When I was a kid, just seven or eight, and it was bitter cold like this—the wind killing our cheeks, icing our eyes, and easing through even the most solid surfaces of our double wide—I woke every morning to the sound of Dad crumpling and rolling newspapers to light a fire two hours before the rest of us were up so that when we finally got out of our warm beds we wouldn’t be shocked by the cold.
After he lit the fire, he’d pack his lunch. I’d hear the delicate clink of a knife against the butter dish. The cap of the horseradish jar coming off, a spoon rattling around the glass, then the cap screwed back on. The clunk of the lunch meat drawer in the fridge. The rattle of a paper sack. Then the long pour of coffee into his tall gray thermos.
After he scribbled notes for all of us—mine was typically a list of chores: KJ, empty the ash drawer, feed and water the dogs, bring in kindling, bring in firewood, straighten your bed, and shovel the porch—he cranked the old Chevy Nova to life, scraped the windows, then roared away to Besser Company. The place he’ll go to tonight. Forty-three years later. To work a midnight shift.
It’s hard to find loyalty like that today.
And hard hands.
And a strong back.
And shoulders like iron from caring for a wife, three sons, and carrying loads and loads of silence—the heaviest thing a man will ever handle. Because good advice is given quietly and without judgment even when you see your sons making the same mistakes you made over and over and over again.
They don’t make men like Dad anymore, but that doesn’t mean I can’t try. So tonight, I showed my boy the art of crumpling and rolling newspapers to start a fire. The importance of proper spacing between kindling and logs, and that sometimes to keep a fire going it just takes time. And as my son ate his apple sauce and watched my every move, I remembered to say nothing because actions speak louder than words.
(Here’s to May 2015, Dad…retirement is soon.)