My father-in-law liked everything to do with nature—trees, leaves, plants, flowers, and all the associated animals and insects attracted to such flora and fauna. Arboretums were a favorite place to visit, and we’d shuffle along and stop at all those little signs on the trees and read (or attempt to sound out) all the Latin names.
Bismarckia nobilis. Anacardium Genus. That’s the Bismarck palm and cashew tree to you and me.
I’m going to miss that. I’m going to miss a lot of things.
Because in the midst of the coronavirus and social protests rippling through America, he passed away 10 days ago, exactly one week shy of his 93rd birthday.
He lived a long life, and the cause of death wasn’t COVID-19. He was a father of three, a grandfather of eight and a husband for 57 years. He had his sense of humor, and love of good books and conversation till the end. Of French ancestry, he made a subtle peach wine. While it is certainly a sad time right now, it was also expected.
What was not expected was another column. But I wrote one for Mother’s Day. Do you think I’d leave the dads out? (By the way, nothing has really opened up yet, and we’re still home with no more Zoom school schedule to pass the time.)
I always find it a bit awkward that Father’s Day comes a month after the heralding of moms. Why is that? Why not make it a week later, giving a nod, of course, to those who actually go through childbirth, but not having to wait a whole four or five weeks later just so the men get the chance to barbecue. Were the holiday-deciders afraid it might rain in mid-May?
Turns out that Father’s Day was founded in Spokane in 1910 by Sonora Smart Dodd, born in Arkansas. The very first celebration was at the Spokane YMCA on June 19, 1910. Her father, Civil War veteran William Jackson Smart, was a single parent who raised six children in Washington state.
Well, hats off to smart!
I wonder if my father-in-law knew that fact. He would have liked it. He would have laughed his big laugh.
And he would have found it interesting that he was to come into the world in June and leave it in June … in this month dedicated to dads.
It’s so fascinating to have in-laws in the first place. I mean, we have our own complicated relationships with our own parents that ebb and flow over the years. And then, one day we marry and bingo—two more parents! Two more immediate people to offer advice, wisdom, recipes, child-care services, and sometimes, even criticism.
Talk about twists and turns.
Then again, these two other people (if you’re fortunate enough to have them around and get to know them) are the direct link to the person you wed. Their motives are your motive, when you really think about it. And then, if children come, they are elevated to a status like no other. And suddenly, you realize this is about generations—powerful links to the past and present.
Just think of the sandek at a brit milah, so often the grandfather. Think of the person who usually cooks High Holiday dinners, the grandmother.
They are the chess pieces in our lives, and we couldn’t move without them. And equally, they move with us. Both in person and in memory.
We bring their insight and stories and experiences with us everywhere, handing them off to our children until one day we, too, will be the older generation and the bearer of history.
To my father-in-law, to my own father, to my husband (my better half) and to all dads, here’s to making life come full-circle.
Carin M. Smilk is the managing editor of JNS.