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Saturday, December 7, 2013

Of Dads and Birthdays

Yeah, go figure. It's my birthday again! Seems like we just did this last year. Some of you know what else this date commemorates, but I choose to think about these people

instead of this

not because I'm callous about Pearl Harbor, but because I can't help what day I was born and I choose to celebrate it. Besides, had I not been born on December 7, I wouldn't have heard this joke every year from my dad (pictured above):
"Yep, I was bombed twice--once in '41, once in '65."
Dad could be very funny. Sometimes.

Because he was an older dad--age 43 when I was born--he had a different take on life than other fathers I knew. He actually was enlisted in the Coast Guard in World War II, whereas my friends' dads were just kids during that war. So the Second World War felt real to me, not part of history. So did the Great Depression and horse-pulled milk wagons and penny postcards. Dad didn't talk much about the war, except to say that being on the Coast Guard Cutter Cactus was a lot like being in the movie Mr. Roberts. Without the funny bits.

I often wondered what it was really like. I know the Cactus performed search-and-rescue operations, and sometimes they lost men they tried to save. But I only learned that later, after Dad died, when I was looking through some news clippings he'd saved. He didn't want to remember the sad things--or if he did, he didn't want me to think about them.

As a young man, he was a class clown, occasionally mouthing off to teachers and then showing them up with his precocious writing skills. He played silly pranks and memorized romantic poetry (yeah, really) to recite to girls he was infatuated with. I would've loved to have seen the faces on the girls.

Dad was a writer, too. No one had a sharper vocabulary or deeper love for the language. His writing was clear, concise, logical. He had little patience for people who didn't respect the gift we'd been given, this fabulous English language. He didn't publish, though he would have liked to; he said he didn't have the discipline a professional writer requires.

But I have to wonder about that. He was disciplined enough to go to work every day, to do the best job he could--even at jobs he hated--and to provide well enough for us that we never doubted there would be presents at Christmas and a comfortable roof under which to open them. He wasn't always easy to live with, but he knew it. He did his best and was always ready with a sincere apology. My dad was hard on himself and hard on others, but a deeply emotional and caring man, and he wasn't afraid to show it. He did what other members of that Greatest Generation did: went to war, came home, built a life for his family, and delighted in all of it.

I think of Dad every year on my birthday. He's been gone for 9 of them now, but I still imagine him saying, "You always look sixteen to me." I miss the spaghetti dinners he made me and how special I felt, as the youngest child, to be The Birthday Girl for the day.

I miss you, Dad. Happy Claire's Birthday to you.

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