My dad and I didn’t always see eye to eye, but I think that’s how some fathers and sons are supposed to interact. While my dad and my sister often got along famously, he and I butted heads frequently. Looking back now, I realize it might have been because he saw me about to make a mistake that he made growing up and already knew how it would turn out. Sometimes I listened, sometimes I didn’t, but I usually fared better when I did. For example, he knew long before I did that the girl that would one day crack my windshield was no good for me.
The older I get, the more I realize how much I inherited from my dad. I have the same big head, the same fascination with technology, his corny sense of humor (much to my wife’s chagrin), and an abbreviated version of his nickname. Like him, I’m more comfortable in a button-down than a t-shirt, and though I try not to overdo it, I have the same appreciation for cologne.
We also shared an appreciation of anything with a motor, though he preferred his John Deere tractor while I was growing into faster and sportier cars (though I should point out that I currently drive a station wagon). One of our favorite places to go was a local hobby shop where I’d pick out a model car to put together. Once home, I always wanted to start building it right away and had no patience for painting, so we would split the duties. He would paint the main pieces of the model while I would start putting together the engine and interior.
A few years later, I got my first job at that same hobby shop and I loved it when he’d come to visit while I was working. I’d often try to show off while he was there by demonstrating how much I knew. At every job I’ve held since, I always tried to impress him with my knowledge and responsibilities.
I think the most fun I had with my dad was when we went searching for my first car in the summer of 1994. We pored over every used car lot in central Iowa every chance we got for a month. He wanted to put me in something safe and practical that wouldn’t go over 55mph, while I wanted something fast and red and flashy and attractive to the opposite sex, etc. We settled on a white 1985 Mazda that was just enough of a compromise for both of us.
Once the paperwork was signed and I was about to drive it off the lot, my dad and I had an odd but touching moment: We had spent the last few weeks bonding in our search for the perfect first car, driving everything from pickups to stately sedans and having fun together the whole time. Just like that, it was over, and I was no longer the front seat passenger in my dad’s car. He handed me the keys, told me to be careful and not to stay out too late, and we went our separate ways. I remember being excited about having a car and gaining some independence, but I also knew that things would be different from that moment on.
My favorite piece of advice he gave me, though it’s not the most insightful thing he ever said, was “put the tools back where you found them.” This was not only to keep things organized, he said, but so that things would be where the next person could expect to find them. This created an ethic in me to think ahead and be considerate of others in a proactive way. It also taught me that if you keep things organized, you can focus on the bigger problem and not get bogged down with the trivial details.
There are lots of stories of my dad helping people that he barely knew, and that’s just who he was. He wasn’t interested in being recognized for helping someone, except maybe a call or letter to let him know how things turned out. He truly enjoyed people and loved to make strangers smile. I didn’t say it often enough, but I love you, Pop. Rest in peace.