At 54 years, I’m much more prone these days to wax nostalgic. Or at least revisit the past with fondness or chagrin. I suspect you have one that stands out to you.
As June 19th nears, One Father’s Day stands out clearly in my memory. My father was my hero.
A man born into adversity at 26 weeks at a weight of just 28 ounces, everyone braced for the real possibility he wouldn’t last the night. In the 1940’s premies (premature births) had a survival rate of 5-10%.
Somehow he survived. What was to come for him would be far more difficult to withstand, but his entry into this world left the indelible marks of endurance and perseverance. He would eventually join the Air Force in 1962, spending several tours overseas as a B-52 engine mechanic and quality assurance NCO.
Fast forward to 1975. The year before dad received transfer orders to Offutt AFB, Omaha, Nebraska. The years leading up to the move had been tumultuous for a number of reasons, and suddenly post-war, anticipation was in the air, an unspoken expectation that the world, and our lives as a military family, might be settling down.
Like so many military families, we approached the move with resignation. The seeming constant shuffle from one base to the next was grueling. The loss of friends, connections, and in our instance, family, weighed more heavily. From 1968 to 1974 we lived in Orlando, Florida, my father stationed at what was then McCoy AFB, today a naval station.
Most of my mother’s family resided in and around Orlando, a gift to mom who would otherwise have been a single parent since dad was stationed in Guam, Thailand or other overseas locations during our time in Orlando.
Still, with the anxiety of moving there was also the anticipation of possibility. New friends, new discoveries, new terrain to explore. I was 7 years old.
We arrived in the fall of 1974, unaware that nature was preparing a fierce winter storm of epic proportions, what would become known as the blizzard of ‘75. The blizzard crippled Omaha, but a for a seven year old it was spectacular.
Dad was an avid fisherman, his favorite outing a trip to a lake stocked with trout, one of his delights.
It was June, ‘75, I’d been frantically working in the house doing odd chores in addition to my usual responsibilities. I’d become even more industrious mowing lawns and weeding local gardens, driven by my plans to surprise dad with a Father’s Day dinner at the NCO club on base. We received a monthly newsletter from the base which covered, among other things, events and specials at the NCO club.
For Father’s Day they were offering a special dinner, and it was trout! I was elated. What better way to let dad know how much I loved him than to buy him his favorite fish for dinner. I had visions of my father smiling like the cat the ate the canary over his meal, seeing the adoration in my eyes and feeling the love of his family.
Vision rarely translate to reality, do they?
Sunday came, we dressed in our Sunday best and headed to the club for the feast. I remember my excitement like it was yesterday. I’d worked so hard to earn enough to cover his dinner (never mind I couldn’t pay for anyone else, that’s another matter entirely), the moment had arrived!
It’s funny how I remember dad ordering the ‘special’ for the evening, looking at the menu they’d printed for the holiday, perusing the options as if there was any uncertainty at to what his decision would be. He ordered the trout!
Simple things pleased me. That was one of them.
As we waited for our meals to be served mom and dad engaged in idle chatter while my brother and I sat dutifully quiet, lest we incur the wrath of mom.
I constantly scanned the doorway leading from the kitchen waiting for our waiter to exit carrying a tray for us, my excitement and anticipation growing by the minute. Suddenly, there he was, a fully loaded tray perched precariously above his left shoulder, loaded to the gills with food!
As it was Father’s Day he served dad first. I watched dad’s face closely as the waiter placed the piping hot dish in front of him, expectantly awaiting his smile. Instead, his eyes widened in disbelief, the trout had arrived fully in tact, head and all! Oh no!
Being a sensitive kid I burst into tears. Looking back, I couldn’t tell you if I’d broken down because the trout was, well, a full trout (I was known to cry when I saw animals on the roadside), or due to the crestfallen look on my father’s face. I suspect probably a lot of both.
Dad recovered quickly, asked the waiter to take the fish back and remove the unnecessary parts and bring it back to him, then did what dads do.
He stood, came over to me and picked me up in his powerful arms, hugged me close and said, “thank you, I love my gift”. I hugged my tightly, tears streaming down my face, still distraught that my plans had been sabotaged by a glaring fish, but dad understood.
We should all be fortunate to experience such love.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad.