Tag Archives: Dad

Driving With Dad

5 Sep

Alone in the car headed across town to pick up my teenage son, I’m first to an intersection as the light is turning yellow. I mash the brake and stop. The person behind tries to pull beside me to my left to be at the front next to me, but misjudges and brushes up against my left rear bumper with the right side of her car. She quits and immediately starts backing up, to extricate herself from my quarter panel, I’m guessing. I’m wondering where to pull off and exchange information when I notice she’s still backing up into the right turn lane. I make a U-turn and start to pull behind her, but she’s already turning right and taking off.

I wish I had my father’s brain at a time like this. He could have weighed all the risk, cost, and benefit of a pursuit in the time it takes for me to see red. He would probably have guessed her route, doubled back and caught her on the other side of the neighborhood. But I need time to process.

I decide to think while chasing her. She’s driving pretty fast. Naturally, so am I. I’m hoping she gets stuck at another red light. I want to read her license plate. But there is no opportunity. She turns right again, races by two lanes of traffic, dust rolling up behind her silver Monte Carlo from where she’s using the median as a passing lane.

Dad was pretty proud of his defensive driving. He probably would have noticed an approaching vehicle in the rear view, judged the error, and pulled ahead a little bit. He had the seemingly prophetic ability to anticipate other people’s driving divergences and blunders. He would have been a fine ship’s captain.

I give little thought to the danger of my pursuit until I get back home and tell my wife what happened. And then I feel ashamed and anxious to have imperiled myself and others on the road. I feel stupid.

I never had an accident while driving with my father in the car, but I had dozens of them when by myself or with friends. Fender benders just came naturally to me. Parking lots proved to be my nemesis. One time I backed out of the garage with the driver’s door open! I could be an air head, a dreamer. And reckless. Dad owned motorcycles and, for some reason, allowed me to drive them. Once, while driving his motorcycle, I hit a pedestrian in a crosswalk (in front of my high school!). She did live. Clearly angels caught her. I was filled with shame for my reckless choice that had caused the collision. Yet my dad continued to believe I could and would do better.

Which is probably why I think of him after chasing a hit and run driver for a mile through the neighborhood on a Saturday afternoon. More than thirty years after my teenage driving days I’m still making some rash driving decisions.

Dad is gone now. An accident like this reminds me how much I miss him. I miss his reliability. I miss his steadfastness. I miss the way he could command a situation. I don’t have the same powers as him. But then again, over the years I’ve learned to take on some surprising difficulties. I’ve learned that I, too, can be reliable. Sometimes I can even be forgiving.

Which is pretty much what happens as the dust flies up behind the silver car. I slow down. I let her go. I believe I can do better.

And as I reflect on the situation over the next few days, I seem to open my heart to my dad a little more. In my mind, I’m a bit less hard on him. Dad, I know this won’t come as a surprise to you, but I’ll say it anyway: I might be learning what it means that a man has compassion on his son.

Today, I see the car parked at Tobacco World. It’s definitely the one. Fresh scrape marks crease the right rear fender. I think about going back so I can glimpse the tag. Justice tempts me. But I just keep driving and thinking.

I have a notion dad would probably have circled back, at least to have a chance to talk to her. He could talk to anyone. I can’t help wondering what he would have said. But as for me, I’ll keep the secret.

My wiper blades are singing to the intermittent drizzle and I check the rear view mirror as I hit the brakes and make the turn for home.

Phone Call

27 Aug

Only the friend felling alongside
sees, peripherally,
the blur of broken treetop drop down,
like a pendulum, to end a good life.

Please call, is all the message
on my brother’s phone says.  And so
he is the first of our kin to learn
the words “we couldn’t save him.”   

steering spring mud roads to Mom,
he dials to let me know
the man we call our Dad is dead.

States away, in the backyard,
I hear my voice responding
with a buzz of questions.  He says,
better hang up, I need to go in.

I gather wife and children,
crumbling, tell them all he said,
tears slaking dust between the boards
of this worn out kitchen floor.

Peanut Butter And The Loss Of A Father

11 Apr

I was given a good dad. His love for me, a great gift. Peanut butter helped me realize this.

I love peanut butter. Always have. As kids, our mom once expressed some concern for my brother and I, “You could develop an allergy if you eat too much”. Thankfully that has yet to happen.

I’m gaining fast on 50 and still eating pb regularly. My favorite is Smucker’s Natural Peanut Butter With Honey (Creamy). I also like the Maranatha peanut butter. Jif is a workhorse, particularly for peanut butter cookies.

I’m a house painter. I pack my own lunch. Most days I take a container of pb&j, dipping it with celery sticks at lunch time. I have high metabolism and if I feel a bit shaky mid-morning, I spread some pb on a granola bar. It works wonders.

A house mate once told me, “John, I used to think eating was just meant to fill the hole, but when you cook I eat because it tastes good!” I was honored. But for too long I fear I have used pb to fill the hole without a true appreciation of its wonder, its sticky sublimity. A year ago something happened that made me appreciate it more: my father died.

Not long after he was gone (a few days, really) I perceived that my perspective on all of life was changed. I was seeing through a different lens. I could not immediately, or even months on, clearly identify the effects, but the world often appeared strange to my eyes (and heart). I feared this change was only for the worse, that sadness would prevail going forward. And that is true, but only part of the truth. Along with sadness I found another sense growing: joy.

Peanut butter isn’t really much to look at. Kind of messy. The natural kind separates, forming an oil slick that has to be stirred back in. Yet it is a gift, nutritious, flavorful, edible with other foods or by itself from a spoon. Kids eat it when they won’t eat the dinner they’ve been offered. And it even fills the hole.

