Not Feeling the Need to Write

Today marks the one year anniversary of my father’s death. This is the fourth post I have started to write about him. Although there were probably nuggets of truth in each of them, none felt “right” to share. Some were funny, others were full of grief. Unfortunately, they didn’t express what I wanted to say in a manner which sounded authentic.

Just now I realized why that is the case. I was writing a post about Dad because I felt like it was something I “ought” to do. I was pressuring myself to come up with something new to say about him, to recognize and celebrate him on this day.

But, the reality is I have already written several good posts about him, if I may say so myself. I’ve told stories and shared lessons learned in these posts:

30 Days of Thanks Day 2 – Sam

Gratitude at the Kitchen Table

Seven Secrets of Success from Sam

30 Days of Thanks Day 24 – Sam and Dolly

Happy Father’s Day Sam!

30 Days of Thanks Day 11 – My Favorite Veteran (and Veterans Everywhere)

The Citrus Peeler

Being Number Six

And honestly, I really don’t want to write about Dad today. Sure, I will think about him all day. I’ll call Mom later. Most likely, I’ll get teary if the right song comes on my Spotify playlist.

I don’t want to write about him just because of the day. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to write today.

I want to write every day. I just don’t like being told what I need to write, or feeling like I “should” write something. It’s probably why I have never looked for or accepted a job where my only responsibility is to write.

I inherited that stubbornness from Dad. Maybe that is how I’ll honor him today. I’ll stomp my foot, cross my arms in defiance, and not do something “just because.” When I write about him next, it will be because I want to, because I have something new to say.

Thanks Dad, for teaching me that sometimes it’s OK to just do things my own way.

An older man sits in an old office chair. He is holding his hand next to his mouth, to project his voice as he yells an order. He is wearing a fishing hat an a white cooking apron over a plaid shirt and blue jeans.
Sam, barking orders at a family picnic. Photo – A. Conklin

 

 

Advertisements

Being Number Six

All my life, I have been referred to as “number six” by my father. Dad used numbers to describe me and my five older sisters whenever he spoke about us to others. Sometimes we would be at a party and he would call us over to introduce us to a friend.

Have you met Caroline? She’s my number five daughter. Caroline – come over here!

When my parents were first taking me to medical appointments to determine the cause of my disability, Dad always pulled out his wallet whenever the nurse or social worker expressed astonishment upon learning I was the youngest of six girls. Beaming with pride he would flip through the photographs in the plastic sleeves, naming us and offering a tidbit of information he felt important to share.

That’s Susan, number one. She’s pregnant with our first grandchild. And Mary Jane, number two. She’s studying to be a violin teacher.

Photo of six white women varying in age and their elderly parents. One of the women, the author, is seated in a wheelchair.

Dad always said he didn’t care what jobs we did when we grew up, as long as we we did them to the best of our abilities and helped others along the way. When he bragged about us to my orthopedic surgeon, he was as proud of Donna as he was of Sandy.

Smart girls, both of them. All of my girls went to college, and hopefully Denise will too. 

Dad had his favorite stories about each of us. When we gathered as a group for a family dinner or celebration, he would reminisce and share his memories with whoever happened to be around the table. It didn’t matter if you had heard the story many times before, you still laughed when he talked about the time he sent the “five girls” (how he always spoke about my sisters before the time I arrived) outside with a gallon of white paint so he could watch a football game in peace and quiet while they painted the fence. My mother arrived home later that afternoon to find my sisters had used an entire can of paint on just five feet of fence, but also on the grass, rocks, their hair and clothes.

You should have seen her face! She was fit to be tied. You girls were covered in paint.

I was an adult before I realized how much Dad had worried about me. As a child, I never knew he was anxious about whether I would become ill, or if my disability would shorten my life. Then last year at our annual DiNoto cookie bake, he took my hand as I was telling him about work and gave it a squeeze.

Well Niecie, I guess I don’t have to worry about you dying young anymore.

I was stunned, but tried to laughingly reassure him I was doing just fine and was now too old to be considered young if I were to die. While I squeezed his hand in return, I asked if he was still truly worried about me that much.

When you were little, they couldn’t tell us much about what to expect for you. I’m your father. I worry about not just you, but all my girls, all the time. It’s what dads do.

That was the last time I saw my father in person, the last time I held his hand, the last time he pulled me in for a hug and kiss.

Three weeks later, my phone rang as I was returning home from my early morning swim on a cold December morning. When the caller ID on my phone read “Mom and Dad” but Caroline’s voice came through the line, I knew something was wrong. Caroline’s voice cracked as she told me Dad had died. I don’t remember much of the rest of the conversation, probably because some of the other sisters were trying to call me and my phone kept beeping with incoming calls.

