Father’s Day… a time to remember the dads we treasure. They’ve taught us well in the ways of life. And I remember a lot about my dad. In fact, it would be fair to say that I had put him on a pedestal while growing up… not a wise placement for anyone. But it seems he could do anything and everything, a jack-of-all-trades, almost perfect in my little girl eyes. Though none of us can measure up all the time, there is One who is perfect… who forgives all our failings… our heavenly Father.
But, yes, there is so much my Dad, Ralph, taught me and my five siblings, including all about the love of Jesus. As a small child on the farm, I would say, “Jesus is my best friend!” But, for a time as a teen, I forgot my childhood friend until my Dad reminded me of those words I used to say as a little girl. Oops!
I loved playing board games on Sunday afternoons with my Dad, especially Scrabble. I love the challenge of this game and tend to play aggressively, perhaps because I was in tough competition with my Dad. Though I won only one game against him over those several years, it was a sweet victory knowing that I’d accomplished the win without his having given me an edge… his way of readying us for the world.
He taught me honesty was the right way such that in 8th grade English class I chose to write an essay entitled “Honesty Is The Best Policy”, receiving a coveted A. Actually, I think I may have gotten writing and art abilities from him. Although he was an exceptional storyteller, perfectly imitating voice and mannerisms of various comedians, I speak best through the written word. He also had a gift for drawing with his talent for art passed on to me and my son. He loved trains, especially the old steam engines, having grown up next to the tracks in Clifton, NJ. I loved watching him as he built a passenger car for his train set, using a tweezers to handle those tiny parts. I watched him build Packard and Duesenberg model cars, and a German Focke-Wulf plane from W.W.II, taking us with him as he flew it using a remote-control system… until an unexpected gust of wind dove and smashed the plane into the ground.
As we grew up, we loved hearing Dad tell family stories of his and our childhoods. He had a gift for telling any story in a humorous unique way, and how I long to hear them all again. I’d ask him to write them down for posterity, but he never did. When he drove truck in the 1960s through the 1990s (and later huge tractors for an Iowan farmer), he’d come home with stories from the road. He shared radio routines by Bill Cosby and southern Cajun comedians, recalling their stories and imitating accents perfectly! That was way better entertainment than TV any day!
I recall a few stories of his time in the Army at Fort Greeley, Alaska (1956-1957), a foreign assignment before official statehood. From 18 months to 2 years of age, I was too young to remember my six months at Delta Junction with my baby sister. But I do remember having heard how he, his best buddy Roland, and two other friends found a sunken rowboat. As it lay not far below the surface of a lake, they pulled it up, cleaned it off, and took it out to fish. It made for an interesting adventure to say the least – while they took turns fishing, the other three worked hard at bailing to keep the boat afloat! Now that’s dedicated fishermen!
Fort Greeley is also where he learned to drive big rigs. With someone ill, he was asked to take over in the motor pool one night. Proving he could handle backing up a trailer perfectly, the commanding officer asked where he’d learned to do that since everyone else struggled. “Backing up a manure spreader, Sir!” was his dutiful reply. They kept him in the motor pool, where he gained invaluable training for later driving 18-wheelers.
He also was given a rare promotion because he took the time to thoroughly clean an office coffeepot, a skill learned from his Dutch immigrant mother who had taught him all aspects of housekeeping while growing up, like any good Dutch mother. With a general visiting Fort Greeley, the coffee-making task was passed off to my Dad as no one wanted to be making coffee for a general! He didn’t complain but took pains to provide a clean urn for making fresh-brewed coffee… which greatly impressed the general. When the general asked who made the coffee, the aide who was supposed to have made it “blamed” my Dad. Instead of the feared reprimand for the typically bad-tasting coffee the office was known for, the general complimented my father on the best cup he’d ever tasted! Turning to the senior officer, he told him to give my father a promotion!
When we were younger, he always had time for us. I loved it when we lived in Jersey and he took us fishing at Garret Mountain in Clifton, Lake Hopatcong and Upper Greenwood Lake. It got me out of the city and into nature where I felt at ease. And, though I could never bring myself to touch those worms (still can’t!), let alone put them on a hook, and never did catch “the big one,” it was the quality time with our Dad that meant so much to us kids. As a tomboy, I especially enjoyed working outside with my Dad whether it was in the barn learning to care for the animals, in the huge vegetable gardens, or traipsing the fields and woods to hunt rabbit and deer. That love just naturally transferred to enjoying time spent working alongside my husband in the barn or in the yard, and growing and weeding gardens of my own.
As we grew older, we teens were often in our own little world yet I still adored my Dad. He listened and gave sound advice. I recall the day he didn’t go to work, taking me instead for a drive to discuss a problem I was dealing with. At times though, I wasn’t ready to listen to him because, as life moved on, his anger took control and he wasn’t always there for us as a family, causing division with his divorce by expecting full support for his side. No parent in a divorce situation should ever do that their kids.