It can’t fill the hole left behind by the loss of a loved one, but it has some power to impart a gratitude for all that is good in this world.

As I visit my mom and brother on the one year anniversary of dad’s death, I am more willing to embrace the sorrows and joys of life. Peanut butter tastes better than ever before. I am sad for our loss, but my heart is inclined toward gratitude for all the ways dad gave of himself, in love.

Calling Hours

13 Oct

He had told me where to buy the car
then helped rivet sheet metal to places
Vermont winters had eaten the ‘73 Pontiac’s

floorboard.  It took two days in November,
our fingers so cold it hurt to get them warm.
All winter the car got me to the store

where we worked unloading trucks,
pricing, stocking, sweeping, mopping,
crushing cardboard boxes in the baler.
Tonight, in line at the calling hours
for my father, he meets my wife and children,
says he always knew I’d turn out good.
I can’t get over these faces, these people
I haven’t seen in thirty years or more.
They’ve adorned themselves with love

for dad and all the good he ever did.
They tell me stories of dad helping them
or his words they have not wanted to forget

and I am drawn to his reflection in them.  
The rust of death has marred our souls;
tonight there is help to patch the holes.

Only Dog

24 Jun

As kids, we would put our hands inside
her toothy den; for us the molars were mild,
the incisors unwilling even to gentle dent
the soft butter of our skin.
She chewed a couple of neighborhood pets
and Dad had to put her on a run
until we moved outside of town.
There, with our Shepherd’s perked ears
and pointed nose always close by
my brother and I could explore fields
of curious cows, or trod a tangled wood. 
She would bark for joy in the driveway
when visitors arrived who sometimes
waited in their cars until we settled her.

In her waning days, Dad helped her
to get up steps, lifting her from behind. 
The day came he said, She’s in a lot of pain,
and lifted her into the bed of the pickup. 
We drove to town at dusk and dark
had fallen when the vet came out to us.
As if it had all been a dream,
she was gone
and we had started back toward home.       
        From beside him
there on the bench seat of the truck
I glanced up. Dad focused on the road
and cried.  We never had another dog. 
Dad’s words: It’s too hard.


5 Jan

Ready or not, the seeker says.
    There’s only so many holes to go down
in this house, but they run to them again
when the count begins.

Who crawls from the laundry heap
or out beneath the bed is musty, dust
and silliness, contented to be found,
or else lodging complaint
if the count was too quick.

They pull my hand, demand, Count loud!
You’re it!  Oak floors bounce and shake,
then all sounds whisper into secrets. 

I raise my voice to reckon time
before ready or not and here I come.
I go slow, but you’d never guess
the way they’ve flown, like ghosts,
behind doors and into backs of closets.

Then I search the rooms of our home;
I seek their faces,
and the light that would be
found in darkened places.


28 Dec

In books he read aloud, my father uttered charms.
Brave Sneelock, the Heffalump, farmers Boggis, Bean, and Bunce,
the characters by whom he cast a spell.
As a boy, listening, I never guessed an author
and barely parsed the teller from the tale;
all the earth and sky was in the telling—and didn’t fail.

Who told me stories first my heart is welded to
with sentences, is anchored to, as truth is to a word.
His voice turned all to flint and fire,
or else so leaf and green as to be giddy.

Mom says he still reads to her—I can see him in his chair:
lamplight on furrowed brow and legs crossed.
The sun is low; the sky in rows of ruddy men
is marching down to greet him and he begins.
His gift is words—words full of rooms
in which the wonderment of telling is the end.

Dad’s Journal, Saturday January 1st

7 Jan

Arose, made coffee, oatmeal, and a list.
Hugged and kissed spouse, and prayed.
Discussed a canoe, a massage—a birthday.
Chased, regained, attempted to retain
next door neighbor’s pet, crazy.
Climbed up and down attic staircase,
then folded stairs away.

Exercised paintbrush on desktop
and taught third grader a bit
about how to paint.  Made a lap:
dressed toddler in pink boots
and green shirt.  Went out to help
with fifth grade science experiment
before it rained—got damp anyway.

Brushed and rolled here and there.
Watched fifth grader play computer game.
Watched Popeye and the gang.
Cleaned up for dinner.  Sat down
with family and ate.  Beheld faces,
took up the graces, read books…
then wrote, and hit the hay.

Catch Again

6 Sep

Okay I’m ready, toss the ball.  Grounder.  Pop-up.  

Whoa, nice one!  Good arm!  
That knocked the dust off my mitt!

Whoops, crazy hop!  Get your glove up.
Switch sides, I’ve got sunglasses.  

Now you throw what I throw.  I want to do a jump catch.  
Hey!  That’s too high!

Dad, watch this—TRICKED YA!  
You didn’t even know I had a tennis ball!

Suppertime?!  Just one more, I mean one of each—
grounder, pop-up, fastball.

Do we have to go in?  Okay.  Hey Dad?  
When can we play catch again?



3 Mar

I helped to build our sugarhouse.
It has a metal roof. Steam escapes
through vent doors on the cupola.

We drill the trees, set the taps,
and hang buckets. When sap runs,
gather it and light the fire.

Slab wood pops and flames roar.
The firebox doors turn orange
and the evaporator boils.

When syrup aprons—when drops cling
and fall together from a dipper—
we draw off into a milk can.

My Dad works very hard.
We all chip in. The best part is
when we take a little taste now and then.



I grew up in Vermont.  I have many fond memories of time spent with my family making syrup in the sugarhouse we built in our backyard.  Sugaring is hard work, but very rewarding.

This poem is for my dad who worked harder than the rest of us and often stayed up late to finish the boiling by himself.

the sugarhouse