Today is my father’s birthday! We typically celebrate with a “tent city” party at the lake house that my Grandma and Grandpa left to my dad and his siblings. Each night we take an evening cruise around the lake in the boat to enjoy the fireworks and some good music. This year, we didn’t invite anyone to pitch a tent, just a pared down celebration with family.
I wrote before about how grateful I am to have my dad nagging me into success. His nagging is just one of the things that make him a wonderful father. He is always creative, a great storyteller, a dreamer, and someone who always wanted to include me in his projects and work.
When I think about the transformation of my childhood home, the yard, and the lake house, I think about the talent and effort of my father who I have seen tackle tile, plumbing, woodwork, and more. He struggles to pause, even on Shabbat, because to him, work is fun. Building decks and pulley-based canoe racks, I am confident that if he dreams it, he can build it. Home videos show that as soon as I could walk and hold a paintbrush I was next to my father learning on each of his projects, serving as a “gofer” when I learned the difference between a Phillips head and flat head screwdriver. He isn’t typically known for his patience, but he must have some of it to teach me all these years. Though he doesn’t particularly care for when I turn his colorful expressions back on him– telling him the other night as we shoved the boat into the lake, “put out, not on.”
When we would go camping or rock hounding around Wyoming, he and I would take long strolls together talking about most everything from astronomy to the way weather and history shaped the land around us. Now that I have started a business focused on Wyoming history, he makes for one of my favorite sounding boards–always offering up a different angle I never would have considered. Since he is retired, I have been lucky enough to enjoy his company at each of my presentations. “Woo, wore, whoa, wow,” he prompts me from his college theatre classes before I go on and then afterwards we dissect my performance, where I succeeded and the areas I needed to work on or rephrase. On our drive to Hulett and Sundance for some of my flag presentations last fall, we stopped to admire a massive herd of bison, the largest either of us had ever seen, then visited each of the local museums, and drove around Devil’s Tower. My dad is always learning and enjoys Wyoming so much that it is contagious. I am so happy that I get to share in this new venture with him.
Even though there isn’t a crowd, I hope that tonight after a few glasses of wine with his brother when we all sing Happy Birthday that he will regal us with a speech and maybe a few stories. His speech will try to pass around the celebration–that it isn’t fair we can all get together for his birthday and not everyone else’s. Typical of a generous man with a slight aversion to being the absolute focus of an event. But when he is the focus, he commands a stage. Often his stages are lit by campfire and made of sand or grass. He rolls back on his heels and gestures open with a story that with surprise you into laughter. An English professor in college once asked him if he was making up the essays he had turned in. No, all true. A childhood in Nebraska with endless cousins, mischief, and ranch-spun wisdom shaped an oilfield man with a heart so big, all that love he has couldn’t even be held back by the Pathfinder dam. Happy Birthday, Daddy-o.