If you ask me what my father was like growing up, I will be the first to tell you he was a difficult person to live with. Nearly all of his children will tell you the same. However, when you take in the sum of all his parts, you begin to realize why he was who he was.
Monte was the oldest of three children by a long margin. I remember him telling stories of spending Christmas, and many other nights, alone with his dog while his parents worked. When he was old enough to work himself, 10 years old I believe, Dad started working after school in his father’s hardware store. While all his friends were out playing, Dad was inside working. He used to tell us he was a nice young man who sat in the middle of the living room and read books. It wasn’t until much later that I realized he probably wasn’t exaggerating. What else were you going to do with no TV, nobody in the house, and nothing but a dog to keep you company for hours on end?
In his teen-aged and college years, Dad lived a raucous live filled with practical jokes, basketball, beer, and hunting. He’d tell us stories about accidentally killing a swan and all the shenanigans associated with getting rid of the evidence, or how he and his friends dressing up in togas in the dead of an Alaskan winter and walked around the streets so they could watch drivers double and triple take, nearly crashing their cars while verifying that they’d indeed seen a group of people clad in Greek garb walking along the snow banks.
He soon went to college, played more basketball, continued to hunt, participated in legendary practical jokes, met our mother, married, and somewhere along the line, joined the military.
During the Vietnam War, after narrowly missing three deployments that wound up being disastrous for the troops sent to war, Dad decided not to test his luck any further, and retired as a Captain in the Army.
Because Dad’s home life growing up was lonely and loveless, he wanted his own family to experience something entirely different. His children would have a mother who stayed home and loved and looked after them. His children would have parents who were actively involved in their children’s lives.
Then he set about doing it.
Dad became a banker, and quickly worked up the ranks as an auditor. However, as his family kept growing, and his determination to keep his wife home for the children, he opted to be a travelling auditor, which paid more than one who stayed local. Often, he found himself travelling three weeks out of the month. His long absences meant he was a stranger in his own home. Life continued without him, and he had to jump right in and help out where he could, doing whatever possible to lessen the burden on Mom while he was home.
However, because of his military training, Dad often reverted to his old Army ways to keep us in line. For children, that’s a hard pill to swallow. Coupled with many of us having Dad’s Type-A personality, life was often filled with conflict and battles of the wills.
Soon, Dad found himself with seven daughters and three sons. We were a family of twelve. It became quickly apparent that we all needed to pitch in to make our family run smoothly. There was no extra money available. We had to live off one income. Instead, we learned to improvise and to become self-reliant.
Growing up with Dad meant I learned basic electrical work, how to change the oil, windshield wipers, and tires. I mowed the lawn, fixed windows, trimmed hedges, painted, spackled, fixed the roof, and climbed thirty feet into the air to trim giant trees in our yard.
Dad made sure we could balance a checkbook, cook meals, shoot a gun, knew basic self-defense, and could sew and iron. Above all else, we looked out for one another. He made sure we knew right from wrong, we could make our own decisions, and turned us into fiercely independent individuals.
I remember being distinctly aware, as I grew into my teen-aged years, he was loosening the reigns of authority. This was particularly difficult for a man who liked things to be done his way and in his time. I recall a time when I’d been offered an appointment to the military academies and major military scholarship that would pay for all my college. He would broach the topic of whether I would accept those offers, or if I would take another route for my education. I could tell by the fear in his eyes that he did not want me to take the offers. But I was nearly eighteen and I got to make those decisions on my own. He did not sway me one way or the other. He nearly cried with joy when I informed him I would not go into the military.
He said nothing when I came home with a guy eleven years my senior and said he was my boyfriend. He was nothing but supportive when I visited from college engaged to someone I’d known for only three days. Instead, he said, “You’re an adult now, and I’ve taught you all I can. I expect you can make your own decisions for yourself.”
And though I can tell you a dozen different times Dad and I argued, or clashed, or we drove each other crazy, there was never a point in my life that I didn’t doubt he loved me. And I never doubted his love for any of my nine other siblings.
Thank you, Dad, for doing the best you could.