But I treasure our renewed relationship later in life. With apologies for my own errors as a teen, I heard his sadness as I expressed how family dysfunction affected all of us, and he understood my saying I/we all had needed him more than he realized when he was on the road for 2-4 weeks at a time. I appreciated his compliments on my writing for a local newspaper, my own blogs, publishing genealogy research in a national journal (The New York Genealogical & Biographical Record), and for how well I raised my family and took care of my Mom, even saying he’d never realized all the difficulties I’d faced in my life. Honesty and forgiveness cleared the way for a better relationship with love expressed to both my parents. God truly takes our most difficult situations, working them for our good when we love Him, admit our errors, and make amends.
My Dad’s careers changed from his love of farming, to driving a grain truck delivering feed to dairy farmers (winning top NY State Purina Feed salesman awards for 1961 and 1962), to carpentry with his Dad, a general contractor in northeast New Jersey, to driving an 18-wheeler hauling tanks locally and later OTR (over the road/cross country). When we lived in Clifton, NJ, he drove chemical tankers locally in northeast Jersey, southern New England, and New York City. What stories he brought home from his experiences! I got to ride with him only twice and wish it could have been more.
I was never so happy as when we moved back to New York in 1969! Though I hated city life, I can now look back at special memories in Clifton where I was born. As we settled into “backyard farming,” he taught me how to care for our mare, War Bugg, a granddaughter of Man O’ War, a retired Western working ranch registered Quarter Horse. One of his trucking buddies also rode the rodeo circuit and put War Bugg through her paces – she did a figure-eight so tight you’d’ve thought she’d fall over! I helped Dad build her corral and box stall in the barn, along with re-roofing and remodeling the old chicken coop for our flock. And then came the heavy-duty barn chores of bringing hay down out of the mow, hauling 50-lb bags of grain, mucking out the pens, learning to groom War Bugg and pick up her feet to clean the soft undersides, devouring books on horses and their care, dreaming of being an equine vet. I saw his deep concern when I stepped on a wasp’s nest in the haymow with 11 stings on my leg, and his gratefulness for my dousing him with a 5-gallon pail of water when a torch threatened to catch him on fire while trying to burn tent caterpillars, chuckling later that I almost drowned him!
But I also learned the hard way that running War Bugg flat out up the road and back could have killed her. Not realizing the depth of War Bugg’s Western training, I’d simply clicked my tongue and she took off like a rocket, so I let her run… on the paved road. I was scolded hard, yet taught to walk her slowly, allowing her to have only small sips of warm water till she cooled down. After riding her another time, I dismounted, tied her to the backyard light pole, and ran into the house briefly. On returning, I realized she’d pulled on and broken her bridle, standing as if still tied with reins straight down. And it was then I realized she was Western trained to be “ground tied” and to take off at the click of the tongue, very responsive to touch, the absolute best horse! I still miss her…
Soon enough, I got married and began a new life with my new family, while my siblings and parents scattered themselves around the U.S. Life changes, and we change with it. We learn from those childhood mistakes, and grow up wiser for them. As a child, I teased my Dad when he turned 30 that he was old, and that when he’d turn 50 he’d be “over the hill!” Well, Dad, guess what? Your oldest daughter reached that milestone a good ways back, and she’s still kickin’! Giving him this writing in 2014 before he passed away April 17, 2015, his wedding anniversary with my Mom, he knew I felt blessed to have him as my Dad. Sometimes I wish I could go back and relive the childhood fun of days long ago, but I treasure those memories that linger still… and I love you, Dad!
May you each be blessed with very special memories of your Dad, too! Happy Father’s Day!
I Remember A Dad
Linda A. Roorda
I remember a dad who took me fishin’
And remember a dad who hooked my worms,
Who took those hooks from fishy mouths,
And showed me the country way of life.
A family of six, two girls and four boys
Fun and trouble we shared as we grew.
From farms and fields to paved avenues,
Walking and biking, exploring we went.
I remember a time spent playing games,
A dad who’d not cheat for us to win.
Family and friends and holiday dinners,
Lakes and farms and countryside drives.
Weeds were the bane of childhood fun,
So ‘tween the rows we ran and we played.
But as I grew and matured in age,
Weeding was therapy in gardens of mine.
I remember a dad who thrived on farming
Livestock and gardens, and teaching me how.
I remember a dad who took me huntin’
Scoutin’ the fields, always alert.
I remember a dad who taught us more
For growing up we learn by example.
I remember working alongside my dad
Roofing a barn and building corrals.
I remember a dad whose gifts were given
In fairness to meet each child’s desire.
I remember a dad whose wisdom we honor
In memories of caring and love in small ways.
I remember a dad who brought us laughter
With Cajun and Cosby stories retold.
For blessed with a gift of retelling tales
Family and childhood events he recalled.
I remember a dad whose time was given
To help his children face life’s turmoils.
Time spent together are memories treasured
For things done best put family first.
I remember a dad who taught me more
To treasure my faith in Jesus my friend.
In looking to Him as Savior and Lord,
Salvation by Grace, not earned by my deed.
As I look back to days long ago,
I remember the dad I knew so well.
For I miss the dad who took me fishin’
And remember the dad who taught me more.
Linda Roorda writes from her home in Spencer.