My dad told me the other day he’d won a three-day Harley rental at a raffle. I said Dad, I think you have to have a motorcycle license to rent a motorcycle, don’t you? He used to own a motorcycle, according to family legend, but that was before my brother was born in 1977. So my dad hasn’t ridden a motorcycle since at least 1976, something I pointed out to him over the phone.
“I have a motorcycle license,” he said. “Every time you renew your drivers’ license, they ask you if you want to renew your motorcycle license, so I do. Why would you say no?”
For 37 years, you’ve been doing that, I asked.
“Why would you say no?” he said again, laughing.
I guess because you never know. I am still learning from my dad.
Fathers are interesting. They take care of you for the first 18 or so years of your life, and then you spend the next 18 years trying to figure out how to talk to each other.
We’ve gone from “Son, you can’t do that,” to “Son, you shouldn’t do that,” to “Son, are you sure you want to do that?” My dad’s a very patient man. One of my favorite lines he’s ever said, which I heard secondhand from my Uncle Danny, refers to raising children: “Sometimes you just gotta let them make their own mistakes.” Which there have been many, but zero I-told-you-sos.
I’ve sat next to my dad on golf carts, barstools, a group therapy rehab room (for me, not him), baseball stadium seats, ski lifts, and our conversation style has always been like two guys riding in a pickup truck together: few questions, lots of statements, rare silence.
All my life, though, jokes like “Does your face hurt, son?” “No, why?” “It’s killing me.”
One year when I was in grad school, he decided he and I were going to build and paint a 120-foot long fence, and instead of digging the post holes by hand, he told me we were going to get a skid loader for the day. Between us, we had zero experience operating a skid loader. Dad, miffed that the cheapest skid loader rental in town was $300 per day, arranged to borrow one from Stan, his friend who owned an auto body shop and had somehow acquired a skid loader. Dad paid Stan something like a case of steaks and four cases of Busch Light cans, which is how you do business sometimes in a small town.
I grew up in a small town, which is all the good things everyone says it is, but only if you’ve got someone to instill simple values in you. Like my dad did: Show up on time. Work hard. Make people laugh. Find out their stories, and find some common ground. Listen. Finish the job.
I asked my dad a few years ago, in his 25-plus years in management, if he ever had a problem with employees being late. He said Not really, actually, wait, one kid who works for me lately has been late a lot. I said what do you say to that guy when he comes in late?
He said, “I told him that if he needs to be five minutes late every day, he might think about finding another job where that’s OK. Now he comes in three minutes early every day, which is still not early enough for me, but it’ll do.”
I am sure every child falls somewhere in a spectrum with “Exactly Like My Parents” on one end and “Completely Opposite Of My Parents” on the other end. My life, or the first 34 years of it, have been a lot different from my dad’s life, but I’d like to think he understands me. Probably the better thing to say about him is that he doesn’t mind if he doesn’t understand me. I’m sure he’s cringed a little through things like bad haircuts, tattoos, leaving good jobs for worse-paying, less-secure jobs, and buying vehicles with 100,000+ miles on them, but he doesn’t protest. I know part of it is because he gets it.
I have this photo of my dad and I sitting on a bench in Rocky Mountain National Park, taken in August 1985. I believe this is the genesis of something — my dad lived in Colorado for about a year in the early ’70s, and after he moved back to Iowa and started raising a family, he took us out west on a couple vacations. I moved out west as an adult, and I may never leave, which is partially my father’s fault.
I go a lot of places my dad hasn’t had the chance to, and maybe won’t, and I don’t use the word “adventure” a hell of a lot when I talk about the things I like to do. I try to remember something my dad told me when I interviewed him for a Dirtbag Diaries episode back in 2010:
“My whole life has been an adventure. I grew up in a poor family, had nothing, and everything I did was an adventure.”