Thursday, March 17, 2011

Typing into the night

My dad used to apologize to us kids that he wasn't the best father around. As a child, I mostly ignored his comments but would wonder what a 'best' father was like. Did he give his only daughter a tiara for her 5th birthday? Did he let her have as many puppies as she wanted? Did he make a rule that said she didn't HAVE to clean her room every week? Did he buy her a horse she could ride every day? Did he offer to pay her education through Yale or Harvard or Stanford?

When I reached adulthood, my dad would continue to repeat his mantra. "I am not the best Dad around." Suddenly I reached the age where I knew he didn't have to be the best dad around - he just had to be my dad. I knew Dad tried hard at everything he did. He was competitive that way. He was driven - not just in his work, but in his golf game, in his evening of game of basketball HORSE down in the driveway, in his way he cared for his family.

And then when Dad retired, he decided he needed to write. By then, he and my mom had moved to a summer home in the mountains. A couple weekends a month, I would drive up to their retreat and deliver their mail, the latest local news, and endless reams of typing paper for Dad's project. Every six weeks I included a new typewriter ribbon and more "White-out" for his mistakes.

And every day, Dad would type. He'd put his typewriter on the breakfast bar; he'd sit at the barstool for hours, pecking away at the keyboard. He'd chew his pipe. He'd drink endless mugs of coffee. He wouldn't talk - he'd type.

Mom and I used to wonder to each other "What can he be writing?". When we'd ask him, he wouldn't answer. He'd frown over his glasses, he'd clamp harder down on his pipe stem. And he type with a newer fury.

So Mom and I decided he was writing his memoirs. Pages and pages of his history. Each finished page was removed from the typewriter and put in a manila folder. Page after page filled the folder. Pages of words, of whiteout stripes, of coffee stains.  Pages we never had a chance to read.

Today, I think of Dad as I read Billy Collins' poem Royal Aristocrat

My old typewriter used to make so much noise
I had to put a cushion of newspaper
beneath it late at night
so as not to wake the whole house. burst after another
as my wife turned in her sleep.
I was a single monkey
trying to type the opening lines of my Hamlet,

often doing nothing more
than ironing pieces of paper in the platen
then wrinkling them into balls
to flick into the wicker basket....

... Such deep silence on those nights —
just the sound of my typing
and a few stars singing a song their mother
sang when they were mere babies in the sky.

We never found Dad's memorior. I have no idea where he put it, if he finished it, what it said.
But he was still the best Dad in the world.


Kathy said...

Such a neat story, Brenda. And a really fine picture of you and your dad. Such a shame that you never found what he was typing. But that's probably because he didn't want you to!

Sam said...

What a nice story and a great photo. I am sure your dad had many nice things to say about you in his memoirs - too bad you didn't have a chance to read them. Any chance they'll turn up someday?

Stella said...

My Dad was away working much of my very young age, he was at Hannaford defense plant, he was in towns in Minnesota working jobs and when he came home he never had a lot to say to me. Then one day I found a whole packet of letters he had written my Mom, sweet letters that said he missed us so much, and what he wanted to do as soon as he got home, and he wasn't going to take anymore of the jobs that took him away. Through those letters I got to know him better than I did in person and I was always glad I found them!

NIce photos of you all!


Jo and Stella

Pasadena Adjacent said...

How lucky for you. I wasn't able to form a friendship with my father until I was into adulthood. I'd give anything to come upon something like that. I did find my dads Penthouse supply though.

great story Brenda, Your father is so handsome. Did he have one of those carved sandstone (?) animal pipes that yellow with age?

Brenda's Arizona said...

PA - a scrimshaw pipe? No, he didn't have one of those. But pipes were a favorite gift for him to get on Father's Day.
Jo - I like your story! How neat you found the letters!
Sam, no idea where the typed pages went... no idea at all. Kathy, you are probably right!

Thérèse said...

Your dad probably found his own equilibrium while writing and that way he could be the dad he wanted to be with you.
I miss my dad and the conversations we never had because he died before I was a grown-up.

Thérèse said...

I understand better your love for dogs now...

tracy said...

Aw, this made me smile, and I can use a smile today. You definitely inherited his love for writing. I bet he was good at it, too.

Naturedigital said...

Very touching and sensitive.
Thank you for sharing Brenda.

Snapper II said...

Great story, I love the photo of you and your Dad.
May God bless Him.

Elaine said...

Beautiful story, Brenda. Too bad you didn't find what he wrote. My dad was one of those best dads in the world too. A dad doesn't need to be perfect. He just needs to give his love to his children.

altadenahiker said...

Well now you have me thinking, what would be the best dad in the world? If we're lucky, it's our own.

Have you searched everywhere for his manuscript? I for one would read it, thanks to his daughter.

Pat Tillett said...

What a beautiful story Brenda! A wonderful tribute to your father.

I would give a lot to have some wonderful stories and photos like this of my own.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

"a scrimshaw pipe"
yes, I looked it up. My father had one of a lions head with a curved stem. He regularly used the one like your father is using. I have the pipe as well as a ceramic GE ashtray with a turbine mounted on it. Hysterical

and your dad loved dogs too!

Lori Skoog said...

Beautifully written Brenda. It does make you think...wish you could have found his memoirs.

Banjo52 said...

I've been following your blog for awhile now, and I think this might be my favorite post. You make me frustrated, on a smaller scale, in the way you must be frustrated not to have the memoir. Gotta love a pipe smoker AND a male of that era who announces that he wants to be a better dad. If others thought it, I doubt that many said it. And gotta love an active, athletic, competitive type--a professional NEGOTIATOR -- who decides to reflect and write down stuff in retirement. Really nice, B. Sweet pic, too.

Brenda's Arizona said...

Thank you all for your comments. Banjo, you are right with me on the 'frustrated' level. Oh, to have found his typings... I would have fuel for a year's worth of blog posts!

Pat, again, I wish you had a dad like mine - even if for a day.
(p.s. - Dad loved dogs. He got used to any dog I loved...)

ros@dimaggio63 said...

Questa è una magnifica foto...
mi sono commossa a guardarla.
Tuo padre somiglia fisicamente molto a mio padre.... ed anche il mio fumava la pipa.
Grande immagine di un passato lontano...
Buona domenica.
Myriam :)

kulasa said...

this post just left me teary eyed...thinking of my own dad...

sonia a. mascaro said...

What a beautiful family story, Brenda! What a precious memories!
You write the story perfectly well.
Love the photo of you and your Dad, too.