Tuesday, June 19, 2012

On Being a Father

I woke up on Father's Day to the sound of my wife yelling at me.

Well, she wasn't actually yelling at me. She was yelling for me. They had let me sleep in, and The Wife was sitting on the love seat, playing on the laptop computer. And then, four-year-old Roni walked up to her, gave a little cough, and puked all over her, the laptop, the love seat, and the floor.

That's when the yelling started. I came stumbling around the corner, half asleep. The Wife gave me a choice: I could take Roni and clean her up, or I could clean up the laptop, the love seat, and the floor. Not being stupid, I chose Roni. I wiped a little bit of barf off of her nightgown, then threw her into the tub. Meanwhile, The Wife was stuck cleaning the vomit off of herself and everything else. (Unfortunately, we have since found that laptop computers don't take well to high volumes of vomit in their keyboards.)

The Wife then spent much of the rest of the day apologizing to me for making me clean Roni up on Father's Day. ("It's Father's Day. You shouldn't have to do that.") The Wife is sweet. First of all, she did the vast majority of the cleanup. Second of all, I wasn't the one who was vomited on. And thirdly, what kind of father would I be if I didn't help clean up my daughter's barf, Father's Day or not?

Being a father certainly has its ups and downs. For every new word learned or unexpected hug, there is a puke clean up or diaper poop-through. The key is that the highs are definitely worth wading through the lows.

I find myself really enjoying the times the kids surprise me. Years ago, my brother started a little family tradition. When riding in a car with my sister's kids, he would tell them they needed to duck whenever they went under a bridge so they wouldn't hit their head. Being naive, gullible children of the 80s, they believed him, and would duck whenever they went under a bridge.

A few years later, my brother had his own kids. They were hardened, cynical children of the 90s, and when they were told to duck when going under a bridge, they balked and (rightfully) said they were in no danger of hitting their heads.

So, the other day, I decided to pass this little family tradition on to my own kids. As I was taking the kids to the library for story time, we had to go under the freeway. I said, "We're going under a bridge. You have to duck so you won't hit your head." My kids, being free thinking kids of the 21st Century, heard the word "duck" and started to quack.

"Quack, quack, quack!" they said.
"What are you doing?" I asked.
Roni answered, "There's a duck under the bridge. Quack! Quack!" Buzz then joined in with several "quacks" of his own.

And since that day, whenever we go under a bridge, either one of them might just start randomly quacking. And every time they do, I shake my head and smile. (I love it when they make me smile.)

I like to think I'm a good father. I do at least some of everything that needs to be done for the kids. I feed them. I change diapers. I bathe them. I do their laundry. I take them to story time at the library. (I'm usually the only father there.) I read to them. I read with them. I play toys with them. I clean up after them. Could I do all of those things better? Of course I could. But I try hard, and do a pretty good job.

But, there's one thing I don't do. I can't do my daughter's hair. Oh, I'll bathe her, wash her hair, and comb her hair, but I just can't seem to fix her hair. The problem is, doing a little girl's hair involves putting rubber bands into her hair.

I've been shown how to do this several times by The Wife and her sister. They make it look easy. All you have to do is twist the rubber band around three or four times and put Roni's hair through it. It sounds simple. It looks simple. Unfortunately, the little rubber band starts at about a quarter of the size of a dime. (That's very small.) And then I'm expected to twist this little thing over around on itself three or four times with my large, sausage fingers? I don't think so!

And even if I manage to get the rubber band twisted, I still have to put it in her hair. I'm sorry, but I always try to not hurt my daughter. Pulling her hair to put a rubber band in it just seems mean. So, it's pretty easy to tell the days that I am in charge. They are the days that Roni looks like a ragamuffin. (It makes me appreciate Buzz that much more. Boy hair is easy.)

In conclusion, I wouldn't give up being a dad for anything in the world. It's never going to be easy. There are always going to be surprises, whether they be bad (puke on a laptop) or good (quacking under a bridge). I just have to keep trying my best to do all I can to help them grow to become good people. (And hope that someday Roni will forgive me when she looks back at pictures from this time-frame and sees that I let her out of the house with her hair looking like that.)

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Ode To My Father

My Dad was a tall, rugged, handsome man. Ron Capell stood an imposing 6 feet 4 inches tall. (6'6" if you include his hard hat.) He was one of the best high school athletes in the history of Arimo. (Started center on a state championship basketball team; batted clean-up on the baseball team; anchored the defensive and offensive lines for football teams that didn't lose a single game in his four years playing.) He wasn't just tough, he was farm tough.

My (ruggedly handsome) Dad
Basically, he was everything any little boy would want to grow up to be like.

So, of course, I look like my Mom.

