To the Contrary

Dad's deserve their day

Andrew Dys is exactly right. Sometimes.

It is true moms are the bedrock of life, as his Father's Day column says. If you're in the desert and have drunk all your water, she'll give you hers. Then, she'll try to comfort your distress as you watch her fade.

Mom will work hard and love you even when you stink. And it is true that Dad is handy with a remote.

But just before he sat down to watch "Mannix" reruns, my dad did a few other things. First, so Mom could stay home with us kids without taking a second job, or even a first one, he worked as a lineman for Duke Power, a trade that gave his brother a burn on his elbow and forearm that required a big graft of flesh from his buttocks to cover the bone. It was a trade that broke the hip and spine of one of Dad's crewmen when he fell out of the cherry picker after a jolt from a power line. It was a trade that killed another of his crewmen when he touched live wires and was electrocuted while he was strapped to a creosote pole.

That good, plain man, burnt dead on the pole, was once my Sunday school teacher. He was a dad. He left a wife and two daughters who thought he could do more than flick a remote. I'd be surprised if he'd ever had a beer.

The one with the broken hip and spine was my Pee Wee football coach. We were the Blue Team. Undefeated. He had two daughters, too.

Dad worked as a Duke Power lineman. Those were the boys he hung out with. A week straight of overtime in ice storms. Dark green, sweat-soaked Dickies work clothes in summer.

He clenched a mortgage and attached a working-man's lake place on Lake Greenwood to it a couple of years later. He built a dock with old power poles as pilings. He made my 8-year-old self fetch nails and boards, hold the planks he cut and fish around in the water whenever he dropped something.

See, he was teaching.

On those lineman's wages, he bought a plywood boat with a faded green Johnson 25-horsepower kicker. After a summer of bailing bilgewater with a Clorox bottle, he fiberglassed it in the carport. He made me hold the woven fiberglass strips as he spread epoxy with a paintbrush. He had to tinker with the engine almost daily on summer afternoons just to pull us kids skiing -- over and over and over. He sat at the tiller.

The fire builder

He woke up first every day in winter to build a fire in the woodstove to save on energy costs.

Mom usually cooked, but Dad built the fire.

He resigned from Duke to work on his own as a fertilizer salesman. He bought a cab-over International tractor truck and had it made into a 3,000-gallon tanker. He arranged that my 16-year-old self should drive that truck, probably not quite legally, to make deliveries and earn money and still play the football and baseball that are so important to us guys. I earned my car and my dirt bike and part of my college tuition that way.

A tornado hit the house. He repaired it and contracted others to do what he couldn't do alone. He sold that house after 20 years at a pretty good profit. He bought another and improved it, sold it, bought another, improved it, sold it.

He finally built himself and my mom a house in Lake Lure, the place where he met Mom some 57 years ago at a dance.

Mom changed all the diapers. She finally took a job when my little brother turned 5 and went to kindergarten. Dad provided the house, the heat and the washing machine.

The same bottle

In my time at home, his "drinking with the boys" consisted of a bourbon and Coke with my uncle at Christmas. He used the same bottle of bourbon every Christmas for years. He was director of training union at the Baptist church, which meant he was sinning, I guess.

It is true. Dads don't hold a candle to moms.

But in my experience, if Mom built the home, Dad built the world the home lived in.

He has a remote now, and he watches the Movie Channel. He snores through every John Wayne movie and knows how every one of them comes out.

Mom still cooks. Dad still changes the oil, though he never changed a diaper. He fixes the drains, though anybody can see it hurts for him to climb under the sink. He's ornery and doesn't show much tenderness. He used to be 6-foot-2. Now his legs don't go quite straight, and his back is compressed. I'm 6-foot-2 and look down on him now.

I look up to him, too.

I remember once when a wheel bearing went out on the big fertilizer tanker near Clinton. He drove down with another truck and towed the tanker, one right rear wheel screeching, to a nearby vacant lot. He jacked up the truck and removed the old bearing. He went to the parts store and bought a new one and brought it back to me with a box of green-black grease. He told me what to do, gave me the toolbox, and left me there with it.

I just can't see my mom doing that.

I fought that bearing all that hot afternoon. Sweat drenched my shirt, and I greased myself better than I greased the bearing.

The tanker and I rolled home well after dark.

Happy Father's Day, Pop.

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