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Thoughts of My Dad on Father’s Day

Here are two shots of my father, Robert Sinclair Swanson, Jr.  On the left, what are he and I doing?   Read to the end to find out.  On the right is the quintessential shot of Dad, because to him, punctuality was a cardinal virtue. Except for the time when Larry and I showed up an hour early and he was furious, because it meant we had been speeding.  Safe driving was an even more cardinal virtue.

Volumes have been written about finding your life’s work but Dad was succinct; “You have to look forward to getting up on the morning,” he said and he did. Saturday mornings he would dance in the kitchen to his favorite singer, Joe Turner, the Boss of the Blues. Dad knew all the verses to Shake Rattle and Roll; “Get outta that bed, wash your face and hands, Get out in that kitchen, make some noise with the pots and pans.” Mom, who’s idea of breakfast was a cigarette and a pepsi, was not amused. There was usually a work program after breakfast; raking leaves, washing the car, but any trip to the hardware store or the dump always included a stop for popsicles, even between meals.

Father’s Day was the worst day in our family’ s life--that’s the day Larry was killed. Dad was broken-hearted but he set us an example in carrying his grief with dignity and grace. He met with all his friends and cried his heart out with each one. He reminded himself that he still had children and grandchildren, and he continued to find ways to laugh with us. He was determined see Larry in Heaven, and he set about living a life that made him worthy. He had tried repeatedly to quit smoking but the last time he started to light up he swore he heard Larry’s voice saying; “Hey DAD!” He never had another cigarette. He cut back on his drinking to white wine in the evening with Mom, when they’d sit on the porch and talk about the old days. He even started a men’s group titled Devotions, Dialogue and Doughnuts. A group of Greatest Generation men talking about their feelings? I’d love to have been a fly on the wall.

Dad made friends easily--wherever he went he soon became a regular. He was invited to a baby shower for the daughter of the managers of the Quick Mart where he bought his morning paper. Most men would hand this job over to the wife, but not Dad. On his own he went to a baby shop and bought two little blue outfits--he knew it was a boy--and had them nicely wrapped with a blue ribbon. Then he want to a Christian bookstore for a card. “I want a card that’s Christian but not too Christian,” he told the clerk. “I don’t know what you mean,” she said. Dad said, “I’m a born-again Christian. The person I’m sending this to is not. I want to let her know what I am without making her think i’m telling her what she should be.” And the clerk said, “I think I can help you with that.” When I think of this story I think of Matthew 5:16, where Jesus says; “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven.”

At his memorial service a lifelong friend recalled Jesus’ parable of the talents, and called Dad a five talent guy, who invested all that he had and all that he was in service to others. Dad was one of life’s encouragers. I’ll always miss him, but the things he left behind will serve me all my life.

and what are we doing in that picture?  Snapping our fingers.



This series of drawings is the result of two chance remarks.

I was complaining to a friend about having to plan dinner yet again and she told me the tale of the little table.  It seems all you had to do was clap your hands and say “Come, little table, come!” and a table would  trot in, beautifully set with a delicious meal.  When you’d eaten your fill just clap your hands and say, “Go, little table, go!” and the table would trot off to wash the dishes.   So, I said, where do I get one of those little tables?

Then, my daughter, about age 3, asked me as we were walking in New York City, “Why don’t homeless people just get jobs?”  With children you never know when the big questions are coming. I took a deep breath and said; “Well... what do you need in order to get a job?   To  go on a job interview you need to be clean and rested, so you need a bed and a bathtub. You need to think, so you need a chair. You need to eat, so you need a stove and a table.  You need to be other people so you need a few more chairs. We came to the conclusion that in order to have a home you need a job-but in order to get a job you need a home.

Let me never forget to be grateful for the homes I’ve lived in and the people who have worked to provide them.

To you who have lost everything, I know it’s easy for me to say this from the safety of my home, but I have three friends who lost everything--two to fire, one to a flood.  They rebuilt and now view what once seemed like the end of the world as a bump in the road, and part of their story.

I keep thinking of categories for my thoughts but actually, everything I write about is so interconnected that I don't see the use of categories.   Art, work, marriage, children, faith, friends, home, music, my dog, everything has something to do with something else.   Maybe I should just write little bits--easily read in a minute. LIke this one.

When I begin a new piece I have a beautiful image of what it will be, but the first scratches on the page aren't much.  It's kind of like a newly hatched chick--we know it will be a thing of beauty but at the moment it's pretty scrawny. in every single drawing I have ever done in my entire life, and I mean absolutely EVERY one, except for just one in all my years of doing this, I have reached a point where I look at it and say,"This is not what I had in mind and even if it was, it's no good, and why did I ever think I could do this and why don't I just go back to bed?  And I always keep at it, and I almost always find that it's not all that bad, and then, maybe it's actually just a little bit good.  And then I reach the point where I love it so much I can't bear to leave it at the end of the day.  The trick is, and you may have heard this before–Keep at it.