Father’s Day 2012

Me and my Dad

My dad will be the first to tell anyone who will listen that Father’s Day is “…more about Hallmark getting rich than anything to do with fathers, because being a father is something you do every day”.

But Father’s Day is as good a day as any to remember a father’s influence and inspiration and to speak those unspoken sentiments that day-to-day concerns tend to place on the back burner for that later occasion that never quite happens.

Dad was an art teacher, but no the usual sort. His high school plays, like Camelot and Alice in Wonderland spoke to the skills and aesthetic he acquired studying at The Art Institute of Chicago, where he met and married my mom. His production of Camelot featured a mechanized folding tree that opened mechanically, seeming to engulf the entire stage. Lit with hundreds of white fairly lights behind a front-lit gauze scenery drop, the unfurling tree appeared to materialize, branches yawning open impressively as the foot-lights dimmed. The effect was mesmerizing, eliciting an audible gasps from audiences not accustomed to Broadway caliber back-drops.

The best part was being included in the set design. My dad would tell me with unmistakable pride, “you get more accomplished in the same amount of time than all my seniors combined”. But I seem to remember many pats on the head, and smiles of encouragement from my senior prop-design fellows.

My sister and I kept the huge plaster of paris masks with realistic acrylic eyes the size of soft balls, which we tottered under the weight of at Halloween. It was then that I had my first foray into the love of interior design. On our trick or treat rounds, we stopped at an industrial age mansion built in the 1800’s to resemble a castle. When the door opened an elderly man smiled down at us, gesturing to 4 cut crystal bowls of candy, asking which one I would like, as he called to a very frail woman in a wheel chair behind him, to look at our masks. I could simply not stop myself – I told him I didn’t want any candy but would love to see the house.

Over my dad’s polite and embarrassed objections, the gentleman smiled and invited us in. It was not quite Grey Gardens, but was certainly a faded monument to the estate’s former splendor. As he led me beneath a great crystal chandelier into a dimly lit drawing room, I gauped open-mouthed at the soaring vaulted ceilings, carved bannisters and peeling faded wallpaper, peeking into the solarium with a fountain gone still at the center of palm trees and orchids. Long after the jack-o-lanterns had been blown out for the evening, I lay in bed, picturing how I might restore those rooms to their former grandeur!

An art teacher didn’t make a much in salary back when, particularly in rural locals. In summer he changed hats without complaint, becoming the school’s custodian at a drop in pay. After work we would head to his wood shop, where he taught me wood carving; a thing he did to supplement our income and “pay dental bills” while quietly receiving regional and national awards for his amazing 3-D wood carvings. These awards and ribbons hung unceremoniously beneath a shroud of wood dust in a corner of his wood shop; dad was never one to put on airs.

On pay day, he would treat my sister and I to an ice-cold soda in a glass bottle, a Baby Ruth candy bar, an Archie comic book, and a trip to the high school football field to fly kites.

Years later parents found themselves in a position of raising my niece when my sister became ill. A brilliant illustrator, and well aware of the challenges faced by a child being raised by grandparents, each day my dad would tuck a 5×7 card into her lunch box revealing two or three lines of a fully illustrated tale, that ended on the last day of school.  The reverse side of each card bore a message line, remindering her that he loved her.

When my mom acquired Parkinson’s Disease he did not flinch at becoming her caregiver, yet the strain has become palpable. These days he lights up again like the tree in Camelot at the sight of my youngest son. Dad sees a kindred soul in him that we all secretly hope to meet in the form of one of our children or grandchildren – that bit of proof that we have passed this way and the best parts of us carry on. When he plays with toys with his grandson, he comes alive with fascinating tales of his own boyhood, visibly reliving memories of a lighter-hearted time.

Last week when I visited, I found it hard not to tear when he took me to the work shop, foretelling that one day all his tools would be passed to me. He then acquainted me with all his tools and his system for organizing their bits blades, and parts. The smell of wood always takes me back to the things we would make together, of either wood or paper.

Here are some things that remind me of projects that have come out of my dad’s shop, that a dad in your life might appreciate….

TheKissingGirls Etsy Shop – Buzz

Dad loved maing paper insect sculptures – the grasshoppers actually jumped!

Colored paper grasshopper, sculpture and wall decoration, Selena bug

This book turned story is the sort of genius he always pulled out of the hat…

Altered Book- Sunday Afternoon Carousel Ride – raiders of the lost art

His wood sculptures were dynamic, intricately colored and were frequently birds of prey with glass eyes, like the beautiful example from Etsy below, by Jason Tenant.

Owl Wood Sculpture Attacking Pose Jason Tennant 2010 – Jason Tenant

Happy Father’s Day to all great dad’s everywhere!