“Whatever we were to each other, that we are still. Call me by the old familiar name. Speak to me in the easy way which you always used. Put no difference in your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. Laugh as we laughed at the little jokes we enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was. Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it. Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was. There is absolute and unbroken certainty.”
I am drawing a picture of a father. His name is Milton Herbert Christian. The oval face, which I accent with a smile and sprinkles of freckles, no hair on top, is the dearest face in all the world to me. It is my father’s face.
I am drawing my father’s arms. Strong and mighty arms. These are the arms that first cradled me in the evenings, when the shadows of night came creeping into my bedroom. He chased them all away with his deep voice, reading the bedtime stories I loved most of all. “The Adventures of Sammy Jay,” Reddy Fox, Jimmy Skunk, and all the wise and wonderful friends in the memories of my childhood.
My father’s arms have muscles, thin arms, forged of steel from the 100 pushups he did each morning of his life until, at the age of 80, a stroke stole this ritual from him.
Attached to his arms of steel are the loving hands of a father who did chores. He was our hired man, our gardener, our driver. Living in a world of four women, he had to do all the squeamish-nasty-dirty-time-consuming-never-ending chores that only a man can do. And he did them without complaint.
I am sketching those strong hands that would tie the thickest rope to the handle of a grain scoop and then to the bumper of our family car. On winter nights, when the streets of town were snowpacked and slick as ice, we would take turns riding the scoop all around town. We would squeal and laugh as he turned corners, dumping us into snowbanks.
Steady hands that would hold the match and light firecrackers on the Fourth of July. His daring, dashing ways swelling our hearts with pride, especially when we heard the boom of cherry bombs! How could he do that? Why didn’t he jump out of his skin, as we did, summer after summer?
Hands that were there to patiently guide the pencils of three daughters as we struggled through the pages of our homework. Hands that caressed our foreheads when a fever sent us to our beds, moaning for sympathy.
I am drawing twinkly blue eyes now. Eyes that looked up at us from the audience as we danced or sang or played at band and orchestra concerts. Blue eyes filled with such pride the spotlights paled beside them.
Eyes of love, gazing at us when we needed love most of all. Eyes, stern eyes, more punishing than any willow switch or hairbrush spanking. Stern eyes when we knew we had done something wrong or that something might have shamed or disappointed him.
I am drawing tall legs. He always had tall legs. I always looked up at him, even after I grew to be his height, and we kissed nose to nose.
My father’s legs never tired. Even after a full day of work, his legs had time to pull us down the street in a wagon or rake leaves into piles made just for jumping.
Later, when our lives began to revolve around school activities, his legs were the first to step into the family car and drive a load of giggling-squealing girls to ballgames in every little town in Kansas.
I will not draw my father as a jock. A sportsman. He was never a Viking or a Swede. But he was the greatest spectator of them all. Even after his stroke he would sit in his wheelchair riveted to the television set while rooting for his dear old Chicago Cubs.
I cannot draw his patience. He had very little of this virtue. Yet he used it when he would bait our fish hooks over and over as we fished in Uncle Art’s farm pond. Patience while he laced our ice skates so we could skate over the same farm pond on cold winter nights.
I am drawing my father as I think of him today. I am drawing a gentle gentleman. A father who never raised his hand in anger. Who never spoke an unkind word to any of his friends or co-workers. Who never took the name of the Lord in vain. Who thinks of me as his Sh-boom, his Sharsy.
I am drawing a father with gratitude and love. Here is the picture of a father who molded me, trained me, taught me right from wrong. A father who gave me his word and kept his promises. Who struggled, sacrificed, and cared for me in sickness and in health. Then gently, oh so gently, pushed me out into the world to live the best life I could … without him.
I write this column every Father’s Day, for I miss him as much as I missed him on the day he left my life.