As I sat eating breakfast this morning I happened to think back on a conversation with my Dad on Sunday. We were talking about his upcoming skin cancer surgery, transportation plans and how I always thought it was nice to have family present during medical procedures, not just for drop off and pick up chores. I often did that for my father-in-law when he had his skin cancer procedures.
The conversation drifted to other things including Thanksgiving plans, and Dad let slip that one of his regrets at age 86 was that he didn’t spend more time with his kids. I commiserated with him a bit and extended that thought to grandkids as well. The conversation ended and I didn’t think about it again until this morning when I realized it would be a good follow up to yesterday’s post.
As I wandered back in time I realized that some of the best times I ever had were those I spent with my Dad. When I was five and Dad was only about 27 or 28 years old he began building our new house and doing most of the work himself. He’d take me out to the house with him where I helped him carry concrete blocks for the basement walls and he showed me how to mix concrete and how to butter and stack the blocks together. I learned about running bonds and framing and plumbing and electricity and plastering and painting and hardwood flooring before I was ten years old, because of my Dad.
My Dad and I joined a young kids program called Indian Guides and he showed me how to hammer designs into totem blocks and how to lace together moccasins from a kit and how Native American people lived for hundreds of years hunting and trapping and paddling about in birch bark canoes. Dad would take me down to the YMCA to go swimming. Mom became a Den Leader while I was in Cub Scouts. Dad joined Boy Scouts with me and stayed with the scouting program until I was old enough to become a Junior Assistant Scoutmaster and earn my Life Scout rank. He was with me when I learned about camping and canoeing and camp cooking and swimming and life saving and all those other merit badges I earned.
Dad and Mom took us on some great vacations to Niagara Falls and Tahquamenon Falls, and state parks all over Michigan. We camped alongside the St. Mary’s river south of Sault Ste. Marie and were amazed by the great heavily laden freighters that sucked the water out of the cove as they passed. We stood on the shore under the Mackinac Bridge when it was barely five years old and he took pictures with that gleaming bridge in the background. I got to see the big fort just west of the bridge and it inspired my interest in Native American history even more.
Dad encouraged me to sing in the church choir when I was only a teenager, and to try out in school musicals that he and Mom always came to see. He taught me how to play golf and told me about the silly “mashies and groovies” game he and his buddies used to play during their league time at Red Arrow Golf Course.
Dad was a draftsman; they call them technical illustrators now. He taught me how to use the tools of the trade and, when I was good enough he had me do some drawing work for the patent attorneys he worked for. He never told me how many of my drawings he had to redo before they were good enough for the US Patent Office; I assumed most if not all of them; but he shared with me his love for his trade and I found that I loved it, too.
Time and distance pulled us apart as I graduated from high school and college, married, entered the military and relocated to Colorado, but Mom and Dad came to visit us. On one trip Dad and I found time to visit the Colorado Railroad Museum, to take the Landcruiser up into the mountains for a back country ride and race to see the train enter the Moffat tunnel up close. It was my time to give back a little to my Dad and it’s a trip we’ve never forgotten.
And last Summer I got to be with my Dad for, as he describes it, the “best time I’ve had in a hundred years”; that visit with my sister to Wallingford, Connecticut where we celebrated the four hundredth anniversary of our Great Grandfather Nathaniel’s birth. We began to see how we fit into that family picture of the Merrimans, and of Nathaniel who first landed on the Massachusetts shore in 1632 and helped found Wallingford in 1670.
All those times together, and Dad still regrets that he didn’t spend more time with his kids. Well Dad, I regret that I didn’t do half as good a job with my kids as you did with yours, this one anyway.
I keep hearing this theme every day, everywhere, from nearly everyone I meet: things don’t matter, time and people do. And out of the mouth of the last person I ever expected to hear it from, “I regret I didn’t spend more time with my kids.”
I don’t think it’s possible to spend too much time with your family, but I suspect no matter how much time they spent with their kids, every parent would say that it was not enough; it’s never enough. My Dad said it; I’ve said it; you’ll say it too.
For all of the time you gave me, I love you Dad…