The day passed in a blur as I made plans to leave for a week in my hometown. I washed and packed clothes, wrapped Christmas presents and prepared cookie trays while fielding calls and texts from friends and family. Eventually I crashed in bed, exhausted from crying on and off all day. I fell asleep reviewing my mental list of what was left to pack in the morning.

I dreamed about Dad that night. He was getting ready for a fishing trip. I was a child, standing next to the pile of his gear, watching as he packed the back of his truck. When he was done, he slammed the tailgate. Turning to me, he smiled and tucked my hair behind my ear.

Don’t worry Niecie. I’ll bring back enough for all of us.

 

 

30 Days of Thanks Day 11 – My Favorite Veteran (and Veterans Everywhere)

You were so kind earlier this week when I wrote a repeat post about my mother. I decided to push my luck and focus today’s gratitude post on my wonderful father Sebastian, or Sam as he is known to everyone. Yes, I’ve written about him before. Rather than repeat what I have already written, I hope you will read this post or this post to learn more about him. Most of what I know to be true about service to others, I learned from Sam.

My father taught me everyone has the capacity to be of service, to do something to improve their community or the world. Dad served my hometown as a Rotarian, a businessman and as a member of the Knights of Columbus. He volunteered to serve senior meals to seniors who were sometimes younger than he was. Dad drove his friends from church to and from medical appointments.

For almost thirty five years, my parents hosted an annual picnic on Memorial Day weekend. To the frustration of my mother, who would be planning details, Dad would invite people to the party up until the day of the event. It was not uncommon to be walking out of church with him, encounter someone and hear him say, “Whatcha doing on Sunday? We’re having a picnic and you should come – just bring a dish to pass!”

Mom would sigh, and I imagine she was mentally calculating if she had enough paper plates and napkins. Dad wasn’t concerned about the details. He is the type of person who doesn’t want anyone to not have a place to gather with others. Dad’s hospitality is what many of my friend’s comment on when they ask me about my parents.

Dad involved me in his community service when I was young. In elementary school, I accompanied him in the afternoons when the Rotary club painted the Scout House. In high school, I worked at his side scooping ice cream at the annual General Clinton Canoe Regatta, my hometown’s one big event. I sold tickets at the church chicken barbecues which were held to raise money for various projects.

Thank you Dad, for encouraging me to do whatever I can to help those around me. Through your example, I learned the value of commitment to the service to others. You taught me that everyone can do something, and that even small acts can have a large impact.

Today, a day we honor Veterans who have served our country, I would like to express my gratitude my father (who served in the US Army), my uncles, my brother-in-law, my nephew, my cousins, and my friends who have served or are serving. Thanks to you, and millions more, I am able to enjoy the freedoms and rights I take for granted. I appreciate the sacrifices you make for your country and its citizens. I may not always agree with my country’s policies and positions, but I always have the utmost respect for the men and women who willingly don the uniform each day and perform their tasks with professionalism and integrity.

Black and white photo taken circa 1946 of a young caucasian man wearing a uniform of a private in the US Army.
My favorite veteran.

Happy Father’s Day Sam!

Once again, it is Father’s Day in the United States and some other countries. I suspect I will see many posts honoring fathers on social media today. I originally wrote this post in honor of my father, Sebastian or “Sam” as he is known to everyone, as part of my 30 Days of Thanks posts. It has been a stressful week, so I am taking the easy way out and sharing it again as most of my readers were not here for the original 30 Days series.

Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers out there, and to all who serve as father figures to others. My thoughts and prayers are with my friends and family who are facing their first Father’s Day without their father.

Thirty Days of Thanks – Sam

When I decided to do the 30 Days of Thanks challenge, I knew my mother and father would have to be mentioned. I decided to write about them separately because they each deserve their own day in this month of gratitude. People who have good relationships with their parents often credit them for shaping their own success. I never appreciated just how amazing my own parents were until I left home and realized others were not blessed with the same family love and acceptance I have known.

My father, Sam as he is known to everyone, is one of the most influential people in my life. He is outgoing, friendly, and quick with a story if given an audience. He was the manager of the grocery store in my little hometown, Bainbridge, for more than 30 years. As such, he was the first employer of many – myself included. It seems almost everyone in town knows Sam. To this day, when we go out in town together someone always says, “Hi Sam!” He will have conversations with them all even if he is in a rush.

My brother-in-law’s family used to hold an annual bluegrass festival. For several years, my father ran the concession stand. My friends and I were eager to earn money so we would spend the weekend at the festival serving hot dogs and hamburgers. We were the recipients of his pearls of wisdom as he flipped burgers and sang along to the music. Several of those sentences continue to guide me today.

