I have fuzzy memories of snuggling into the crook of my dad's elbow with my blanky and my thumb in my mouth, and feeling safe as he rocked me back and forth until I fell asleep. I'm not sure if the memories are mine or if they're from hearing my dad tell me about this. Sometimes I wish I was that small again and could just settle into his arms for safe keeping. My dad was larger than life at that point. He was super dad and totally capable of keeping the dangers of life at bay. Funny how, as I got older, my perceptions of my dad changed, but then I guess that's what happens to everyone who becomes a teenager and thinks they know it all.
I was a pretty mouthy teenager who didn't like working in the garden or basically much of what my parents wanted me to do. I would generally do what they wanted without too much fuss, but once in a while I would be pretty stubborn about not doing something. Each year my family had a garden, this was how we got our food and all six kids had a part to play. We spent hours tilling, fertilizing, planting, hoeing, weeding, watering, harvesting and preserving our food supply for the next year. We knew that if we didn't do our part, then we wouldn't have food. One year my job was to hoe several rows of beans and keep them weed free. This was usually done early in the morning before the heat hit. Hoeing is essential for many reasons, not the least of which it breaks up the dirt so the water can flow down into the ground more easily.
I had put off hoeing the beans for a few days and the garden needed watering. Frustrated with me, my dad grabbed me, walked me out to the garden, put a hoe in my hands, and told me in no uncertain terms that I was going to hoe those beans.
It was the middle of the day, right at the peak of summer heat. It was hot and miserable. I was so mad, I didn't want to hoe those beans. "You're nothing but a mean old Hitler dad!" I yelled at him.
Dad raised his right hand and simply said, "Sieg Heil, daughter. Now get hoeing!" And I did while he stood there and watched until he was satisfied that I wasn't going to kill the beans with my temper and that I would finish the job.
Hitler dad has become a joke between my dad and I over the years. There are moments I tell him he's an HD. And it's true, he can be a Hitler Dad, but he can also be a Hero Dad.
A Hitler Dad when he makes me hoe those beans or take care of those awful chickens. When he takes us on a tour of the county jail (he was a cop) and closes the door to the cell, leaving us all inside while he walks away. When he sleeps through my phone call at 12:30 in the morning because the Dodge Dart won't start in the middle of a snowstorm and I'm stuck at school. When he tells me, "It's my constitutional right as your father to tell what to do." "You're right, Dad," I say, "Just as it's my constitutional right as your daughter to listen to you, and then do what I want to do anyway." And then I sit back and watch his face go red.
A Hero Dad when he buys me the ugliest $300 brown car after I come home from serving a mission and a few months later co-signs my first car loan with me, because I really want a Jeep instead. When we serve together in the same reserve unit until he retires and I see firsthand the kind of Sailor I want to be when I grow up. When he holds my hand and just lets me cry on the bed as my heart breaks because my younger brother is the first to get engaged and I'm the oldest in the family. When he's so proud of me that he brags to all his friends about what I'm doing with my life. When he lets my drive the '69 Dodge Dart for three years while I'm going to school , so I don't have to buy a car. When he tells me he worries about me and prays for me every day.
Dads everywhere can run the gamut of frustrating and authoritarian to loving and tender. And my dad is all of the above, and a hero.
P.S. Dad has been wanting me to tell this story for a while now. Hope you like it.