Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Never Go to Bed Mad...

Those were the first words my Father-in-Law spoke to me after my wife and I exited the church on our wedding day. It wasn't an edict or some sort of forewarning, but rather a piece of advice offered by a man who had successfully negotiated almost 40 years of marriage. That moment, along with many others, defined my relationship with "daddy".

The first time I met my future In-Laws was just after Shell and I started dating... we met them for lunch at Nicholas Restaurant in Portland ( Shell warned me to be careful shaking hands with her dad, because he had pretty severe arthritis. I tend to have a pretty firm handshake, so I was understandably nervous. With this in mind, I practiced shaking hands lightly, when Shell wasn't looking in the days coming up to the lunch (I don't think I ever told her that). When the time came to shake hands with Daddy, I did the lightest grip I could, without being a dead fish, and he immediately "yelped". I went white, until he started laughing... so began my relationship with the man who would become my Father-in-Law.

Over the intervening time, I got to know Daddy and grew to admire him, not only as the man who was the father of my best friend and wife, but also as a man who served his country in the Navy, crossed the equator, visited exotic places too numerous to name, became an accomplished wood worker and was a well of information for me on subjects ranging from history, to wood working, to gardening, home repair, etc, etc, etc.

Some guys have difficulty dealing with their Father-in-Law... such was not the case for me. I relished the time Shell and I would visit her folks... mornings would bring coffee, Suduko, crosswords and breakfast at the kitchen table... He and I would chat about anything and everything. Usually focusing on mine and Shells' life together and our plans. Our days were generally spent helping around the house on projects... replacing a door frame, re-building a backyard garden pool, cutting down trees, or whatever it might be or whatever might be needed. I told him, very early on, that I grew up on the suburbs, so working around a 2 acre former lavender nursery didn't come naturally to me... essentially, patience with my fumbling would probably be a necessary component of me helping out. However, no matter what I was working on, Daddy would let me figure out the task, offering advice when needed and allowing a suburbs-raised kid to learn how to use his hands... I would occasionally catch a wry smile on his face as I messed something up and would have to do it all over again... a smile that would grow larger as I finally got it right.

Daddy liked wine, Black Butte Porter and Diet Coke... all of which I got to share with him on several occassions. We both liked beef jerky and he would pick me up the good homemade stuff from a local meat market by their house... that beef jerky propelled me down the Rogue River in February of this year... Daddy made sure I had some for the trip, because that's just how Daddy was...

Daddy loved things of beauty... at the beginning of May (which was the last time Shell and I were able to visit before he got sick), he made sure we were able to visit a friend of his to secure huge flower baskets for our house... again, that's just how Daddy was.

I don't know if he realized that he wasn't just my wife's father, but, I'm proud to say, he was also my friend.

We lost Daddy on Sunday, May 31, 2009 after a heroic battle against illnesses that zapped his stregth, but never his spirt. I say heroic, because in all the times we worked on projects together he never once complained. Rather, he was always right there, watching, helping when he could... always eager to laugh with me at my mistakes and always willing to help me get it right.

I'm thankful I got to see him one last time on Saturday... he opened his eyes and talked to all of us and laughed the way he did. I'll always remember and cherish the last time he looked at me; I was helping him into a bed we had set up in the living room for him... he opened his eyes wide and looked at the bed and I said "I bet you're wondering where the hell did that come from."... he looked at me and say "yea". I laughed as he made a little smile, glad that I had gotten to know this man.

I'm going to miss you Daddy, though I know you'll be there when I finally get the space to set up the table saw you and mom got me for Christmas and everytime I try to build something or haul out the powerwasher you and mom got me... watching over me and helping me get it right. As always, thanks for being patient with the kid from the suburbs and for all your help!


Your Son-in-Law...