, and I wanted to impress him with my worldliness. So imagine his surprise when he dropped me off at about 2 a.m., to see my dad pounding on his car window, yelling at me to “Get in the house right now!” I’m not sure what was said, as I was in the house, but the next time Ken called to ask me on a date, the first words out of his mouth were, “I took a chance your dad wouldn’t answer the phone.” We only went out a couple of more times after that, but he always asked me what time I needed to be home!
Throughout my childhood and adolescence, I always felt like my dad could fix anything and solve any problem. That continued into my adulthood. He built Craig and me and our kids cherished furniture, worked on our houses and cars, and provided us with fresh garden vegetables and canned and baked goods. He showered my kids with love and affection — and Reese’s peanut butter cups. And somewhere along the line, we started hugging and telling one another we loved each other. He took care of me, and he taught me how to take care of myself.
And that brings me back to Craig. I know that Craig wanted to be a great father to his girls, and that often, he felt that he fell short. He wrote in a journal, “Being a dad is the toughest thing I ever did; sometimes I feel I just don’t know what to do. I love all my children even though I don’t know how to show it sometimes.”
He was very young when Amanda and Bernie were born–not quite 20 and barely 21. Of course, I was not there then, but I know he had many regrets about those early fatherhood years. When I met Craig, he was going to NDSU, and he and Bernice were both living with Craig’s parents. His mom and dad had come to get Bernie when he was in the Air Force and she was just a baby. Amanda had stayed with her mother. It became clear early on that any relationship with Craig would definitely involve Bernie. I think he brought her on our third date. When we got married, we really hadn’t talked about when we would have Bernice move in with us, but I assumed we’d have a few months together, maybe a year, and when he finished college, she would join us. Boy, was I wrong! About a week after we got back from our “honeymoon” (a trip to my hometown, where we stayed with my parents), I came home from waitressing at The Grainery to find that all of her stuff had been moved into our little apartment, and she was there to stay. Also in Craig’s journal are many references to the lack of positive relationships with his own parents, and I think that contributed to his difficulty interacting with his daughters at times. He did, however, work hard to do better than his own parents had. He could be impatient and rigid, and sometimes seemed to get upset about things that didn’t really matter. To this day, I think all of us are careful not to slam the car doors because he would scold us when we did, convinced that we would wear out some mechanism, and the doors would no longer work properly. I tended to be much more indulgent with the girls than he was, and sometimes he would say, “When I was a kid, I never got…” and I would have to remind him that we were not going to raise our kids by the same standards with which he had been raised.
Sometimes, though, he would amaze me with his protectiveness and patience. When Christian was little, she had a special rainbow pillow case that she took with her everywhere. She would suck her middle two fingers and rub the pillow case against her nose. Once when we were living in Jamestown, we were on our way home from a family Christmas party in Fargo. It was late when we left, and we must have been at least 50 miles outside of Fargo, when Christian realized she had left her pillowcase at Uncle Wayne’s house. I told her we’d have to ask him to mail it to us, but Craig did not miss a beat. He turned around in the median and started heading back to Fargo to get the pillow case, easily adding 100 miles to our trip. Similarly, when Christian was in first grade, she developed a bladder issue from being too scared to ask to go to the bathroom at school. We were on our way to Medora, and she felt like she had to go to the bathroom all the time. I do not think I am exaggerating a bit to say we stopped in every small town and at every rest area along the way from Mandan to Medora, only to have Christian not really have to go to the bathroom at all. It took us forever to reach our destination, but Craig never once showed any frustration. His commitment did not end as they got older. After Bernie’s first year of college, she decided to move into an apartment in Jamestown with a friend for the summer. We had since moved to Rochester, but Bernie had never really lived there, and I am sure it didn’t feel like home to her. When she called to say the apartment she was renting was horrible and pest infested, Craig did not hesitate. He said he was going to get her and got in his truck, drove to Jamestown, and brought her home. When we went to move Christian into her college dorm, it turned out that, due to a housing shortage, she was sharing a single room with another girl. There was absolutely no space for two people, and her roommate had arrived first and taken up most of the space that was available. I would have just told Christian to suck it up and wait for a spot in another room to become available, but Craig marched down to housing and insisted that “I know my daughter, and this is never going to work for her.” Amazingly, they found a single room for her. It cost us quite a bit of money to pay for a single room instead of a double, so that one might have backfired.
I think Craig’s single greatest regret in life was that he missed his daughter Amanda’s childhood. I have never seen him so happy as when they were finally reunited. He was thrilled that he got to help walk her down the aisle at her wedding. He was also there for the births of both of his grandsons, Zach and AJ, and was so proud of them, although again, he sometimes had a hard time communicating with them. Despite the fact that he sometimes had a hard time relating to his children as well as he wanted, I know they also shared many close moments. I have no doubt that his kids knew how much he loved them, and he told them so often.
Over the years, when life would be hectic with kids, events, family gatherings, or other social functions, Craig would often look at me as things were winding down and say, “It’s never going to be just you and me, is it? I want it to be just you and me.” Craig was an introvert and very uncomfortable around people he didn’t know well. He loved spending time with his kids and family, but he needed lots of quiet time. I, on the other hand, was a complete extrovert, who was happiest with lots of people around (that has changed a bit). I would resist the urge to correct his grammar (predicate nominative after the linking verb requires the nominative case pronoun I), and laugh and say that we would have like 40 years of just the two of us after the kids were gone and then he would be bored and sorry he had ever wished for such a thing. We didn’t get quite as much of that time as I had expected. This Father’s Day, while Christian is on vacation out West, Bernie and her family are in San Diego, and Amanda is in Ohio, for the first time in a long, long time none of us will be together for Father’s Day. So I will take some time to remember and appreciate the men who played a fatherly role in my life, and then, Craig, I’ll go to Glynner’s and order a burger and a beer for you (I’ll eat it, of course), and I promise, it will be just you and me (I). Happy Father’s Day.