Reflections on Fathers and Dads

I thought about writing this a week ago, in anticipation of Father’s Day. I opted for reflection rather than anticipation. Thus, this consideration of fathers and dads, and the legacies of caring, providing and thinking ahead with which they imbue us.

I had one of each – a father and a dad – and have always counted myself lucky. My father Robert (my “Old Man”) was followed by Ray Fontes (my “Dad”). I have been reflecting on some of the traditions and laughter they left me and various kids among my Hucklings.

The Old Man started referring to himself that way when he was all of 25, I think. Over time, I realized that he probably felt like an old man at times. He lost his father to a heart attack (they called it “apoplexy” in those days) when he was ten years old, and immediately went to work. He valued hard work and long hours and had little patience with laziness. While I eventually figured out that working hard to feed and house his growing family was his way (and maybe all he knew) of showing love and commitment to us, I resented the work ethic that kept him from fishing and hunting and wandering afield with me when I was small. I was born wanting to hunt and fish and be outside, and while he and my mother made sure I had all of those activities I wanted, I early on gave up on seeing any interest in him for them.

Something happened about the time I hit those ‘tween years. It was a bright November Saturday in East Wenatchee. We’d pretty much finished rebuilding a house over our burned-out basement home, and we were putting on the roofing. Opening day for pheasants was well behind us; my prodding went for naught – he was focused on getting a new roof over our heads.

A rooster pheasant started crowing from Barney Greenwood’s apple orchard a couple hundred yards off. Each time that old cock threw down his challenge, the Old Man would stop tacking shingles for a moment. I’d never seen him like that – something deep in his soul tugging at him. He’d tack a shingle down, the bird would cackle and he’d hang his head and grimace.

Finally, he handed me his nail pouch and hammer. “Tack these down,” he said, “and wait here.” He slid to the ladder and climbed down. Moments later, I watched him walk toward the orchard, loading his old Sears J.C. Higgins bolt-action 12-gauge.

I heard the cackle as that rooster flushed. And one shot. Mom walked into the back yard, as he handed her the bird, the shotgun and a “Thanks, Dorothy.” On the roof, he asked for his nail pouch and shingles. He was smiling.

After that, we regularly hunted his beloved California quail (his “topknots), pheasants and deer. We found time to fish, with trips right up to his too-early death for salmon and antelope with sons and older Hucklings. He was never a big laugher, but we still carry his warm smile, his coaching about shooting and fishing and good food and why there were rules for fishing and hunting.

Ray Fontes, my stepfather, was “Dad” to me for 42 years. A skilled diesel mechanic, he was as madly in love with my mother as she was crazy about him. He loved the woods. Over years that stretched into decades, I taught him to hunt Wyoming antelope and Colorado elk, and he taught me humor, strength and love. I got the best of the deal.

Dad was one of the off-the-cuff funniest guys I ever knew, with a great story or quip for any moment. He’d pass food at a meal, with “Here, want the rest of this?” If someone asked him if he wanted more at the end of a meal, he’d nod “You bet!” and add “…Tomorrow.” Food would be “Good enough for any dog” or “Mighty fine kye-kye!” Once, a granddaughter hugged and thanked him for fixing her car. Dad just smiled and said, “Keep the change.”

The Hucklings had his love and time, too. Eldest sons James and Tim had fishing and hunting time. First daughters Michelle and Nicole never missed a hunting trip. Michelle and dad had their own antelope adventures, over which their ping pong teasing would last a year – Michelle would swear that “next year” she would outshoot granddad. Nicole, who hated school, but loved biology, was always after him for “two more antelope eyeballs,” or some other part she might trade her science teacher for a better grade.

Younger daughters Tena and Anna would proudly hand him whatever they’d caught. What a fuss he made about how he loved trout or ocean perch or crab or rockfish, and how he hung on every word of their story. “What fine fishers you are,” he would say, “to provide such fine ‘kye-kye’ to grandma and me.” They couldn’t wait to get out and do it again. Edward, last of the Hucklings, was in that joyful mix, too. They still talk about his laugh.

At some point, Dad’s big heart caught up with him and he quit the woods. He spent more and more time in some wild place of his mind, as Alzheimer=s disease slowly took its toll.

Every time I go afield with my now-grown Hucklings and their kids, I think about what The Old Man and Dad would want them to know and enjoy; it’s my job now.

So, here’s to you and me and to our fathers and dads, as we each carry on some sort of year-long Father’s Day reflection.


Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized

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