As he walked home from the bus, a neighbour opened her door to call to him.
"Has the baby arrived, Jim"?
"Yes", he said, pausing for effect. "It's a female"..........
That was my introduction to the neighbourhood. He liked to repeat that short story over the years, grinning at the face I would make, knowing that he had redeemed himself many times since that first day in his role as my Dad. Perhaps he really did want a son, or maybe he just wanted to recreate the loving relationship he had with his father. But as years went by, he was the first to tell anyone who would listen how happy he was to have had a daughter as his first-born. Actually, he never did get that son, with another daughter arriving five years later. He seemed pretty darned happy about that too. An understatement. He was thrilled.
I grew up loving my Dad in so many ways. He was a kind, gentle father. He was always trying to tell me how to do stuff, better, as if he wanted to save me the frustration of doing it wrong. He would always listen, to anything I was willing to share. Then he would give me his opinion and advice. I rarely admitted I was listening, and I seldom followed his advice, unless it involved painting or fixing things or jazz. I think he knew I had to try everything my way. Dad was a curious man, and seemed to have a lot of knowledge tucked away, and even into his 90's we would all be amazed at what he knew and remembered.
Dad's goal was to teach me everything he would have taught a son. I painted walls and fences, from the age of about 5. I hammered, drilled, soldered, measured, refinished, and peered over his shoulder as he rewired some old lamp that refused to light. I often wondered about the chicken/egg aspect of my mechanical aptitude. We were both lucky, I think. To this day, as I try to fix something or paint the house I smile as I hear him telling me how to get it just right.
Dad loved to tell stories. Most famous in his arsenal were the army motorcycle stories. They were meant to entertain, shock, scare and otherwise warn his daughters away from ever riding one. Boyfriends, on the other hand, were told about the joy of riding fast down a highway on an old green Harley.
One story my dad would pull out to impress us was about the time he took a lesson in gliding - yes, in a plane with no motor. Surprising, for dad, because he really wasn't a daredevil or a risk taker (he wouldn't even try mustard because he thought it was hot). His happy memory of the lesson might just have had something to do with the infamous "Sunny" - the instructor shown in the inset photo. This must have been in the 60's. and I guess she was pretty... hot... as he used to tell the captive listeners. I found these pictures last year, in an album I must have missed all those years ago. I was surprised to see that she was indeed very lovely, and that the plane did exist. He wasn't above a bit of exaggeration when it suited him....
He was also famous for laughing at his own jokes - there was some rare Australian bird joke that would make him cry from laughing as he tried to get to the punch line, which never did happen. It was always the hit of every party - not the joke, just watching him laugh. He had a love of life that kept him young at heart in many ways. He loved to get goofy with his granddaughters, until they were too old to play along. He never completely lost the little boy inside.
Last week as I madly re-photographed all of my felt bowls in the glorious sunshine, I thought of him. Dad had an old Nikon and for many years he belonged to a camera club in Winnipeg. My sister and I were the grudging models for many of his assignments, ditto the dog and every still-life object in the house. It got him out into nature, and many of his best pictures were from that realm. Memories....the lower the f-stop number, the wider the aperture, the shorter the depth of field, he would say, as I tried to master the all-manual camera. I still find myself chanting this mantra as I fight with light. Think of it as a tunnel, long or short...narrow or wide. Memories.
As Father's Day approaches, I want to acknowledge the legacy of my Dad. Everyone had a Jimmy story, and everyone who met him in his later years, who didn't really know him at all, still commented on what a "gentleman" he was, how interested he was in what they had to say. He loved people, and people loved him. And of all the photos I have of Dad, this is what reminds me of him the most. Relaxing in the sun, letting the hustle of a busy world pass him by.
Happy Father's Day, Dad.