Dad had his friends and his crowd in college and even afterward. And his version of friendship involved the high intellect and low humor that is still my preference in my adulthood. Dad was the guy who always answered the phone, always gave someone a ride, and always had a moment to help out with whatever home handyman repair had stumped another of his crowd who didn't have two cents in his pocket with which to buy an extra nail.
I'm pretty sure that Dad didn't spring forth from his mother's house fully trained in how to hang shutters and lay carpet, but he also knew how to use his engineering smarts and how to read directions. He was willing to calm down panicked newlyweds and work out the problem from start to finish. Heck, in my own experience he was willing to calm down panicked next-door-neighbors and build the run/tunnel construction necessary to separate a doberman from a possum long enough to get the possum out of the dining room and into the backyard - minus the dog.
Dad knew when to leave a task to the self-declared experts and when his efforts would be appreciated for their sincerity and timeliness. Dad couldn't carry a tune if you handed him a bucket. But when the nights were long and the house was out of cope, he sang two daughters and then later two grandkids to sleep. Dad couldn't speak a word of German or Spanish with any believability, but cheerfully tromped all over the back country of Austria and Mexico for pleasure and for work, mangling any language and playing charades to make the personal connections in order to fix broken trucks and find his darling bride a drink and a bathroom.
Dad was no sports jock, but as I said last week, he was willing to coach my pee-wee soccer team because we needed him there. Happy-clappy group-hug sing-a-long events weren't his bag, and still he bought a minivan with Mom for the express purpose of "hauling Girl Scouts." His teamwork with Mom brought down the house during one memorable Christmas round of Pictionary, and he never said a word; he sat and he smiled with us.
At my wedding, Dad never *stopped* smiling. He walked me down the stairs and down the aisle with determination and pleasure. He even *didn't* wear a tie because I asked him to leave it off. But I don't remember a single thing he said, in particular. He didn't give a speech (Mom did), and he didn't have much to say to anyone around him. He was content to laugh along with everyone else and listen to the stories as they flowed by. And yet, I have the most fantastic photos of just the two of us from that sunny, breezy day.
Just knowing Dad was there when I needed him in my childhood was enough to launch me into confidence. I wouldn't use training wheels on my bicycle; I insisted that Dad hold my bike steady while I pedaled. So as I increased my speed, he would have to jog along beside the bike, balancing me. Then there was the day I realized he was no longer holding on. I saw it in the shadows on the ground in front of us along the sidewalk. I can still picture the separating shadows as I slowly inched away from his hand.
I didn't know the phrase then, but now I do:
Dad had my back.