Our dad died in 2003 at age 96, and at that time, I was resigned to let him go: I thought "God must need him more than we do." Honestly, old as I was, that's a judgment I wouldn't have been able to make much earlier...because we always needed Dad, at least I know I did, but I also knew that since my mother's death five years earlier, my dad wanted most of all to rejoin her.
Dad regularly put other's needs and happiness before his own. Selfishly, I wanted to hang onto him forever even as I saw the fatigue in his eyes and his occasional stumbling step. To the end, he was always the helper, the fixer, the calm voice of wisdom and love. I may have seen my dad angry twice in my life; that fact made my own temper hard to understand, for Dad was always in command, all-knowing, sweet tempered, and calm. I asked him about this once. He told me that his two older brothers (he was third of nine children) fought constantly. It was mostly the fault of the second oldest, Dad said, who was hot-tempered. Dad decided not to follow that example.
And I think in any case, anger wasn't in his make up. Dad was interested in what makes things work, and he followed that inclination by commuting by rail to MIT from Fall River, Mass, to earn a degree in engineering in 1930. It wasn't an auspicious time to graduate. His own father had wanted Dad to follow in his monument (gravestone) business, but that wasn't Dad's intent. He left for St. Louis, MO, with my mother to take a job offered by a friend's father. By the time he arrived, the job had disappeared. Times were tough then. Dad worked for a while in an auto parts store, and he told me of waking up one morning with 5 cents and a loaf of bread in the house. If it were not for the generosity of neighbors, particularly one in the military who shared his paycheck, going hungry was a definite option.
After my brother was born in St. Louis, my Dad took my mother and their baby to Maine where he had been offered a job working on a farm for food. It was a long, cold winter trip in an unheated car, and on arrival, farming in Maine proved hard scrabble, and the food was limited to basics for survival. (In fact, the hardships there cemented my mother's later distaste for country living.) Eventually, though, times improved. By the time I was born (4th of six, five of us girls), my Dad was working in Columbia, PA. He'd moved into quality control engineering. When the war broke out, he was exempted from military service, and he moved from the manufacture of Cook washing machines to the manufacture of military aircraft.
One of my earliest realizations about my Dad was the respect with which others treated him. It was respect well deserved. Dad was the problem solver. Dad was the one everyone turned to for help. Around my Dad, I felt completely secure and really very special to be Bill Lord's daughter.
I don't remember my Dad playing games with us. I do remember him taking us swimming on hot summer nights...after he'd worked all day. I remember him showing us how to use tools and allowing us to mess around his basement work bench. I remember him fixing our car...in fact I remember impatiently calling him out from under the car on many occasions because it was time to take the family somewhere or time for dinner. And I remember my Dad tutoring me and my sisters patiently in algebra many many nights throughout high school. I owed my A's in math to him. Realizing this, I took symbolic logic in my freshman year of college to avoid math, and I found myself floundering. After weeks of panic, I decided I needed to follow Dad's example and work my way through problems step-by-step: I earned a B.
But my best memories of my Dad are being around him while he worked. Dad always sang. He didn't have a great singing voice, but that didn't matter because he was making up his songs as he went along. The songs were about whatever he was doing and also running commentary about the kid with him. They were funny, filled with Dad's quirky, good natured humor. They were the one thing that could force me to smile when I was in a perfectly awful pout and determined to stay there. Pouting was impossible around Dad.
I don't remember receiving a great deal of advice from Dad. We all just knew how we should act by watching him. He was the original, "do as I do." He did recommend once that I not drink gin. This is advice I've taken over the years...except once when I had the opportunity to try out some authentic moonshine from West Virginia. It reminded me of a time I asked my Dad if he'd gone to a speakeasy during prohibition. He told me no, but he had gone to the beach at night to meet the rum runners to buy whiskey for his Dad. My grandfather, as a result of his stonecutter's trade, suffered painfully from dust in his lungs, and he drank to kill the pain.
But if Dad missed out on speakeasies, he didn't miss out on fun. After my mother's death, he reminisced about the times they went to Horseneck Beach on Cape Cod to fry eggs and heat beans by fireside as the sun set. His and my mother's happiness was low key. They deeply loved each other and were happy with simple, inexpensive pleasures. My mother said she never wanted to live without my dad, and I can understand why. Dad survived Mom by five years, and he spoke to her every day of those years. Dad loved his kids; we all knew that, but his love for my mom was the deep passion of his life. Still, no one knew my Dad who didn't feel lifted up by his acquaintance. Dad was a common man and an uncommonly wonderful guy. I'll miss him this Father's Day.