I am in the garden, dad

I am missing Dad tonight.

I’ve been reading tributes to dads on Facebook, with an especially nice video by Scott McGillivray. I interviewed him once and thought him a very nice person and that was confirmed with the video he made featuring himself with his daughters.

My dad cared, too — not in a sentimental way, but in a get-me-through-life kind of way.

He wanted me to be smart, and talented, and able to take care of myself. Mission accomplished, Dad.

He also wanted what most dads want for their kids. He wanted me to be safe and happy. He wanted all 10 of his kids to be safe and happy and he worried a lot about that.

I remember lectures about Stranger Danger. Even back in the ’50s and ’60s, he worried about the bad men out there who might grab his kids.

I remember lectures about being a leader. He loved to say, “If all your friends were jumping off a cliff, would you jump, too?”

No, but maybe I would have taken a helicopter. (And, no, I was never unwise enough to give him that reply.) Anyone who knows me can confirm that I learned Dad’s favorite lesson.

He went on endless college visits, determined that all of his kids would be college graduates, something he himself would have liked to be.

Mission accomplished, Dad.

Though he didn’t expect it, he hoped some of us would become gardeners. Most of us did, and none was more surprising to him than me. The year before he died, Dad looked at my green lawn and my flourishing flower beds and said, “I can’t believe how good your yard looks.”
“Well, I just did what you told me to do.”
“I give a lot of advice,” he said. “But hardly anyone follows it.”
I’m following it, Dad. I am in the garden, and sometimes I can feel you there, too.

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On reading, writing and ‘rithmetic

I became a reader in 1964.
I had learned to read three years earlier in first grade, struggling along with the rest of my classmates to figure out how all those letters came together in words. Imagine my consternation as a first grader when I was told that my name was not “Geri” but “Geralynn” and I would have to learn to spell that. Yikes, those nuns were taskmasters.
Nowadays, that would show a certain level of developmental disability. But back in the prehistoric years, we were allowed to play outside instead of enduring a regimen of early childhood learning.
But in fourth grade, I discovered Laura Ingalls Wilder and she changed my life forever.
Our teacher was reading “Little House in the Big Woods” to us but she only read a chapter at a time.
I couldn’t bear it. What would Pa do next. Would they make it through the winter?
That Saturday, I hurried off to the Austin Public Library and checked out the book myself and read it through to the end before school on Monday.
Ever since, I’ve been courting eye strain as a voracious reader.
It wasn’t until fifth grade, though, that I decided to become a writer.
Maybe the desire was always lurking beneath my until-then passion to become a nun. But in fifth grade, I left all thoughts of the habit behind when I realized Dad went to work every day to print the newspaper.
A newspaper! There were written words in them every day and someone was paid to write those words.
I decided right then the person they’d be paying would be me. That was a pretty radical idea in 1965 because Women’s Lib had not reached Austin yet.
But it had reached the Parlin household.
When it came to his family, Dad didn’t see male and female. He just saw the overachievers he was raising. They would be athletes and scholars and teachers and whatever else the wide world offered. They would have every opportunity he was denied and some he had not yet imagined.
So when I announced my intention to be a writer, Dad took me seriously. I was always a child with focus and he knew I would apply myself. So from that day on, Dad and I both knew I was going to be a reporter.
Dad told me I should take languages so I took Spanish in high school and French and German in college.
Dad told me I should take shorthand and typing, so I took both.
Dad didn’t even get upset at my Ds in math and science. He knew I was trying and those tests you take as a junior proved it wasn’t my fault. I forget what they were called, but after registering in the 47th percentile in science and 43rd percentile in math, everybody knew I wasn’t going to be a scientist or engineer. But I scored 98 percent in reading and vocabulary and at the the top of the test where they list an ideal career choice, it told me I should be a writer.
Dad knew that all along and I owe him a lot for never doubting me.