Inside: Remembering Dad on his birthday.
I’ve taken to carrying a handkerchief since spring. Because Dad did.
Because it was his.
One day Mom said she had something for me. Something of Dad’s. And that I would understand when I saw it. As we were in the middle of the grocery store, separately shopping, she approached me and pressed something white into my hand. “You’ll understand,” she said and quickly disappeared into another aisle.
I stared down at the white handkerchief, remembering. . .
Whenever you asked Dad what he wanted, whether it was for Christmas, his birthday, or Father’s Day, he’d often say, “I could use some handkerchiefs.” So over the years I’d buy them for him. Sometimes in a masculine plaid print–and as a child I’d even cross-stitched his initials on one–but often I’d simply buy the plain white handkerchiefs. After all, the older he was getting, the harder it was to find them. They were old school, and younger men weren’t carrying them. But I could always seem to find the plain white ones.
He told me a story once about handkerchiefs. Growing up, whenever he was dressed to go to town, right before he’d leave his father would say to him, “Do you have a clean handkerchief?” It was important to my grandfather that his sons didn’t leave the house without one.
Dad became sentimental upon telling it, and I wondered why.
In an age when men showed little to no emotion, “Do you have a handkerchief?” meant, “I love you and care about you.” His father couldn’t say that to him, but he could make sure he had a clean handkerchief.
I’m sure that my grandfather loved him, yet, admittedly, I find it sad he could never tell him that. But carrying a handkerchief reminded Dad of that love. He always carried one.
Which brings me to the type of dad I had (or rather have, just not here with me). He told me he loved me, told my brothers and my mother that he loved them. He loved others as well. He cared deeply for people.
As we draw closer to the end of this year of firsts without Dad–a couple of hard ones ahead of us–some of those qualities of his that I didn’t particularly pay attention to during his life have resonated with me. For one, my dad was creative. He was an inventor. We never called it that, but he had a knack for making something that he needed on the farm, like a water sprinkling system for the cows, loader bucket extensions for hauling round bales, a wood carrier, to name a few.
He was a storyteller, something I wish I would have appreciated more. Thankfully my brother Jeremy has this gift.
Dad was quick to help others. I never paid a lot of attention to this, either, because it was just how he lived his life. But if I ever attempted to make a list of everyone he helped, I’d have pages and pages full of people whose lives he impacted.
He was strong, yet gentle, and I miss that gentle strength.
The comfort I take with me now is knowing these qualities live on. I glimpse traces of his gentleness in all three of my brothers, which also continues in my nephews. I’m proud of the men in my family.
What my dad modeled, I married. Mike is strong and kind and gentle and a good father. Our daughter has shown herself to be like her papa. I think of that summer she was interning in DC when every day she would stop to talk to the homeless man who lived next to where she worked.
Dad’s memory lives on in the one who shared a life with him–my mom. Together they showed us what a lifetime commitment of love and faithfulness looks like.
As for me, I’d like to think I have a bit of my dad in me. At least I’m working on it. I will continue to carry this handkerchief because he did. Because it was his.
Because it represents his legacy of love.