“Sometimes the poorest man leaves his children the richest inheritance,” says Ruth E. Renkel. Remembering relationships characterized by abiding love, where life lessons were modeled by an authentic hero who displayed strength and humility in equal measure, readers reflect on priceless intangible gifts bestowed from father to daughter.
I remember my father holding me up to the night sky in 1969 and telling me there were men on the moon at that moment. It meant a lot to my dad, who has a master’s degree in electrical engineering and an MBA. I just remember him holding me. Dad held me up at other pivotal moments, as well.
In school, when I found advanced algebra difficult, he patiently went through problems with me, even though I had waited until ten o’clock on the night before a big test to ask him for help. In college, when I tried out a few majors but couldn’t settle on one, my dad recommended accounting. I listened and met my husband in Accounting 101. I had a job waiting for me out of college and a good career.
When I moved a thousand miles away from home, Dad helped me drive a moving truck filled with my bedroom furniture, and he gave me the courage to face living in my first big city. When we headed for the airport, as he drove, I cried. How was I going to find my way back to my new apartment? He patiently retraced the freeways and talked me through it, but I still wept. I would miss him so much. Years later, he told me he was the only passenger crying in line, waiting to get his ticket. My sweet daddy.
On my wedding day, right before we headed down the aisle, we both started to cry. I was going to stay in that big city so far from home. So far from him and Mom and my brother and sister. I turned to him as they opened the doors so I could meet my groom and asked him, “Dad, please don’t let me fall.”
“Never,” he answered gruffly, his voice thick with tears.
When Dad visits, we always find time to go out and look at the night sky. Sometimes we see the constellations, which he taught me about so long ago, or we spy heat lightning on a warm summer’s night. He has always held me up. From that night so long ago when the first men walked on the moon until now, when I’m learning to accept his growing frailty, Dad is a constant presence, giving me hope, help, and confidence.
Growing up the daughter of a dairy farmer, my most frequent tea patron was not a duchess or a queen but a sometimes-whiskered farmer with smelly dungarees who would reward me for rolling hay bales down in the field all day by stopping by for a bit of tea. He is a big man but would somehow manage to fit the tiny chair that was in my playhouse, the springhouse of the family farm.
The most meaningful sacrifice Dad made for me was a purchase made in 1965 out of his very first milk check. You see, I fingered the keys on my grandmother’s player piano next door, and my mother thought I had a God-given gift. She begged my dad to purchase a piano for me. He had just bought the farm from his parents, who moved there in 1931, shortly after coming to America from Croatia. The only thing he asked of me in return was that I play for him every night as he read his farm magazines. I made good on that promise, and although I now have a much more ornate 1877 Decker Brothers concert grand, I still love playing the piano and will never forget the $600 sacrifice Dad made for me many years ago.
Now an octogenarian, I was the youngest child born to Edwardian parents in Scotland just before the onset of World War II. Although my upbringing was strict and in many ways of another era, it was nevertheless also very loving. My father was a gifted artist, in more than one sense of the word. Skillful with paints and brushes, his other passion was the mystical world of magic, a profession which brought him both accolades and renown. On more than one royal occasion, he performed for the House of Windsor.
As a teenager, my father asked me to accompany him to a gala banquet that my mother was unable to attend. Incredibly shy, I was more than hesitant to agree, but sensing my reluctance, my father gave me these words of advice: “Just remember when you enter that room, you are as good as anyone in there. Not better but every bit as good.” That phrase helped me understand that most people are reticent about walking into a room full of strangers, but if you bring that measure of equality to mind, it removes the trepidation. His second piece of advice was that if you should find yourself in company beyond your understanding, simply listen. This will accomplish two things. First of all, you will not embarrass yourself, and more importantly, you may learn something.
I have carried these words with me throughout my life and credit them with giving me confidence. Over the years, having moved and lived in many different countries and cultures, those words of wisdom often helped me to rise to the occasion, breaking the ice and forming new and interesting friendships.
ANNE MARIE RECTOR
Belleville, Ontario, Canada
Every so often, my father would sit down to draw. Usually it was while I was drawing also, and he would give me tips. Once, when I was four, I was sketching a man in a hat. I drew it the way most kids do, with a circle for a head and something that looked like a cake on a plate on top. “Very nice,” he said, “but that’s not the way a hat sits on the head,” and he took one of his own hats to show me how it fit down over his ears. I don’t know how well I drew this, but I remember his lesson made me feel very grown-up.
Through the years, we did other drawings together. Once, I was drawing the house in the yard behind us, a three-story Queen Anne, and trying to capture every shingle. But my dad, sitting down and picking up a pencil, showed me how to suggest. “Just make a few shingles,” he said, “and the mind fills in the rest.”
When I was in high school, he read about an important display that would be shown at our local art museum. He happened to be taking a few days off and said he would pick me up after school. What I remember most was the excitement surrounding the exhibit—reporters and photographers and the flash of cameras. And there I was with my dad seeing something remarkable.
I majored in art in college, and though I drifted later into English, I always remember his insights and passions, his urging me to really look at things to make my work even better.
Catskill, New York
One of the first and most valuable lessons that my father taught me was the ability to tie my shoes, and with that the ability to know my left from my right. I had a time trying to keep those two straight. We would practice every day when he would come home from work, and though I was constantly frustrated, he was patient and kind. After what seemed like an eternity of afternoon shoe classes, my father struck on an ingenious idea: He took a marker and made a large L on my left shoe and a large R on my right. He also included a little o on the left shoe and a little i on the right shoe, so when my feet were together, they spelled my name, Lori. Only dad and I knew the secret. The confidence he gave me in this knowledge was a great foundation for the rest of my life—to be able to see things more simply to solve a problem.
LORI ANN PRINS
My father was born in 1904 in Fillmore County, Minnesota, the youngest of eight children and the only son of one parent born before the Civil War and the other during that conflict. Many sons born into this sequence of siblings would most certainly have claimed some degree of status above the seven sisters. Not so, my father. He was a shy fellow, friend of them all, tamed beyond nature by the throes of the Great Depression. Thus, he was a quiet doer of all things necessary to keep a home functioning well. Nary a painter, plumber, electrician, or other specialist crossed the threshold of my childhood home. We were social but contained, protected from the slings and arrows of the economy, stimulated to produce, and taught by example.
I never heard my dad argue, use bad language, or behave in a negative manner. He was too busy doing. In a rare philosophical moment, he told me that his goal in life was to be a provider. He certainly succeeded in providing me with the extraordinary level of confidence that he wordlessly modeled, and that has made an enormous difference in my life.
VIRGINIA HUDSON YOUNG, PH.D.
Lee’s Summit, Missouri
Find more moving tributes to fatherhood in the May/June 2020 issue of Victoria magazine, available on newsstands and at Victoriamag.com.