We didn’t come with instructions!

My dad and I didn’t fit the Rockwellian impressions of a father and daughter. I realized very early in life that while I was a willing partner in our often heated struggles, there were deep rooted issues I could not understand.

Parents and children don’t come with instructions.

Dad, who was shy but quick to smile, was a laborer. He worked a lot but oftentimes was not a physical or mental match for available opportunities. Mom, as a nurse, worked evening shifts and holidays. Growing up, money was tight. But our parents tried their best. As we grew older, we realized that many people had far less than we did.

When I was about to graduate from college, calls from prospective employers came from major cities in New York, Michigan, and Indiana. I chose to stay in central Illinois. We grew up concerned about our Dad’s health issues, and that didn’t change just because personal opportunities had become available.

Thank you so much, but my Dad is in poor health and it would be better if I worked closer to home.

I said that in the 70’s. Dad died in 2000.

Dad’s last job was in cemetery maintenance. He was part of a crew that cut grass, shoveled snow, and readied gravesites for burials. It wasn’t an easy job, and much of the work was done without the benefit of machinery used today.

It was difficult to say, when asked, what my Dad did for work. Other parents seemed to work in offices or at least dressed up when they left home in the morning. Maybe I was embarrassed. Maybe I was mad. There were a lot of things going on at the time.

Mom lived sixteen years after Dad’s passing. She missed him. But throughout those years she enjoyed friends and did so much more than she had been able to do for many years. Mom never complained that Dad had required so much care over the years, but sometimes I wished I would hear him say thank you.

When Mom died just after turning ninety one recent spring, life changed, as it does for all of us when we lose our parents. I remember gathering her dress, shoes, hose, makeup, jewelry and other items to take to the funeral home and thinking what an honor this is to be a part of readying Mom for her burial.

And, it was then, that I began to think of Dad just a little differently.

As I would place flowers on Mom and Dad’s gravesites over the following weeks that spring, I would watch the cemetery maintenance men cut and trim the grass, pick up branches after storms, and replace flowers that had been tossed about by the wind. I watched them before and after families and friends had gathered for a loved one’s burial.

These gentlemen, with whom I exchange smiles and waves when I visit, have become caretakers of our parents’ graves. And, for that, I am most grateful.

While I struggled to come to terms with who Dad was and what he did, it hadn’t occurred to me that our Dad was in fact, a caretaker of the graves of other people’s parents, brothers, sisters, children, and friends. I hadn’t realized how important he was to the people who were burying loved ones, and how important it was to them that Dad, like the gentlemen today, respectfully maintained their loved ones’ final resting places.

Parents and children don’t come with instructions.

(Thank you, Dad.)





Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.