Sunday, June 21, 2009

Crusher Bill--A Fathers Day Tribute

Today is Fathers Day, and my brother, Ross, and I are spending it with Crusher Bill (my father's nick-name--his business was crushed limestone). He also just turned 87. What a life he has lived. I've written about him before, about his service in WWII as a Navy fighter pilot--getting shot down in the Pacific and being rescued by a submarine--, about his outrageous stories, his never-ending energy, his ability to live life full-out. He's a member of the Great Generation, lived through the Great Depression, built his wealth from the ground up, supported six kids, and now breeds and runs race horses (he was at the track yesterday to see four of his horses run!).

I continue to be shocked at his slight stature when I see him, because he has always been larger than life to me. There is a part of me that still believes he may beat the odds and be immortal. I just cannot imagine life without him.

He and I have often been at cross purposes, him being very critical of some of my life choices, me being highly critical of the way he treated me. There have been years when I didn't speak to him, there have been years when he "disowned"me for one thing or another. Thank goodness, that is water under the bridge now.

He is a staunch conservative, I'm a wild-eyed (in his words) liberal. The one thing that has brought us together is my work at Promise House. He is very proud of the work we do and is proud of me for heading it up.

He is the kind of parent who tells everyone he knows how proud he is of you, but he never says it to you. That used to really make me hot and hurt my feelings, but that's just who he is--he was never privvy to the "positive parenting" model of child-rearing.

The truly remarkable thing about my father is his total lack of martyrdom or sense of feeling burdened about life. And he's had plenty to feel burdened by--his older brother flew the coop to Brazil at age 19 and left him to deal with my very hard to deal with grandmother, his father died when he was 14-- he was then raised by a worse than Dickensonian step-father, left college to go to war, came back, got married and had six kids in six years, went bankrupt and had to move to Texas for work, got fired from that job for his inability to follow rules (a true entrepreneur), and finally built his own lime-stone crushing business.

He was hard on all of us, but especially hard on my oldest brother. He was uncompromising, rigid, abusive at times, loud, and obnoxious. But he was also fun, creative, hilarious, a softy if you talked to him just the right way, and loved music, film, live theatre, and fun. He was also the one who taught me that "no one is going to toot your horn for you but you", and that "10% of the population run the world, and the other 90% wonder what happened--don't be part of the 90%!"

He is also the reason I finished my doctorate--"Damn, I'll probably be dead before you finish that damn thing", and is the voice in my head (good or bad) that keeps me moving forward.

My stepmother, Pat, died suddenly last summer and very unexpectedly, and that has thrown him for a loop. He is quite a bit older than she was and the last thing either of them expected was that she would die first. He has finally aged this year, I'm sure from the grief and strain of her loss. I asked him the other day how he was and he said, "I've got about three years to live and about 10 years of work to finish--you do the math!" So like him.

The only up-side to her death is that he has allowed all of us to get much closer to him. And that is a joy. Kids never get tired of hearing their parents' stories, and I'm no different. I don't care if I've heard them a thousand times, I still love hearing him tell them.

So, Crusher Bill, happy Fathers Day. I gotta say, you did it your way, and we all are the better for it. I love you.

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