Thursday, June 18, 2009

It's actually appropriate that this is so long winded: a Father's Day post

Because it is Father's Day weekend, and because I've been talking up this fundraising for Leukemia and Lymphoma in memory of my dad, I thought I should write something here for those of you who never knew him. I know I often refer to how much I miss my dad now that he is gone, but I don't think I have much here about when he was still alive.

I could tell you a million things about the kind of man and father he was. I can also tell you that it didn't take his death for me to realize how lucky I was to be his daughter. I knew growing up that my German-accented, gentle, witty, pumpernickel bread loving, bad pun spinning, pancake flipping, bear-hugging father was the real deal, and one-of-a-kind.

This is me with my dad on my first trip to Maine! Sitting atop Mt. Cadillac.

I chose three things I can tell you about my father that, to me, best define who he was.
1. My dad had the best hands. His hands were very strong and soft, and always warm. Whenever I was sick, he would quietly press his palm to my forehead, part checking for fever, part giving me his healing energy. His hands were very freckly, too, and I can still picture the way the veins ran over his knuckles.

Many of my friends and my cousins still remember how my dad was famous for greeting them at the door by taking their face in both of his hands, pressing one hand to each cheek. I don't know anyone else who does that, and it would be weird if they did, but it was my dad's way of making contact, looking you in the eye, and welcoming you to his house. I've been thinking about my dad a lot while running, wondering what he would think of all this marathon business. And I noticed that if I really concentrate, I can feel a gentle push in the small of my back as if he were pushing me right along with his wide, warm palm.

2. My dad was a terrific listener. He loved to hear about what his kids were up to. When I was little, elementary age, he would sit and listen to me go on for long periods about a school project or a field trip. He'd do all the right things. He'd make the appropriate amazed expressions and ask probing questions to encourage me to keep talking.

Here he is asking me to show him all of the presents I got for my 3rd birthday. I remember this vividly.

As I got older, he'd want to hear details about classes I was taking or a trip I had been on. He didn't just want to hear an overview. For example, if I was telling about a backpacking trip, he would want to know how far we climbed, what the weather was, if the gear was effective, and how the food tasted. He'd watch as I traced my finger over the trail map to show him how far I'd gone.

While I lost the totally captive and interested audience that was my dad, I kept the remembrance of how he made me feel so important, and I aim to give my own kids this same kind of undivided attention. What a way to instill confidence.

3. My dad was a terrific talker. You may have heard the expression: "ask a German what time it is, and he'll tell you how to build a clock." My father was the personification of this expression.

We learned quickly not to ask my dad a question if we were in a hurry. My brother and sister both took German in high school, and I overheard countless tortured study sessions when Liesel and Chris were desperately trying to get their homework done, and my dad was going on and on about particular uses of words and expressions and verb conjugation. He was horribly frustrated by their response: "Dad! We don't need to know that!" He would respond, exasperated, "What do you mean you don't need to know that? Aren't you trying to learn the language?" My poor father: a German immigrant with three impatient American children.

But here is my very favorite "ask a German" story. About 10 years ago, when my brother, sister and I were all living in California, my family rented a ranch in Montana for all of us to meet up and spend a week vacation together. We were having a big family dinner at the long table, and our crowd had grown to include my brother in law Craig's two brothers and a girlfriend Kim. Kim, not knowing my father very well, innocently asked my father what was "German" about German potato salad. My dad started to answer, going into detail about each of the ingredients, and my siblings and I promptly tuned out and started talking about something else. TWENTY minutes later, our conversation quieted and when we turned to look at my dad, with Kim nodding patiently along, he was holding up his hands about shoulder distance apart saying this:

"Our family stored the potatoes in wooden containers about yay big."

All of us laughed so hard we almost fell off our chairs, and my dad, as always, looked at us incredulously. What on earth is so funny?

Here is a family photo taken on that Montana trip.

And my dad soaking up the mountains.

Oh dad. I would sit for hours and hours if I had the chance and listen to you talk about potatoes or anything else that was on your mind. I actually still don't know what is so German about German potato salad, but I'm certain it's not a simple answer.

Happy Father's Day.


beth said...

Oh Emilie,

So many memories--so many tears!

What a beautiful tribute to your Dad. I know he would love it and be so gratified, as am I. It is such a special and appropriate thing you are doing to honor his memory.

That last photo, which I took when we were in Wyoming--I called it "My Mountain Man"-- so captures his spirit. He WILL be with you on the run.

Love, Mom

Meredith said...

It's wild. Even though the only time I spent with your dad was on his one visit to you on Westwood Dr., between when I met you and Sam and your dad's diagnosis, I've always felt like I know him.

He's the context within which you've lived your life since, in ways that maybe you don't even realize...

When I see work crews paving roads, I think, "Klaus would say that if they had done this properly the first time, then they wouldn't be holding up traffic today." His perspective/ideas/beliefs through you to me (and that's only one of many, many examples).

And, holy cow, you ARE Skyler in that birthday picture.


beth said...

Meredith, that is so amazing. Every time I drive over one of Maine's infamous potholes, or watch a crew making an ever-so-temporary repair, I say to whoever is in the car "Klaus would be steaming if he were to see how-----". You really did know him well and I must tell you he was very fond of you.

Paige said...

I love everything everyone has said Em, from your post to the responses. I have to agree that you are Skyler and your chris is the image of your dad in that pic. too! I have never thought she looked like you until now and will always think she does. I love your remembrances of your dad. They are so endearing. Your words about him are always beautiful and touching!! Thanks for sharing him with us. Love, P

ann said...

You have the ability to bring tears. What a beautiful tribute to your dad.

I think you ought to think about writing a book with your terrific writing ability!

Tiercy said...

Oh dang it, where are the kleenex?

Your love for your dad shines through again. What a beautiful post Emilie! Thanks for sharing part of your dad with us again on Father's Day.

Kirsten D said...

Your dad sounds wonderful and it's obvious to me as I read your blog that he's with you as you raise your kids and as you train for the marathon! You should write a book, you are so inspirational. You have such a way of welcoming outsiders into your life by showing how special those close to you are. And I agree about you and Skyler--just seeing the kids in pictures I always assumed she took after Sam and Reed took after you--blinded by coloring I guess!

Adrienne said...

thanks, emilie. i do love a good cry.

Baute Family said...

You know how much I adored your daddy. I only wish I would've told him myself. I loved those pictures.
love, christie