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An Ode to the Fathers in My Life

An Ode to the Fathers in My Life

Father’s Day is a day that brings up a full spectrum of feeling for me. This is true for several reasons: One, my relationship with my own father was complicated. Two, I’ve had many father figures who filled in where my father left a void: two grandfathers, a father-in-law, a stepfather, and, of course, my own husband, who is the father to our eight children.

My father was a very capable man in many ways. He could fix a toilet no matter what was wrong with it. He knew gymnastics, canoed like an expert, swam like a fish, and played guitar. In fact, he and my mother met when she and her friends picked him up hitchhiking, guitar slung over his back. It was the late ’60s after all, and hitchhiking was all the craze. He was skinny and boyish and funny and fearless. He joined the Navy at age 18 and did one tour of Vietnam. If he left for Vietnam with the seed of a drinking problem, he came back with it fully germinated. It was this that ultimately destroyed him, and our relationship, but what strikes me now is just how large he loomed in my mind and still does.

Fathers are important. They are the backbone of the family. They are the embodiment of steadiness, commitment, and often where we look to define masculinity. Even though my own father had his failings, he, along with the other fathers in my life, helped build a picture of what it is to be man.

Grandpa Lohrey, my maternal grandfather, was the first generation in his line born in this country from Germany. He had wavy, strawberry-blond hair and a great laugh. He was gentle and generous with his time. I was his tagalong for much of my younger years. We visited his sister, who acted as his mother after their mother died of tuberculosis when my grandfather was only 2 years old. We did the grocery shopping, returning the glass bottles for money at the store, and he often stopped to get me an ice cream cone at the local Velvet Freeze. We did life together, but it was the ordinariness of it all that makes those memories that much more special.

Grandpa Dempewolf, my paternal grandfather, also of German ancestry, was an old-school, manly man. He was tanned and tattooed. His word was law in his own home, and he ruled with swift justice if any of his five sons got out of line. Despite his gruff exterior, he was a softy when it came to his grandkids. He smoked a pipe, popped corn in the fireplace, grew all manner of veggies in his garden in the backyard, and loved us with great affection.

My father-in-law was like a big kid. He never forgot how to play, and his childlike wonder was never more evident than one day after church when he asked if he could show me something. He hopped into his car and I in mine, and he beckoned me to follow him. Off we went winding down a road near church that led to one of the richest neighborhoods. The area was densely filled with trees, behind which glimpses of huge houses could be seen. Suddenly, he turned onto a tree-lined drive where a sign warned “Private”, but he kept going. I followed apprehensively. Within a few moments, the trees opened up to a field with a fence. My father-in-law stopped the car and got out, and dozens of miniature horses came running up to the fence. My mouth dropped open, and he looked at me, delighted by my reaction. It was amazing and magical! He took me there just to see my delight. That same child-like wonder was applied to his role as my children’s grandpa, and for that, I’m forever grateful.

My stepfather I have only come to appreciate later in life. He was younger than my mother and took on more than he was capable of with a divorcée and three children who were not his own. He provided a stable house, regular meals, vacations to Florida, and often worked two jobs to see that we, and later his own daughter, were taken care of. It was a thankless job at the time. But often for fathers, just showing up and doing what needs to be done is the best way to do the job.

Finally, my husband—the father to our eight children—has also been a father figure in my life. I have watched him grow into his role over time as a provider, companion, and teacher. He made a commitment while the oldest children were very young to read to them at night before bed, and he has done so now for more than a decade. He rarely misses a night. Through this experience, he has introduced them to our favorite stories and instilled in them a love of literature. He taught our children to swim, play cards, and hike. I’m grateful for his commitment to our family and the stability it provides.

Father’s Day is a day to remember why fathers are important. They are an indispensable part of the family and the larger community. I’m so grateful to have had so many wonderful men that, despite their flaws, have given me a picture of fatherhood that is full and worthy of honor.

Image credit: Unsplash

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Heather Carson
Heather Carson
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  • Avatar
    Swissarge
    June 13, 2024, 9:46 am

    “I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren't trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.”
    ― Umberto Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum

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