In a couple months, many of us will sit around tables with families and friends, talking about the things we are thankful for. It’s a little early, but there is something I’m thankful for — that my father never tired of being a parent.
I’m sure we all can say that, but I really mean it. When my dad met my mom, he was in his early 40s. He was just about done helping to raise his first three children, and my mom was coming in with two younger children she had been supporting herself.
Many new couples would’ve stopped right there. When it was all said and done, my dad would bring up five kids, and that’s a pretty solid contribution to society.
Luckily for me, however, my dad wanted to parent some more, as did my mom. And because of that, I came into the world, as did my younger sister, Renee.
This isn’t a column about that, however. I’m borrowing this space because my dad just celebrated his 85th birthday. And because journalists take a vow of poverty, I could never get him the gift he truly deserves, not only for reaching this special milestone, but because my dad is really one fantastic human being.
He grew up in the upstate town of Salamanca during the Great Depression. By the time he was in middle school, the country was in the middle of World War II. When he left high school a little early to join the U.S. Army, we were entrenched in the Korean War.
Yet, my dad never drank. Never smoked. If anyone needed help with something, he was there, without hesitation.
Because he grew up during the Depression, he never wasted anything. Not food. Not clothes. Not junk. My dad had a 1978 Pontiac station wagon, and he drove that thing over a dozen years through two engines, a couple crappy paint jobs, and so many miles, I bet General Motors would be impressed. He only parted ways with it when his son-in-law needed a car.
My parents divorced some years ago, after my dad retired from his railroad welding job and moved to Florida. I lived in Florida, too, because hey, it was Florida. But my dad took his divorce hard — when he loves, he loves unconditionally. He loved my mom, and I know she loved him. But sometimes, things don’t work out.
For the first time in my existence, I saw my dad not positive about life, not positive about the future. He was about to hit his 70s, and he feared he would sail into later life alone.
After a few months of seeing my dad go through this, I had enough. My newspaper had a calendar listing for the local senior center, and there was square dancing that night. I showed it to my dad, and said, “You are so going to this.”
My dad dismissed it right away. “Square dancing is for couples. You have to have two people.”
“Look, dad, it’s a senior center. You will hardly be the only one going alone. Imagine some sweet lady going there, hoping she’ll find a dance partner. But you didn’t go, and so she just sits there, watching everyone else have a good time. Is that what you want?”
Of course he didn’t. My dad could never imagine putting anyone through that. So begrudgingly, he dressed up in his best square dance outfit, and headed to the senior center.
You know how this story goes, thanks to all that foreshadowing — he did indeed find a nice lady there who also went alone. It was the first time she’d been out in months, since her husband’s passing. And she, too, feared journeying into her later life alone.
But Helen Wood was not someone who would just settle for anyone. And she didn’t have to. My dad was exactly the partner she wanted and needed. The two of them have been inseparable since.
Helen’s a bit older than my dad, and her health is not what it used to be. But my dad — the man who can fix and do just about anything — ensures she can live and thrive at home. Yes, he gets a little help from at-home nursing care, but although he turned 85 last weekend, my dad still runs around like he’s 60.
Many times when we talk about our parents, we do it from our own perspective, sometimes to the point where we talk more about ourselves than our parents. And trust me, I’m guilty of that just as much as anyone else.
When my dad sees his kids, his grandkids, his great-grandkids, he smiles that big smile only he can do. He says he’s the luckiest man for having all this family surrounding him.
But no, Richard Hinman — we’re the lucky ones. All of us are who we are because of you, and I’m sure I speak for everyone in this family — we are proud of that.
So happy birthday, dad. And by the way, can I borrow $20?
The author is editor of The Riverdale Press.