Life with Father:
My wife has always had a healthy respect for my father – as one should have for someone who has always been there for us through every house building and house renovation we’ve ever been through – not with cash, so much – but with sheer hard physical labor and great skill.
There are many things about my father – My wife doesn’t understand. I believe a lot about understanding my father requires some knowledge of where he came from – the farm – and the time period in which he was raised – the great depression.
Now, my wife’s mother went through the great depression living on a farm. But they had been living in the city and circumstances dictated their return to the farm – so to my mother-in-law – farm life was a form of exile. To my father, and his tight-knit group of relations circling Jevnaker Church – it was community. And for that community – he always had a certain longing.
Dad was 91 on April 30. Sometimes it seems almost overnight my father has gone from a giant of a man – not in size – but in ability – to someone in their second childhood. After years of saws and planers whining in his shop class – his hearing is negligible. His eye-sight isn’t much better. After trying to lift something far too heavy in his mid eighties – his back and hips are not good – and he walks with a cane. Most surprising to me – the strength of his strong arms is gone. I once watched him yank on a trailer stuck in the ditch – so hard – he broke the bolts attaching the tongue to the trailer.
Unfortunately, my father never developed any hobbies. Work has always been his hobby. So, when he comes to visit – I have to line up tasks to keep him occupied. He is always about getting the job done – fast as possible. He stayed over the past couple nights, and we bucked and split a cord of wood. Dad’s job was running the hydraulics on the wood splitter – while I did all the bull work. He always questions the need for a coffee break – or even a lunch break (“I’m not hungry!”) We don’t have him out too often. I need to recuperate between visits.
Nothing would do but we bring out “the Eastvold log splitter” from my brother’s place. while most people pay $1000 to $1500 for these devices – “the Eastvold log splitter” is a concoction of parts gleaned from various ources and put together with help from Rube Goldburg – very little money involved. The frame is two pieces of an old John Deere tractor frame. The splitting blade is a hacked off piece of a grader blade, the hydraulic resevoir is from a coal furnace hot-water heater, the axel and wheels are from a small 1960s car and the oversize hydraulic piston was never meant for anything as small as slitting logs.
The engine – from one of my old snowblowers – is much larger than necessary. Dad was going to fix something on the snowblower for me – and lost it for about ten years. We finally rediscovered it and bolted it to the log-splitter. At one point, the engine was running rough, and I took my eyes off him for a couple of minutes – and he had the engine half dissembled.
I had to go to an appointment – so my wife asked my father if he’d like to watch TV. At home he has a sound system with ear-muffs that allows him to watch. At home we have no such thing – so he has to sit very close to the TV with the sound high enough so the neighbors can hear. I’d told my wife he’d enjoyed Laurel and Hardy the night before – so she looked for old movies. She put on a 1940s Audry Hepburn movie, but after a short period of time – he lost interest. So she saw “Deadliest Catch,” and thought – “Norwegians, hard work – perfect.”
For a bit dad seemed interested. Then one of the crew members, on one of the boats, developed an inguinal hernia – which allowed a portion of his intestine to migrate to his scrotum – greatly enlarging the scrotum. The show depicted him – multiple times – exposing himself to other members of the crew – who were reacting with horror and amusement. Though this was fuzzed out on screen – my wife, squeamishly sitting watching this with my father thought “What must he be thinking?” My father, finally, with a rather puzzled look said, “I think we can turn the channel.” My wife was so embarrassed about this she could hardly tell me about it later.