My dad was gigantic.
He could skip rope so fast that I could hardly see the rope. He got good at that during the war. He boxed while in the navy.
My dad’s biceps were so big and bulgy you could walk on them and it wouldn’t hurt him.
By dinner time black and scratchy whiskers grew out his coppery skin. I was in 4th or 5th grade when he traded his blue-collar shirts with Herb appliquéd over the pocket for a white shirt and tie. He left the union to supervise a team of machinists who repaired BIG machines. Every minute those units were off the assembly line cost the company a fortune. Daddy’s team saved millions of dollars for GM cause they would study the problem and fix ‘em fast. My dad was a genius.
Daddy drove a red Chevy Caprice to the Chevrolet Gear and Axle Plant in Hamtramck Michigan. He talked about how fast he could get to the plant with new Chrysler Freeway open between our home in Warren. That car had a 396-cubit inch engine and an air-conditioner. We could ride all the way to Arkansas and Oklahoma during summer vacation to see our relatives and no crayons would melt in our car. We were rich.
Daddy’s mother, Grandma Choate, was a full-blood Chippewa from Minnesota and his dad was a Cherokee from Oklahoma. While out one night during Daddy’s stint in the navy, a guy called him “chief”. Dad socked the guy.
When he I heard that story, I said, “Daddy, why did you hit him for calling you chief? He probably didn’t mean anything by it.”
Daddy said, “Oh yes, he did.”
I looked up at Daddy and thought, wow that man must have been very dumb to say something mean to my Daddy because he’s so big and strong.
I remember Daddy had a binder entitled, The English Language and the Command of Words. filled with lessons that came each week in the mail. The lessons urged speakers to articulate avoiding lazy tongued talk like “Marzeat dotes and dozeeat dotes and liddle lambs eat divy. A kiddleat divy too, wouldn’t chou?”
A neighbor swearing loudly prompted Daddy to observe, “There are many words available to express strong emotions. That man suffers from a lack of vocabulary.”
In 8th grade my teacher, a man, shocked Linda Greene, my Baptist friend, and me by swearing in the classroom when he became angry. Apparently noticing our expressions, he proceeded to write, “damn” and “hell” on the board and said, “Don’t tell me you don’t hear your parents say these words all of the time.” After class I told my teacher that I had never heard my Daddy swear. My teacher did not believe me.
When I was in the 8th grade, my sister was in college and her friends came over. We joked back and forth with put-downs. It was before the song “Dueling Banjoes” hit the airwaves; else we might have named these fests “Dueling Putdowns.” My Daddy called me aside and commented that I was particularly good and fast at the putdowns. I tingled with pride for a second or two when he added, “You are so good, in fact, and that it concerns me. Sharp words can be weapons. If you hone your skills at this, I shudder to think what you will be able to say when you are angry. Maybe you should stop.”
In 10th grade I came home telling what we called “Polack” jokes. He stopped that cold. No ethnic slur was acceptable to him. I told him the Polish kids told them too. He did not care.
In 11th grade I repeated some expression I heard at school that, unbeknownst to me, alluded to some sexual act, and he sent me away from the table. My mom told him that she was sure I didn’t know what I was saying. He argued that I was way too smart not to know that. Although he was in the navy, he didn’t want a daughter of his talking like a sailor.
My dad was a linguist.
Daddy reasoned that if Jesus had been living in 1970, he would be able to converse with anyone from the drunk on skid row to with President of the United States. He saw education as a way of sharpening one’s witness. Once I picked up the Detroit Free Press finding the sports section on top, obscuring my beloved front-page news. I announced, “I NEVER read the sports page.”
Daddy suggested that along with studying biology, English, and math for Him, I should start reading the sports page for Jesus.
Daddy was a disciple.
In the fall of my senior year listening to me speculate on career possibilities, he repeated his mantra on life priorities. “Honey, I am sure you will be US senator or President, just keep God first, your family second, and your education and career third.
Daddy was a feminist.
On November 7, 1970 Daddy suddenly and unexpectedly died of a heart attack.
Today is Fathers Day, June 18, 2006.
A couple of weeks ago, my sisters and I were doing some research on Daddy’s family tree at the Cherokee Nation Heritage Center in Tahlequah. We discovered in Daddy's ancestry chiefs who stood before King George II, grandparents educated in law and theology, and a cousin who developed the Cherokee alphabet. Debi, Kim, and I talked about these revelations. We talked about our perceptions of Daddy. The conversation shifted to physical stature.
Mother said Daddy stood just a little over 5’8”. I was astounded.
How could I be 53 years old and not know that my dad might have been considered a relatively short fellow?
Because, my Daddy was gigantic.