Saturday, June 16, 2018

To the Dads Who are There

Dad’s powerful influence starts with just showing up

By Dorcas Smucker For The Register-Guard
Posted Jun 10, 2018 at 1:02 AM

I think Paul enjoys being the dad of this family.
[photo by Amy]

We went to a friend’s wedding last month, driving to Roseburg on Interstate 5 and then through Winston and out a winding road toward Lookingglass to a sunny backyard full of white chairs and happiness.

Paul, my husband, was in a rare nostalgic mood. After the reception, he drove us around the area to see the famous manhole cover in Lookingglass and all the places his family had lived when he was a boy.

“We used to hike that hill on Sunday afternoons,” he recalled, pointing east from a narrow lane. His parents, Wilton and Anne, had bought a farm in the Lookingglass Valley and mostly grew hay after an attempt at farming ryegrass that had to be hauled two hours to Harrisburg for cleaning. The farm didn’t have a house on it, so the Smuckers rented an assortment of houses in the neighborhood and then moved out as they were sold.

In addition to the houses, the hills and the haying, another theme kept repeating in Paul’s recollections.

“My dad built that building.”

“Dad built that shed, I’m pretty sure.”

“Dad and Steve and I built that pole barn.”

Their construction business had begun almost by accident after a freak snowstorm collapsed many of the roofs in the area. Wilton was a man of many skills, so he and his sons started a new job of building sheds in addition to farming. The boys would prepare the site with post hole diggers, and Wilton was adamant that the hole should be the same diameter all the way down instead of widening at the top. In fact, Steve used to say that Wilton could dig a hole that was wider at the bottom than the top.

Many years later, Paul told me that he has so many good memories of building with his dad. I asked him, “What would you guys talk about?”

He said, “We didn’t talk much.”

I didn’t understand. How could you have good memories if you didn’t have conversation?

Paul went on, “We worked together. He taught me everything I know about construction and a lot of other things.”

All right then. This was apparently a concept like gravity or the Trinity that I had to accept by faith because I couldn’t possibly understand it.

In the early years of our marriage, when we lived in Ontario, Canada, and came back to Oregon for a visit maybe every two years, Paul would always look forward to talking with his dad. We would arrive to Anne's hugs and happy exclamations and to Wilton’s reserved greetings, and then Paul and his dad and maybe a few brothers would sit in the living room and holler in their phenomenally loud voices about ryegrass prices and car insurance.

Paul was convinced that this counted as meaningful time with his dad, bonding and connection and relationship.

I thought it was very strange.

This photo was taken at Emily's graduation party.
I chose it because of all the dads it contains, discussing harvest I'm sure, because that's what dads do.
Though better at affirmation and emotional connection than his dad was, Paul still never resembled the cool spiritual dads in the Focus on the Family magazine that I compared him to, the ones who spontaneously prayed blessings over their kids or played hilarious pranks or sat on their adolescent daughters’ beds and gently talked about boys and prom dresses. Paul mostly ignored the earnest voices telling him to bestow a blessing, reach the children’s hearts, provide an identity, and model some impossible mix of mush and manliness.

Last week, our oldest son Matt flew to Oregon for a Smucker family gathering at a camp in the mountains east of Lincoln City.

Matt lives in Washington, D.C., and works as an engineer, but he comes home for visits at least twice a year. He and I stay up late and I ask about his work, his future plans, nice girls in his life, cooking, church, and of course his feelings, if he has any.

Matt and his dad, however, sit in the same living room where Paul used to talk with Wilton, and they not only talk in too-loud voices about ryegrass and insurance but also about Bitcoin, SpaceX and politics while I listen from a distance.

Strange as it might be, I’ve learned that this is sometimes what father-child bonding looks and sounds like, and I need to accept it by faith and trust the mysterious process.

Matt and his siblings respect, love and deeply appreciate their dad today. “How does that work?” I asked.

“I always know he will help me,” said Jenny, our youngest. “When I had a flat tire at Linn-Benton the other day, I knew I could call him and he would do something.”

“Dad is a fixer and planner. His favorite thing is helping people,” said Emily.

“He taught me the connection between work and money,” Matt said. He went on. "I think it was Benjamin Disraeli who said, ‘History is made by those who show up,’ Maybe we’ve made it too complicated. I think so much of it is just showing up and being there.”

Paul might not have been all that the magazines and I thought he should be, but there’s no question that he showed up. He worked hard, read stories, answered questions, packed the van, drove the van, fixed the van, made rules, built bunk beds, played games, planned trips, had discussions, took us all to church, and helped the kids figure out their finances.

Our six children are all sensible and hard-working adults. We moms and our sympathy and hugs are important, but there’s a powerful influence in a resolute dad who shows up for his family every day and does what needs to be done.

Forty-five years later, the Smucker-built sheds around Lookingglass are still standing, straight and strong.


Here Paul is serving a pizza supper to the kids who came and helped weed the hedge and haul off blackberry vines.



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