Gifts My Father Gave Me

“Resilient,” my sister Mary Jane (always Janie to me) said when she called with the news, expected but still unwanted, on Tuesday morning, five days before Christmas; “that’s how he held out so long.” “Yeah, he’s, was,” I said, “always that.” Resilient.
Here’s what my father gave me: His name, half of my DNA (let me add that he pulled the car over, short of the hospital, and aided in my birth), and, though I never wanted it, and told him so, his work ethic; that belief that something must always be accomplished. Something.
I inherited,  hopefully, some of my father’s strength, his stubborn commitment to move forward, to carry on, which he did; despite injuries and setbacks, tragedies and disasters, two wars and the grind of getting up each day, going from his full time job to his ‘two nights a week and Sundays’ job, or to one or another of his part time gigs, working to support his family. Seven of us.
Resilience? Yeah; and, as I already stated, a certain stubbornness.
If there is honor in hard work, my father was honorable. I have, even recently, bragged that, at ninety-two years old, he was still working on repairing other people’s clocks, and he did up until even more recently. There are several clocks he didn’t quite get to (the owners were notified); and that, I know, bothered him. Not being strong, fully able, and being, eventually, dependent on others; that probably bothered him the most. Angered him, even.
Fortunately, my brother Ed, and my sisters, and, in particular, Janie, a registered nurse, were able to stay with our father as his health deteriorated. Very grateful for that. The rest of his children, and our half-sister from our father’s first, brief marriage, were able to visit and hang out with my father over the last month. And my dad had a support group of friends he made over his years in Southwest Washington. And, since I’m giving ‘shout outs,’ the doctors and staff at Columbia Memorial Hospital in Astoria did a tremendous job helping my Dad and dealing with his extended family and friends. Sorry we made so much noise during that Seahawks game.
I have to add (adding, again) that my father was quick to laugh, and ever ready to tell even a self-deprecating story. Here’s one of his: This guy says, ‘Hey, Dence, what’d’ya know?’ And I say, ‘Not much,” and, as I’m walking away, I hear him say, ‘That’s for sure.’. And my Dad would chuckle, check for reactions. He was also capable of giving a look that would back Clint Eastwood down. A child didn’t want to see that look directed at him or her, a look more of disappointment than anger. One especially wouldn’t want to see that look twice for the same offense. Anger, I’ve since learned, is most often at or with oneself.
Lying. This was, both my parents said, “Worse than stealing.” Another story: “So, Dad; remember that time my stupid surfing friends were supposed to stay in our motel room in Leucadia, and they said we’d sleep on the beach, and we went down to the campground, and… when you had to come pick up all five of us at the Sheriff’s office in Carlsbad; and I said we were looking for vending machines…” “Yeah.” “And you said we must have been looking for girls…” “Uh huh.” “And Mom said, ‘no, if they said they were looking for vending machines…’ Well… we were looking for girls.” “Knew it.” “Yeah, I know you did. Thanks for not pushing it.”
Anyone who knows even a few things about my father’s life would have to say he was as lucky as he was tough, resilient. He survived war and illness (malaria, twice), and accidents, at least one ‘incident’ in which he had a large chain wrapped around his head and shoulders. He never really talked to me about his war experiences, from Guadacanal to Korea. I know much of it was horrific; but his attitude, even stated (in reference to increased focus on PTSD), was that, “You just have to get past it.” I’m not saying one can; he carried scars, wounds. He and I have never spoken of the car accident in which my mother died. I do remember we went into the back yard, his face still heavily bruised. I read everything on his face, and, I have to assume, he read mine as well.
SOMETHING ELSE I feel compelled to add: If I have a regret, and it’s probably more common than not; with my father being ‘at work’ for most of my childhood, it’s that I was so busy ‘working’ over the last years, with him three and a half hours away. I’d call, sporadically, talk to him until he said he had to go. When I did go to visit, he was still busy with his clocks, I had nothing I had to do down there, and usually went surfing while he worked. We’d meet up to go the the Pig N Pancake (where he was well known), or watch an old western or something (not Fox News, which he preferred) on TV. It was great.
I did, I must, must add, get only half my DNA from my father.


Erwin A. Dence, Sr. about the age he was when I was born. I wouldn’t recommend taking off in front of him (either).

HERE’S A BONUS STORY: I read the above piece to Trish, who has known my father since 1968; and she reminded me of another story, from when she and I had been dating about eight months.  My Mother was, perhaps, more embarrassed because Trish was there. It was my brother Jon’s birthday, a Saturday, and my Dad brought home a tiny, cheap cake; the cheapness pointed out by my Mom. My dad said something about money. Money? Yeah. Money. Suddenly, a karate chop split the 50s era dinette table, two halves crashing down. Trish and I disagree as to whether the cake was also chopped, but, after my Dad fixed the table, he went back to town, came back with… yeah… the same cake. No one said a word about cheapness or money. Happy birthday, Jon.
I think I have mentioned the stubbornness, sort of not getting too much into the passion and the pride. But now, now I am thinking about it. Gifts.

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