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Sharing Dad: A man big enough for more than just one family

By: M.V. Moorhead

June 09, 2007

With his twin brother, my father was the youngest boy of a large northwestern Pennsylvania farm family of Scottish descent. Dad spent his life as a big-rig truck driver, delivering everything from gasoline to magazines around the Northeast.

It was a job he enjoyed and in which he took great pride. He loved road travel—it was on a road trip with a friend to the 1939 Mardi Gras in New Orleans that he met my mother, Fannie MacLeod.

Dad was a quiet but friendly man, very emotional, very resistant to confrontation. He loved vegetable gardening and had some definite talent for it, and few things gave him more pleasure than eating stuff from his own garden—corn, zucchini, peppers.

He loved animals, especially a much-lamented retriever named “Guffer” (my dad’s pet names were pungently phonosemantic; he dubbed a lizard of mine “Squatley”). Guffer had died before I, the youngest of the five kids, came along in 1962, but Dad’s stories of him made me feel like I knew him.

Dad also loved all kinds of birds, but had a peculiar affinity for crows, which he insisted were the smartest of them all, an assertion he backed up with the claim that he had never seen one as roadkill—you’d see owls dead on the road all the time, he noted, despite their proverbial wisdom.

He loved swashbuckler movies, especially the Leslie Howard version of The Scarlet Pimpernel.

He loved Bob Hope and Jonathan Winters. He loved sports, especially baseball, especially the Pittsburgh Pirates. He loved poetry, and read it (or recited it) to us kids—his favorites were Poe’s “The Raven,” Robert Service’s “Cremation of Sam McGee” and Thayer’s “Casey at the Bat.” He wrote poetry, too—sentimental stuff in the style Edgar Guest, though to my mind livelier and wittier than Guest’s—and he passed his enthusiasm for verse on to me.

But maybe this recounting of Dad’s traits and preferences is itself too close to sentimentality. For all his sociability, there was a melancholy side to my dad as well, part of which I would attribute to the early death of his twin brother, my Uncle Bob, in the late ‘60s.

Dad drank too much beer, and would probably be considered a functional alcoholic, and although he was never remotely abusive toward Mom or us, his drinking did cause Mom some real pain and created some tension in the house, especially in the first few years after his retirement.

All the same, he and Mom were devoted to each other and unflinchingly devoted to their kids, and seemed to truly love and enjoy each other, right up until Dad died in 1998, at the age of 85, after struggling briefly with respiratory illness.

By then, I had been married a few years. My wife’s parents had been understandably unsure about their daughter’s decision to marry an unemployed, penniless actor and writer, but nonetheless they treated me with great welcoming kindness, and within a very short time I had grown close to them.

My father-in-law was a handyman—he had been a Navy Seabee in the Pacific Theater of WWII—and he may have been a little been disappointed that his new son-in-law had few skills in that area. But he was always respectful and encouraging of my career, and one Thanksgiving when I was out of work and pretty discouraged he declared over dinner that he was thankful not only for his daughter but for me.

Though they were both fun-loving and bottomlessly generous with their time and efforts, my father-in-law and my father were very different men—my wife’s dad, a stocky Irish-American from West Virginia, was a garrulous, short-fused guy quick to laugh and just as quick to blow up. My signature memory of him comes from the day when he was doing some household repair at our condo, and he and my wife got into an argument. A few minutes later, I was helping him unload some stuff from the trunk of his car and he, still stewing about the fight, turned to me and exploded with:

“Mark, I don’t know where she gets that [expletive] temper! If I live to be hundred, I’ll never know where she gets that [expletive] temper!!!” All that kept me from laughing in his face was the fear of his own [expletive] temper.

He died two years ago, at 79, after bypass surgery. Just as he was something of a second father to me, my own dad had been another father to many other people—nephews and nieces, cousins, friends, neighbors.

They were lucky, as I was lucky. Even those of us with great parents need all the good extra parents we can get.

Happy Father’s Day.


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