It’s Father’s Day, and of course, we’re either with our fathers or missing them.
This Father’s Day, I can’t help but think of my step-father, Dean Long.
This is us together at my wedding. Can you tell that we utterly adored each other, without reservation?
And while this is my favorite picture of him, wearing one of only 2 suits he ever owned, that’s not how I really remember him best.
Dad was full of life and levity.
He started early as a prankster – in his teens, seen here with his never-smiling sister Verma. He had obviously done something to deserve that “disproving glare” and you can bet he was very proud of himself!
He spent his entire life “in trouble” for some kind of escapade or practical joke.
This, this is how I remember Dad, having appropriated an old cast-off coat and created a fashion-statement hat.
And this, as I was getting my kids ready to go trick or treating. They wore matching masks.
Hugging my daughter. He would have laid his life down for that child and very nearly did.
His step-grandchildren had no idea he wasn’t “blood related.” They completely adored him. This baby, my son, tells me that “Pawpaw” still visits him in his dreams.
Dad in his first suit, complete with wig. No, I have no idea “why.” He never needed a reason to laugh or make you laugh either! He was known to appear, comically, at the most unexpected times, places and in completely out of context ways. Like…in a suit at some “event” he didn’t particularly want to attend, wearing a wig.
He was even late to his own funeral. We suspect he paid of the funeral director in advance for that tone!
And here’s Dad, wearing MY orange dress, “pregnant,” in 1978. Look at that farmer’s tan!
He played that for all it was worth including waddling and groaning! I had to provide lessons and the requisite pillow! I laughed so hard I was gasping for air and crying. I think we both did!
This grainy out-of-focus picture taken at some long-forgotten fundraiser tells the story. A man of modest means, he was always doing something for someone else even if it did require being pregnant. Believe me, lots of people paid to see that!
Dad was a farmer but raised orphan animals. He rescued creatures with no hope, bringing them home to me and Mom.
Dad chose me as his daughter, telling me that when he married my mother, he “got his baby girl back.” Linda would have been about my age and died 2 days after Christmas in 1959. He never stopped grieving her death.
His first wife, Linda’s mother, died 9 years later. He never stopped grieving Martha either, always visiting and cleaning their graves on Memorial Day. We never accompanied him. It was a trip he needed to make alone.
Here Dad is taking his daily 20 minute after-lunch nap with Frosty, his constant companion, a 3-legged cat that broke her back as a kitten in the barn. He thought there was no saving Frosty, but she outlived him. Love works miracles sometimes.
They are together now.
Dad was quite the practical jokester, participating in Rendezvous’ and Encampments throughout Indiana.
Schoolchildren attended on field trips and he educated them about pioneers and using everything at your disposal, wasting nothing. You could say he was an early recycler. It wasn’t “fashionable” then, but born of lifelong necessity. It was just the way life had always been on the farm.
Of course, there was always some funny tall tale to be told – like the yarn about the bull with the one red eye. I shudder to think. Those kids probably still have nightmares!
I made Dad’s Rendezvous clothes by hand in true pioneer style.
He carved buttons and fasteners out of bone and wood. We made such a good team. After his death, I mounted a few in a frame so they wouldn’t get lost. I can still see him intently working with his gnarled old hands.
The stories around the campfire as the “pioneer” mountainmen gathered in the evenings were less family friendly, but quite humorous, nonetheless.
One time his buddies even hung him, after a mock trial, for molesting a groundhog – all in good fun. (No groundhogs were actually molested.)
He was, of course, rescued at the last minute. I think mother and I coincidentally happened to arrive, in costume, and leapt into action just in time to save him from sure and certain death. Complete with righteous indignation of course. Mother playing the “Well, I never…what have you done now???” role with me sneaking in with a hatchet hidden under my skirt in the nick of time to spontaneously chop the gallows rope from around his neck, facilitating his escape!
Those were the days.
Dad loved the encampments which afforded opportunities to work with his hands, somewhat raucous camaraderie and to connect with and educate young people.
I cross-stitched Dad a “banner” with the location of each of the encampments he frequented for him to hang and display at his campsite, but he hung it on the door at home instead. Mom said he was afraid it would be damaged or stained, although I viewed that as “seasoning.” I wanted him to use it, but I was secretly pleased that he loved it so much. It still hangs in my house now, 25 years after his passing.
Dad was too ill to “camp” the last summer before he passed away on Labor Day weekend, 1994. The following summer, the “rendezvous farewell ritual” took place.
Dad’s campsite was set up by his friends just like always, but was of course vacant. On Saturday evening, a fire was built in his fire pit, and everyone gathered round, telling stories and regaling tales about Dad, whose nickname was “Hoot” – because he was.
I absolutely had to attend, traveling from out of state, but mother just couldn’t. The grief was still too raw. His son didn’t bother.
Each person took turns telling stories that evening.
I laughed. I cried. A lot. Sometimes at the same time. Is that even possible?
I said, in a quiet moment, as the firelight flickered and the wood crackled, that I simply could not have had a better father if I had been his own blood.
The comfortable silence continued with everyone lost in their own thoughts when finally one of his buddies said, softly, barely audibly, “We had no idea he wasn’t your father. We knew that one of his two children was a step-child, but we thought you were his daughter. You’re the one who always came with him and made his things.”
You know why they thought that? Because I am, in my heart, and in his too.
I loved that man to depths I still can’t fathom. The grief is still new and palpable and raw, even 25 years later – especially on “those days,” like Father’s Day, his birthday, Christmas, and the anniversary of his death.
Also on days when I see cornfields, barns, cows, pigs, weeds, dandelions, snow, cats, dogs, tractors or flowers, especially his ferns growing in my garden, waist high this year.
Yes, pretty much everyday.
I’ve passed on some of the ferns and flowers from Dad’s garden, having passed through two of mine, to those grandchildren, now adults. His ferns, joyful reminders of carefree childhood summers spent on the farm.
I am eternally, sorrowfully, grateful.
I wish I had told him more often and could tell him, in person, just one more time. It didn’t seem necessary. I thought I had forever. I didn’t.
All I can do now is visit his grave.
Thank you, Dad.
I love you.