But Who Am I..?

My mind still foggy from being rousted out of bed at 4:00am, I wasn’t awake enough to be scared but I quietly followed dad outside into the darkness of pre -dawn. A noise in the barn had spooked our faithful Brittany spaniel and after listening to barking for thirty minutes dad decided to investigate. Sneaking to the barn, a good 1oo yards from the house, was easy even in the dark and still only half awake. I knew this territory well since it was the playing field for our make belief war games when I was younger. Dad chose to go through the barn and directed his not yet coherent subordinate to sneak around to the side to watch the back door and see what comes out. It was like flushing quail from a briar patch, only this time I had no idea what was happening or what might be coming out. It was not uncommon for bums to sleep in our hay loft but they usually didn’t make much noise and we rarely knew they were there.

I stepped lightly over the low electric fence and hugged the edge of the barn, gently peering around the corner and into the darkness. Suddenly something got me and all hell broke loose. Both barrels of my shotgun went off as I was falling backwards into the darkness landing in a howling heap on the ground. Life was pretty much over for me as I knew and I wasn’t going out without a fight and as soon as it happened it was all over. Did it happen or was it a bad dream? I was now awake and I was scared. Dad appeared out of the darkness, ready to shoot anything that moved. He was there to defend and protect, isn’t that what fathers are supposed to do? A quick survey of my circumstances and it became apparent what had attacked me was nothing more than the overhead electric fence leading out to the corral at the end of the barn. I had tangled with that darn electric fence on more than one occasion and it never ended well.

Dad was a farm boy growing up on a large ranch in Colorado and later finished high school in the little eastern Oregon town of Adrian. Eating dust and setting on a tractor must have been passed down in his genes and growing up in the country, my brother and I were a shadow of his past.

Mark Slouka quotes in his book, Lost Lake –“Some say the soul tempered by fire – tortured true – is better for the trial”.

Perhaps it is true but mine was tempered by dirt and tortured by the cold early mornings milking Ol Suzy, our Holstein cow.
We knew no other way of life. Our adventures were the survivable kind, our tragedies ambiguous and undramatic, observed as much as felt. We did not choose it and yet, if I could ever open myself, I suspect I’d find my father’s kind heart and steady hand guiding the way.
At every turn it seemed as if dad had something to teach us. The leader and the teacher while also mom’s enforcer. Dad was always there to back her up if needed. There was always some chore that would take a week to do, constantly reminding us of what we did wrong. We were always innocent you know. After all how much trouble could six little hellions get into? I remember the blue paint he sprayed on all his tools and wondered why – I think it was to make them easier to find just in case we forgot to put them back. Which happened quite often and we heard about it too.

The Pro Rodeo would’ve proud of some of our bull rides. It wasn’t eight second rides, we had no clock. Stay on as long as you could – sometimes it would be but a blink of an eye, other times until the bull gave up and decided it was ok for us to be up there. I think those young bulls had as much fun as we did.

He was my father and I am my father’s son. I used to carry a pocketknife because he always carried one. Now I find myself gesturing with my hands the way he used to do.

For many years I believed most things could be fixed with duct tape and baling wire.

The Fathers day card I could send to him would travel through many years and come to rest in my own mailbox. We are the same but we are not alike. But like him and like many fathers and sons I was filled with things difficult to say.

It’s easier for sons to relate to their mothers. The push and pull between father and son is complicated. Growing up you want his approval while you tell him to go to hell.

He was a stocky good looking country boy when he rescued mom from her difficult childhood. Six kids and 26 years of marriage leave many fond memories of a large family. His jovial laugh was ideal for the role of Santa Clause he played one winter for a local shopping center. But he was always our Santa.

I wonder about my dad and think about him from time to time. What would he be like today? What lessons would he have for me now?

Why didn’t he teach me to say “I love you” until it was too late. Why is that such a hard thing for fathers to teach their sons? Next to my father I am probably the most patient person I know. Thank you dad.

I study the photographs of my dad, looking for myself. I study myself in the mirror looking for my dad. Each day the pages of my life keep turning one chapter after another. Some days I see my dad and I wonder, but who am I?

Dad taught me how to hunt, sneaking through the woods at a snail’s pace. Three steps’s, look and listen. A lesson well learned and reflected by the trophies on my walls, a tribute to the teacher. I still laugh at times, remembering one of our elk hunts. We were sleeping in a wall tent at the base of the Elk Horn Mountains of eastern Oregon and had just crawled into our sleeping bags for the evening when the wind picked up and started rustling the trees. Have you ever heard the eerie sounds of the forest at night while sleeping in a wall tent? It didn’t help that we’d seen fresh cougar tracks along the lake earlier that day. Coyotes singing in the distance – wind stirring the trees puffing up the tent with every gust. Everything is so much louder including moms scream when a wind gust caught the tent flap knocking the tin cup off the metal water can. She had such a death grip on dad there was no way he could’ve saved us from the spooks.
Tired from laughing we eventually surrendered to the sounds and fell asleep.

I’m sure if he were alive today we would be great fishing buddies, setting around telling stories about one adventure after another.

Are you still wondering what happened in the barn that dark morning forty years ago..?
Ol Suzy didn’t give as much milk that morning because she was already in the stanchion and had been visited by someone else’s unfamiliar hands. This saga lived a short life because dad did what dads are supposed to do – He took care of the problem!

What a guy!

I know I wouldn’t hesitate to tell him I love him.

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there.

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