A father who didn't care if his kids liked him: That's courage and Griz
I called him “Griz” but underneath his given name on his gravestone reads another. “Great Gray." Indeed, he was both.
Not many, but some, thought differently. I think my father sorta dug that and I dug this about my father. Meaning, the folks who didn’t exactly care for him were exactly the kind of folks who wouldn’t. I thought it complimentary.
My father was as real as rain … what you saw is what you got. He didn’t jack with his gray. He cared for others deeply but not about whether or not they “liked” him — including his children. I didn’t appreciate this characteristic then but today, I call it courage.
A few years ago, I was on the telephone talking with “Bobby,” one of my father’s oldest friends. Bobby grew up in the duplex above my father’s. They played together as toddlers and attended the same schools from first grade on up to college.
“You know,” Bobby said, “your Daddy grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, but when he married your Mama … he jumped 'em.”
True, in part, but all those years, I thought Bobby missed the most beautiful part about my father. His complexity.
When my father was an infant, his father one day just up and left — not to reappear until my siblings and I entered the world. While my mother was learning how to play the piano — my father (age six) was throwing his first paper route. Later, he took piano lessons too, but from a German woman who often “wrapped” his knuckles with a ruler, he told me. However “mean” she was, my father learned to play the piano.
All that seemed “cowboy” about him vanished whenever he sat down to play. I used to love watching as much as listening to “My Buddy”, “Blue Moon”, and his favorite, “Malaguena.” His hands moved over the keys as easily as someone knitting blindfolded.
There were moments that describe my father perfectly that now seem precious.
I was a teenager when my father and I were out at the ranch, fiddling around with the cows. Later, I opened a gate and failed to close it, immediately causing all the cattle to run out. Minutes later, my father was giving me another “chore” which became quite a challenge.
“We’re not going home,” my father pointed, “until you get every one of those cows back in that pen.”
It was dark and many tears later when exhausted, I climbed into my father’s truck. I had not been entirely successful. But “success” wasn’t his message. Like most of what he wanted to teach us — it was a lesson in fundamentals and consequences, which later proved invaluable. You open a gate, you close a gate. I never forgot it.
The Loan Lesson
After college, ensconced in my first “real” job, I guess I was feeling a little cocky. I called my father asking if he’d please help me buy some new clothes. At the time, I had no clue about cost. My father seized upon this perfectly beautiful opportunity like a crab on a string of bacon.
“I think you should buy some clothes,” he said upbeat. “You should go right on over to a bank and get a loan.” I don’t remember the rest of our conversation, only that it was short and polite.
When we hung up — I was fuming. “How come he’s one way with my siblings and so different with me?” I questioned. “It’s so unfair!” (Another great lesson … welcome to the world.)
As it turned out, I did go to the bank — out of anger more than anything.
“I’ll show him,” was my attitude but of course this was exactly my father’s point ... “showing myself.” I bought new clothes all right but I had no idea that it would take so long to pay off that damn loan. It was like the gate thing — I’d think long and hard before I ever borrowed money again. From a bank or anywhere else.
That same day at the ranch, my father and I kneeled in the pasture. He drew an imaginary circle in the grass and asked, “Look in here and tell me how many different grasses you see.” “Four” was my count but I was way off. With boyish wonder still, my father identified all 11 each by name. He showed me how to appreciate nature. My father taught me to see.
Throughout our growing up “Griz” said one thing repeatedly. “I don’t care if you grow up diggin’ ditches … whatever you do, do it right and do it well!”
Something to live by for oil companies and any other group that’s gotten too big to have a soul.
Bobby was right about one thing. My father did jump some tracks. Also hurdles. Well enough to be awarded a track scholarship to Texas A&M. He jumped in spite of being fatherless, a boy and probably terrified. Carrying his mother with him and conviction of heart.
When I graduated from high school, my father gave me a Bible with the inscription: “The rest is up to you. Keep this close and find time to spend a few moments with it each day. It will comfort and reassure you during stress and verify your faith in times of gladness and accomplishment. With all my love, Griz.”
Now when I open this Bible — it’s usually to read these words. I thank my father for this most of all. Not the Bible alone.
“The rest is up to you,” part. My father let me go. This too, took courage.