Some Bittersweet Memories of Life With Father : Hard to Keep Down


Father. Fathers loved and fathers feared, close fathers and distant fathers, famous fathers and “ordinary” fathers. No matter what the relationship, he’s special. In the remembrances that follow, Times writers tell something of what that relationship has meant.

Every summer, she had trusted him to wield his cigarette carefully, to burn off the leeches that would crawl between her toes whenever she went wading in the stream on the family farm.

He, in some later summer, trusted her to take the family’s Chevy into the dusty field across the road, and learn to drive.


One winter, when everyone else had insisted he stop smoking, and he had refused them all curtly, he asked her what she wanted as a Christmas present. “For you to quit smoking,” she said. He had two half-empty packs left that day, and he took one in each hand, and mashed each into a ball. He threw them away and gritted his teeth and that was that.

So when she was living a thousand miles away and heard that he was hurt, she left as soon as she could.

He never hurt himself at work, clambering nervelessly among the megavolt wires that had killed dozens of less cautious men. No, he always hurt himself at home, banging clumsily into a sharp corner or whanging his thumb with a hammer. It was a family joke.

This time he had fallen off the roof he was trying to fix. He had broken two vertebrae. He refused the hospital, so the doctor sent him home in a brace. Three, four weeks flat in bed, the doctor ordered. The next morning he crawled out of bed when no one was looking.

A few days later, she flew into town and leaped on a bus. She alighted and walked the last mile, preoccupied with worry. How was he? Was he depressed? Could it be that he wouldn’t be able to work?

A pickup truck came up from behind and whizzed past her, with a couple of appreciative honks of the kind that are in some neighborhoods accompanied by a “Hey, baby!”

Stopped in Mid-Salute

She had just lifted her hand to deliver the usual middle-digit salute when she stopped. So had the truck, about 40 yards up ahead. It slammed into reverse.

She recognized this green truck; she knew the man driving it. It was the man she had flown in to console, on his bed of pain.



He was too astonished for guile; if she was surprised to see him up and around, he was stunned to see her, and even more so that the girl he had beeped at was his daughter. Later, laughing at his own astonishment and wincing at the pain, he told the family, with sheepish Midwestern candor, “Well hey, she’s built like a brick outhouse.”

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. And guess what--I still am. My husband says so.