The project we are working on these days is a guest cabin. A place where friends and family can sleep comfortably out of earshot of my snoring, and Jonah the dogs midnight howls at the boogie man. It’s an A-frame design that I have always wanted to build, and its the prototype for a bigger project that Steph and I have in mind. I like this phase of a project. Once I’m confident in the design and layout, I just sort of zone out and bang nails. My mind wanders off and plays on the issues of the world. You know like global warming, presidential elections, whats that smell, important stuff. This week over and over I continuously find myself thinking about Fathers Day, more specifically I’ve been thinking about my fathers. As I lift a board to place it, miss judge my swing, and bring the hammer down on my thumb nail instead, I think about my biological father. Growing up I learned from him, and the obscenities that flow out of my mouth as the board goes sailing through the forest, until recently is about the only thing besides a few stitches that I thought I had collected. The older I get the more I realize the depths of what I learned from being the son of an abusive father and husband, and it took the thoughtfulness and aptitude of others through out my life to make me realize it. The image of what a father is to me is much different now than what it used to be, and it took severing ties with the person who biologically is apart of me, the man whom I was born into believing was dad, to change that.
I remember getting off the school bus at my long time best friends house one Friday to spend the weekend. Josh and I were inseparable growing up, and his Dad, John was a real dad. So I coaxed Josh into playing at his house instead of mine more often. It was an unfair balance for him, but he never said anything. This weekend we would be fixing up tree stands and getting ready for “opening day” of hunting season. For a lot of mid-western family’s opening day is arguably more anticipated then Christmas, and we were definitely feeling the excitement, I especially because it would be my first. Josh’s dad had the four wheeler’s tied down with tools, and saws and anything else we might need while up in the little 7 acre woods that they hunted. The three of us piled onto the machines and rode off. When we got up to the edge of the woods Josh’s Dad said he and josh had a surprise for me, and as we took a new path up to what we would later name with great creativity “The Hill” He parked and turned off the machine. Mr Stemen (as I insisted on calling him back then) had picked a mid sized oak tree at the base of “The Hill” that stood looking over a thicket at the edge of a marsh. Here 3 deer trails converged and meandered right under the oak. About ten feet up the tree Mr Stemen had built a small platform with a seat, and ladder going up. Josh and his dad grinned. As I tried to work through the tangles of emotions in my young self Mr. Stemen hollered at me as he untied the hand saw “get on up into your deer stand and tell Josh and I which bushes to trim up. You will need to have a clear shot to those trails.” I tried to contain my emotions as I pointed out twigs and limbs for them to hack away. This type of behavior from a man was out of place for me.
Later that week I would take my first buck from that tree stand, and that afternoon as we chatted with the neighbors about the day spent afield, Mr. Stemen would introduce me as one of his sons. I would oddly look side ways at Josh to see if I could notice any sign of jealousy, of course there was none. He was his fathers son after all. That evening as Mr Stemen taught me how to butcher, and package my deer just before we started stacking the little white paper blocks away in the freezer, he told me how proud he was of me, gave me a hug and said that if I called him Mr. Stemen again he’d kick my ass. We would go through this ritual hundreds of times over the years that followed. No, I never called him Mr. Stemen again. The ritual I’m describing he started, and he continued it with out my knowledge. He hid it from me while teaching me to fix my truck, arc weld, roof a barn, dry wall a bathroom, wire in a breaker box, split firewood, plumb a toilet, tell corny jokes, find the humor in things, clean a shotgun, sharpen a chainsaw, and love your wife. Its only now as I look back on my childhood, that I realize just what he was doing. At every opportunity John would carefully and quietly remove what I had learned from my Dad, and what I knew Dads to be, how they act, and how I acted as a result. John would delicately replace it with what it means to be a man, what it means to be a husband, and what a father is, so that now…one day…I’ll know how to be one.
Happy Fathers Day to all of the Johns,