“The customer is always right – even when they’re wrong.”

“I don’t care if you have a calculator or a cash register – you have to be able to count money and make change in your head.”

“People are more likely to do what needs to be done if you tell them why.”

“It doesn’t matter what job you do or what you learn in school. The most important skill you can possess is the ability to get along with people. If you can do that, you can do anything.”

If I am faced with a problem or dilemma, I ask myself what Dad would do. Unfortunately when I talk to him about things he often says, “I can’t tell you what to do – you have to figure that out on your own.” But the conversation often helps me uncover new ideas or angles I may not have considered. He usually has a story to tell about the matter at hand.

Dad is generous with his time and talents. I learned the importance of becoming engaged in my community by watching him. Bainbridge is home to an annual canoe regatta and for many years he coordinated and managed the chicken barbecue. Dad volunteered for the church, the Knights of Columbus, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Rotary Club. In his 70’s he began helping serve “the old folks” at the senior meals; many were younger than him. A few years ago when he was hospitalized I learned he had adopted a child in South America through a church charity and wanted to make sure I would continue to support him if “something happens to me.” He purchased a subscription to the New York State Conservationist  magazine for my niece when she moved to North Carolina for a teaching job so she could help her students understand New York was more than New York City.

Photo of the author, a woman in a wheelchair, and her father in front of a large pine tree.
Dad and I in front of “our tree.”

My parents were older when I came into the family. Dad claims I was planned but I’m not sure my mother was planning for daughter number six. Last year my parents celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. Dad and I posed for a photo in front of “our tree” – the pine we planted together when I was five. As we stood there, he leaned over my shoulder and said, “I’m so glad we had you.” I choked up when I turned to kiss his cheek, grateful for the man who for so many years has served as my moral compass and a source of love. His belief in me – in all of us – and his admiration are gifts beyond measure. I honor him by doing my best in the hope I continue to make him proud.

30 Days of Thanks Day 24 – Sam and Dolly

I wrote about my amazing parents last year to start my 30 Days of Thanks. My mom, known as Dolly, and my dad, Sam, deserve recognition once again this year.

I am the person I am today because of the lessons, gifts and blessings bestowed upon me by my parents. Their belief in my abilities and encouragement helped me set and achieve goals.

Back in 1990, when I told them I wanted to be an exchange student, I never considered the fact they might have said no. I was sixteen, and needed their permission to pursue this dream. But since they had never said no to any dream of mine before, I did not really think about what I was asking them to approve.

Who lets their sixteen year old disabled daughter go live on the other side of the world for a year? Sam and Dolly, that’s who.

Granted, they didn’t make it easy by saying yes right away. The agreement we made was they would consider it, but I had to find a way to pay for the trip without touching the money in my college savings account. I was working a couple of afternoons at a local dressmaker’s shop. I spoke to my boss about my intent to travel and took on an extra shift to help earn additional money.

After a few months, when I started to attend the outbound exchange student orientations, they told they would sign the permission paperwork. In my teenage naivete, I questioned why it took so long for them to decide. It wasn’t like I was going to be completely on my own. I was going to stay with Rotarians – what could go wrong?!

Now that I am an adult, I have a better understanding of their fears and apprehension. I was (still am) their baby, the youngest of their six daughters, and I had a disability. Of course they were nervous! I wasn’t going to be two hours away at college. I was flying 14,000 miles away, quite literally half way around the world.

But they let me go.

Both of my parents shed tears when we said goodbye at the airport. Mom was full on crying, hankie pressed to her face, shaking as she gave me a hug. Dad was silent, a single tear escaping down his face. Cheeky me, all full of anticipation and excitement, told them not to worry. I would be alright. I would write every week. I knew right from wrong and would follow the rules. I promised not to do anything which would get me sent home early.

Eventually, they stopped hugging me. Dad put his arm around Mom, pulling her into his shoulder. I remember what he told her.

We didn’t raise her to keep her home Doll. We have to let her go.

Mom and Dad, I appreciate you giving me the confidence to go, to live, to say yes to life. You have given me so much love and taught me the value of working to fulfill a dream. Twenty-five years ago you said yes when I had this absurd idea that living in another country would be a great adventure, even though you were worried about me. You continue to offer me support when I try new things and pursue new goals. Thank you for encouraging me to advocate for myself and for trusting me to succeed. I love you.An older woman is sitting on the knee of an older gentleman. Both are smiling. She has brown hair and is wearing a pink shirt. He is balding, with white hair, and is wearing a red and green plaid shirt.