Don't get me wrong. I love my Mom.  She's a wonderful woman. But, I have never heard her referred to as "ruggedly handsome." Likewise, I have never heard of myself referred to as "ruggedly handsome," either. (When I hear a "not completely hideous" I tally that up in the "compliment" file.)

My Dad passed away six years ago, on the Saturday morning before Father's Day. I miss him. He died about a month after my wife and I first met, and about a month before we went out on our first date. So, he never got to meet her. It's too bad, because he would have loved her. And he would have loved to see how happy she makes me.

As a kid, I really looked up to my Dad. (Literally and figuratively.) He was the biggest guy in the whole town. (Okay, there was one guy who was taller, but Dad could have easily whupped him in a fight.)  I remember being shocked (shocked!) the first time I met someone who was significantly bigger than my Dad. (It was former Idaho Congressman George Hansen, who stood at 6'7" and well over 300 pounds.) I didn't think it was possible.

Dad grew up on the farm, and he stayed on the farm his whole life. He knew how to fix things, and if he didn't, he sure knew how to try to fix things. (We're very different in that way. I give up at trying to fix things very easily. He did not.)

Unfortunately, Dad's ability-to-fix-things gene was handed down to his first child, my sister, and completely missed my brother and I. But, I am reasonably good at going to fetch tools so that someone else (in most cases, The Wife) can fix things while I watch.

I'm not sure how Dad managed to walk around, because he always had an entire tool kit in his pockets. (Actually, I'm even more impressed that he was able to sit down with all that stuff in his pockets.) He always had in his pockets the following items (and I am not exaggerating): a pair of pliers; a pocket knife; several box wrenches (up to and including a 9/16th wrench); a screwdriver; a crescent wrench; a tape measure; a set of allen wrenches; and a set of calipers. And that was the minimum he had in his pockets at any time. He would have more and different things depending on the job at hand. We were always amazed at the amount of stuff he had in his pockets. And sometimes, he was too. Sometimes it would take him a while to dig through his pockets to find the specific tool he was looking for.

Most farmers wear hats. They know they need to keep their heads out of the sun. Some (usually the older ones) would wear straw hats. Most farmers around where I lived would wear baseball (or "trucker's") caps. My Dad, however, chose to wear a hardhat. For about as long as I can remember, my Dad wore a shiny red metal hardhat when he worked on the farm. After a few years most of the red had faded or chipped off.

Over time, the hardhat had been through a lot. There was one time when a cow was charging at Dad. In order to get the cow to stop and change direction, Dad took off his hardhat and whacked the cow on the top of its skull with it. This was successful in stopping the cow. It was also successful in putting a big dent in the top of the hardhat. Dad wore the hardhat with the dent in it for years, then one day we noticed that the dent was gone. We asked him why the dent wasn't there anymore. Apparently, when it rained the water would gather and pool in the dent, and when he would take off the hat or move his head just right, the pooled rain water from the dent would splash down on him. Dad got tired of that problem, so he fixed it. He pushed the dent out with a hydraulic press. (I, of course, would have had no idea how to fix a dent in a hardhat. Dad did.)

Of course, my Dad wasn't perfect. At about the time their three kids were ready to leave home for marriage, college and such, my Mom and Dad's own marriage fell apart. After 26 years together, they got divorced. It was not a happy time, and I was not very pleased with some of the choices my Dad made during this time.

He remarried, and helped raise his new wife's four children as their stepfather. Since I was already out of the house when Dad remarried, I was never very close with his four stepchildren. I never thought much about the impact he had on their lives until Dad's funeral. The youngest of those four children related a simple story. When Dad would enter the house after a long day at work, he would step through the door, take off his hardhat, and drop it on the floor. (My Dad was not a "hat rack" kind of man.) The boy would be downstairs in his room, and when he heard the THUMP of the hardhat, he knew Dad was home.

When my stepbrother related this tale at Dad's funeral, suddenly hundreds of evenings of hearing that hardhat THUMP came racing back to my mind. It always was a pleasant sound. And, at that moment I also realized how important my Dad had been to these four stepchildren, too. He didn't just raise his three biological children, he also greatly influenced the lives of his new family, also.

Dad was always at the ready to help anyone who needed it. There are few people in Arimo who didn't benefit from his generosity, whether it be moving snow with his bulldozer, fixing roads with his road grader, or digging holes with his backhoe. (It helped that he had such great "toys" to help people with.)

From my Dad, I learned great lessons of work ethic and responsibility. I wish I carried those two qualities in the quantities that he did, but, as with most things, I don't quite measure up to him.
My daughter, with Dad's hardhat

Since he happened to die on the day before Father's Day, every year Father's Day is especially poignant. I think of his life. I think of his death. I think of how much I wish he was still here. I think of how I wish my kids could experience the influence of "Grandpa Ron."

And then I realize that the best way for them to experience his influence is if I live the kind of life that would make my Dad proud. Thanks for everything, Dad.