Two Fish on One Hook
A 65th Birthday Tribute to Roger Hiemstra
How could I ever properly mark my father's 65th birthday, his socially deemed entrance into senior citizen-status by beginning to receive social security and all the other benefits allotted to such well-deserving citizens (really just his officially becoming an old geezer!)?
As I pondered, deliberated, procrastinated, and ruminated, I began to pull out memories, reflections, realizations about my father. In honor of Dad's momentous birthday I collected a few to share. We'll see how close to fact are my memories, skewed as memories can become over time, especially those of a child. Whatever the verdict, I believe that they reflect how special, involved, and thoughtful my father always has been and continues to be.
Way back in the memory files is one made of real images augmented by old photos. I couldn't have been more than four. I'm fishing by the pond at my grandmother's house, and I'm reeling in a heavy, huge fish, and my dad is helping me as much as I'll let him. We pull it out, and it turns out to be two fish! I was so proud I couldn't stand still. "Two fish on one hook!" he kept bragging to everyone later.
Permanently imprinted on my mind is a horrifying image of Pumpkin Pouter Comet, my goldfish, floating lifeless in his little fishbowl. Dad had killed him accidentally by not properly rinsing bleach out of the decorative stones when cleaning them. He felt terrible, and in his guilt was forced to fully participate in the funeral that I organized. He did so with proper remorse, bearing through the ceremony complete with mini casket, procession, burial, spoken words, and a wooden cross placed upon the backyard grave.
On another summer visit to my grandmother's house when I was a little girl, my dad took my brother, a couple of cousins, and me out on the pond in a rowboat. I was hot, and at his encouragement jumped in for a swim. Suddenly Dad started yelling that the pond's resident snapping turtle was swimming toward me. An image of a mammoth turtle locking onto my leg and pulling me to the bottom and, consequently, my death flashed in my head, I thrashed frantically toward the boat and screamed to get pulled back in. When I was lying on the boat floor, dripping and panting, I looked up to see my dad laughing. Yep. No turtle.
I mean, really, how many fathers insist that their children do a few rounds of Typing Tutorial before they can play Space Invaders on the new Apple IIE? Most parents just sadly shake their heads as absorbed children toy endlessly with such games, or perhaps join in. Not my dad. I remember a few instances of wanting to scream to just let me get at the Frogger without having to type, but he was resolved. And as I began to have to type assignments for school, I could only pity my classmates practicing the hunt-and-peck method on their keyboards. Not only could I sail through typing requirements, my dad could even help me make it look good on the computer!
There's some birthday in there among my early teen years, when I used to wear hot pink legwarmers, that I received a very special present – "special" being, of course, subject to interpretation. I got a pie in the face. Literally. My family had somewhere along the way recalled me mentioning that it would be fun to get nailed with a yummy pie. So together they rigged it, got me out in the backyard and distracted me, and – WHAM – there it was, carefully placed in my face and hair by the hands of my gleeful father.
I grew up with my father singing in barbershop singing groups. I admit that when I was really little I didn't get it, this intense passion of his for such music. But I distinctly recall a concert of his that I attended where I carefully observed how his facial expressions rapidly changed to accompany the music as he sang. He was so into it, and I was struck by his simple joy. I suddenly came to appreciate a whole new side of my father.
Dad took me to college. We drove all the way to Virginia in what seemed like no time. I was nervous, jumpy, probably cross with him. And it was hot, really hot. And my dorm room was on the third floor. We went up and down with boxes of all the things I hadn't thought I could do without. He had hurt his back recently, but still tried to carry everything. As the car emptied, my anxiety about his departure grew. I constantly bugged him to lighten his load. He just looked at me with sad, respectful eyes, at this daughter that was already old enough to try to tell him what to do.
Dad always grumbled about our dog Tausha. She barked, always needed to go out, took too much time and money, blah blah blah. After Dave and I left home, she was his constant companion in his home office. When she died, he was devastated. He couldn't drive home from the vet and had to call my mom to come and pick him up. He called me, voice breaking, to tell me that she had died. And a year after her death, he still missed her and marked the day with a special phone call in her memory.
When I was teaching high school, I commented to my parents about a very homesick student. My father remarked that it couldn't be as bad as my first semester in college. What was he talking about? At first I didn't remember, but then it all came back to me – I'd just blocked it out – the daily teary calls, the complaints, the intense unhappiness in a new place. And when I went through a box of old papers I'd saved, I found the booklet that Dad had made for me – a typed story complete with graphics entitled "I shall overcome! Introducing Lady Nancy." Lady Nancy was the daughter of Prince Roger, the Man of Limited Coins.
From my father I've inherited countless traits, quirks, and perspectives. I suspect that my love of all things sweet, especially ice cream (particularly malts) and peanut butter, comes from him. I occasionally display an intense competitiveness, barely veiled with joking, when I play cards. Dad has an almost religious faith in the reparative qualities of clothespins, wire, and clips, and I wonder if I subscribe to the same faith through my unfailing belief in duct tape. I'm also mechanically inclined just like him. On a recent visit he spent about five hours assembling a microwave stand for me. After many curses and groans it was finally done, with only one of the doors slightly crooked. Better than I could have done!
I've long recognized in myself the onset of my dad's cerebral fog that intense involvement with a book or subject can bring, resulting in a spaced-out look when interrupted. I think back to all the times I've seen him in his office, working amiably, immersed, content (though sometimes stressed, tired and frustrated) – such dedication, such simple satisfaction in his work. When I decided to go back to grad school and hopefully pursue a career as a professor, as he had, within weeks I had complete how-to lists on the whole process, from "Getting In" to "What To Do in the First Ten Years as a Professor." A mentor he has been to many students, and a mentor he is to me. A chip off the old block, two fish on one hook.
Dad, thank you for your life choices. First, for marrying my mother – without this union I simply wouldn't be...well, me! Then, thank you for being you - for being a lifelong educator, for teaching and role modeling solid values, strong work ethic, honesty, integrity. And thank you for your infinite love and support. I'm now well into adulthood (though I may not always act so), and your and mom's support are constant, always accompanying me and strengthening me.
So, my dearest father, I hope that as you enter into your sixty-fifth year you fully realize the depth of the love, respect, and joy that you give to and are given by your family. Happy birthday!
All my love,