My dad was not a particularly vocal man. In most cases, he showed us rather than told us what we needed to know.
On our family farm, work came first. Dad definitely showed us about work. Barn chores and house chores were part of my life from my earliest memory. Even before I remember. But he also showed us how to play.
“You have to make your own fun,” he said to me. He meant literally. When my sisters and I were little, Dad made t-shaped handles out of wood slats and fashioned metal hoops for us to play with one summer. This was a toy his dad made for him. Dad demonstrated how to roll the hoop down the wooden handle and keep the hoop rolling. We chased those hoops all over that summer – nudging, guiding, seeing how long we could keep the hoops rolling over grass, gravel and dirt.
Another summer, he showed us how to make kites. Out of newspaper and sticks and string. After we’d tried countless times – and failed – to get the kites to fly, he remembered kites need tails. We went to Mom’s rag drawer and tore up strips of sheet, knotting smaller strips to long strips. Those kites were air born in seconds, feeding my imagination and my desire to fly.
When I got married, he thought I’d need a breadboard. “You can’t make bread without a board to knead it on,” he said. I still use the breadboard he built for me. It serves to knead bread, roll out pie crusts, cool cookies – and it serves to remind me of my dad.
Dad showed his love not just of us kids but of his community and country. He served in WWII and afterwards belonged to the American Legion. Every Memorial Day for as long as he was able, he carried the American flag in the parade. He also belonged to the Salem Lutheran Church, the Lions Club and the Izaak Walton. Never was he a part-time member. He attended every meeting, chopped onions for omelet breakfast fundraisers, baked cookies to sell to bikers on RAGBRAI, served sandwiches at trail rides, signed people up for community blood drives. He showed us how to serve, how to be a good member.
Did Dad say he loved me? Seldom. Did I doubt he loved me? Never.
It dawned on me as I wrote this that my dad showed me one more thing – and that’s how to be a good writer. ‘Show don’t tell’ is advice all writers hear. Show don’t tell. That’s the way my dad lived. I didn’t even realize I was learning about writing from him, too.