On My Father’s Retirement from UPS…

November 17, 2009

Three generations...

“What did I know, what did I know of love’s austere and lonely offices?” -Robert E. Hayden

My earliest memories consist of staying up after dark and waiting for my dad to come home late from a hard day’s work delivering packages for UPS. As soon as my two brothers and I would hear the back door creak open, we would all run and pounce on him before he was fully in the door. Now that I have my own boys, I know what that feeling is like, and I know how it can put a bad work day into perspective. It helps me realize why I wake up and go back to the same place every morning. However, there were also times the creak of the door inspired fear. After a day of pushing my mother to the limits of her last nerve, I would hear the infamous phrase: “Wait until your father gets home!” I remember running in fear of his belt which was four inches wide, a half an inch thick, and at least two miles long; no matter how hard I tried to escape, it somehow always reached my butt.

When I was a child, I thought my family was poor because when all the other neighborhood kids got to choose from the treasures of the ice cream man, my brothers and I were ushered to the kitchen freezer for Flavor Ice. We never went to McDonald’s unless there was a special occasion; Mickie D’s was splurging and we rarely splurged. If we went to the movies, and that was a big “if”, it was at the cheap theaters where the floor was so sticky you had to tie your shoes tight so you didn’t loose them, and the film was usually out of focus and never quite lined up correctly on the screen. Often, the sound of the film being played in the next room came in louder and clearer than the movie we were watching. All my friends, however, thought that we were rich since my dad had a trailer and a boat at the beach. Because my dad forced us to make sacrifices in some areas, he was able to provide more in the areas that really counted. He had a reputation for being cheap, but in reality my dad just knew how to take a little bit and stretch it out a long way; likewise, this skill has been instilled in me to some degree. At times when I have found my financial boat sunk, it was principles I learned from my dad that taught me to tread water. I never had much of a collection of happy meal toys, and I don’t do well on movie trivia from the 80’s, but I have a deep connection to the ocean that my father helped to instill in me. Going to the beach and fishing with my family built foundations in my soul that helped keep me steady through many storms in my life. The ocean brings a peace and a healthy stillness to the soul that just can’t be bought from Mr. Slushy and McDonald’s or experienced in a cleaner movie theater.

Unfortunately, during my rebellious teen years, my dad also went through a midlife crisis. Chalk it up to bad timing, but the combination of my father lamenting the loss of his youth while I was struggling for my independence and trying to be a man kept us butting heads for years. Somehow my mother stood in the gap between us, as she simultaneously kept us apart and held us together through showing both of us an abundant love despite all the bullshit we put her through. Because of her strength, we managed to develop a very cold truce by the time I became an adult by legal standards. I managed to get a summer job at the beach, so my mother and I pretty much lived at our trailer while my dad came down on weekends and his vacation time. One weekend, my mom talked me into going fishing with her and my father. I was reluctant, but I missed being out in the ocean on the boat, so I gave in. At the moment before the boat was pulling out of the dock, my mom suddenly expressed, “Oh my, I forgot to get my clothes out of the washer,” and off she went. I was alone with my father. As was our habit, we didn’t speak to each other unless we had to, so when I went for the cooler and discovered there was only beer in it, I was pissed. When my brothers and I were young, it was our job to load up the cooler for the boat. My dad would tell us how much beer to put in, and we filled the rest up with our supermarket-brand sodas. This time my dad packed the cooler, and I assumed that he just selfishly packed himself drinks without thinking of me. When I began to complain, he silently reached into the cooler and pulled out a beer and handed it to me. “Oh.” That was the only word I allowed to come out my mouth, but in my heart everything suddenly got put right. I thought my mom had set us up to try force us to get along, but I realized that my dad must have been in on the plan. This was his way of making peace. After so much trouble and drama between us, this was my initiation into manhood. There I was, fishing and kicking back a few beers with my father. I let go of my pain and criticism. Later on, during that same summer, my dad’s brother came down to go fishing with him. When they came back, the only thing they had caught was a buzz. Sitting on the porch as the sun went down, they ended up getting a little lit up, and they began to tell stories about the good old days when they were in school. My younger brother Tom and I realized the correlation between their alcohol intake and the openness of detail in their stories, so we sat there ready at attention to make sure they never had to ask for a new beer. Tom and I just kept looking at each other and smiling. Dad used to be cool; we found out that he was really just like us.

It has been said that hard times reveal who we can really count on. The beers my dad and I had together so long ago didn’t magically take away all the issues we had between us, but after rushing into a poverty stricken marriage, having two kids way too soon, and then watching my life fall apart in a divorce, I have developed a growing respect, love and confidence in my dad. From help with busted water heaters and car engines that give up on life at precisely the worst moment to help with finances (but still holding me accountable to pay everything back), my dad has been there for me despite his frustrations at my refusal to pursue a sensible career like Chrysler. There is a poem I discovered during my first attempt at college right out of high school. I had yet to begin my own adventure into parenthood, so I didn’t really understand all the work and sacrifice it took. I spent a lot of time during my teen years just being angry at my dad for all of his weaknesses. This poem helped me to see my father with a new perspective:

“Those Winter Sundays”
by Robert E. Hayden

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

When I read that poem, I realized how much my dad really loved us all. How much he really loved me. Though my dad never really expresses himself in words, his actions prove true. There is a scripture that says, “Faith without works is dead” James 2:17. The word love could easily replace faith and it would be just as true and profound. Even though we don’t often see eye to eye, even though he doesn’t always understand my choices in life; when I am finally successful in all my art, I will be able to confidently say that I couldn’t have done it without the love and support of my father.

Peter L Richardson

and going back two generations…

“Ode to Pop”
(my grandpop, my dad’s dad, on his passing)

The clouds covered up the stars, the storms swelled,
Yet he navigated his great boat.
Through the mist and through the raging waters
He steered his old ship.
Leaving port, he travailed dangerously
Down river:
Past shallow bottoms, above jagged rocks,
He steered faithfully toward his ocean.

One hand firmly grasped the wheel,
One eye housed on the diming light,
Into the great fog he traveled,
The ship’s passing through the night.

Peter L Richardson

Grandpop, 1996. PLR


One Response to “On My Father’s Retirement from UPS…”

  1. peterrock12 Says:

    What about you? What kind of heritage have you received from you father?

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