What little things did your mom or dad do that you realize now are big deals?

My dad died on December 19. He was 91 years old.

While Mom and I were sitting with him in the hospital one night, I started making notes for his eulogy. (He’d suffered a heart attack, and we knew he wasn’t going to regain consciousness. If you’d like to read the eulogy I gave, it’s here.) And while I was writing notes and reminiscing, I remembered something I hadn’t thought about in literally decades.

When I was seven or eight years old, I was a football junkie. I would spend hours playing football with my friends. Our favorite game was “Smear,” which had a fairly simple set of rules:

  1. Tackle the person with the football.
  2. When the person with the football was tackled, he or she would toss it in the air and someone else would catch it.
  3. Repeat.

When friends were around, this was the game of choice. Sometimes, though, friends wouldn’t be around. And whenever they weren’t, I’d bug my dad to throw the football to me.

Now, you’ll have to take this on faith, but I was a pretty good receiver when I was younger. I wasn’t big or particularly fast, but if the ball came anywhere near me I could usually catch it. My secret fantasy in the early to mid-70s was that one day Bear Bryant would drive past our yard while I was catching passes, stop his car, and walk over to me. He’d shake my hand, and say “Son, I’ve never seen anyone catch a football as good as you. When you get old enough, you’ve got a scholarship to play football at Alabama.”

I hope I’m not spoiling this for you, but I’ll go ahead and tell you that never happened. Didn’t stop me from dreaming, though.

So whenever my friends were absent, I’d bug Dad to throw the ball to me. Couple of quick notes: First, my parents were older when I was born. Dad was 44, and Mom was 41. I was not a planned baby. I was a “Surprise! Middle age isn’t hard enough, so here’s an infant!” baby.

Second, Dad worked shift work at a paper mill. He was a dispatcher, which meant he spent most of his days (or nights) on his feet, walking back and forth on a concrete floor. By the time I was born, he already had bad knees and hips.

So by the time I was seven or eight, and Dad was 51 or 52, he would come home from work tired and sore. His knees and hips would be swollen and throbbing. I, of course, didn’t know this. All I knew was that Dad was finally home, and now there was somebody to throw the football to me. He’d barely get through the door before I’d be dancing around him, bugging him to come outside and play.

Looking back on it, I’m honestly surprised I didn’t get clouted upside the head at least once. Dad wasn’t that kind of man, though. I know he couldn’t have played catch with me every single time I asked, but in my mind’s eye he said “Okay” a lot more times than he said “Not today, I’m too tired.”

Of course, after an eight-hour shift on the concrete floor of the paper mill, standing in the yard and throwing a football was too painful for him. Again, I didn’t know this. He solved the problem by getting a folding lawn chair - the kind with the woven plastic or vinyl straps as the seat and back - sit down in it, and kind of fling the ball across his body to me. He was surprisingly accurate with this unorthodox approach. I, of course, was mortified that my dad would sit in a lawn chair to toss the football with me. Buster Sanders, father of my best friend Slade up the street, would actually play Smear with Slade sometimes. That’s how cool HE was. Still, even I knew Dad was was older than Mr. Sanders, so I tried not to complain TOO much about the lawn chair.

I would run patterns, and Dad would fling the ball to me, and sometimes I’d make a spectacular catch and he’d brag about it later when we were eating supper. He never once said anything about his hips or knees. I took it for granted that he enjoyed playing catch as much as I did.

Now I’m 47, not even the same age Dad was when I’d bug him to play catch. And I’ve got young boys of my own, and sometimes when I come home from work (in an air-conditioned office, with an ergonomically designed chair and carpet on the floor), they’ll ask me to play a game or play baseball or whatever. And sometimes I do, and sometimes I say “Not tonight, guys, I’m too tired.”

And it struck me that night in the hospital that my Dad was a much better man than I’ll ever be. I didn’t realize the sacrifice he made at the time, and it humbles me and inspires me at the same time.

So: What sacrifices or other things did your mom or dad make or do for you that you didn’t realize were a big deal at the time?

And, if you don’t mind, one word of advice - tell them “Thank you” if you can.

Sauron, I’m sorry for your loss, especially at this time of year. My dad died on December 23, 2001.

The thing that immediately sprang to mind for me was that around 1978 or so, the company my dad had been building a career at for some 25 years (he was either a district or regional manager for a grocery store chain at this point) closed its doors, leaving him unemployed. In practically no time, he found a job driving a delivery truck. He did that job for the next 20-odd years of his life, only in the final two or three being taken off the daily route and being given a job training other drivers.

“Better man than I” very aptly describes my feelings about him.

Good thread.

Sorry for your loss. I lost mine a year ago fourth of July and was asked to do the eulogy as well.

My dad was a jeweler and watchmaker after the war. He had two bosses shot in robberies so he got out of that business and found a job at a factory that made sensors for furnaces and such. This was fine precise work like watchmaking but was still factory work and he got paid crap–he retired the same year I got commissioned as a second lieutenant and I saw his tax form that year–I made more than he did after 20+ years at the factory.

So almost every Sunday, Spring through Fall, he would get all five kids and mom into the car and take day trips around the Chicago area–sometimes the trips stretched the definition of “day trips” as it could be 4 hours to our destination and four hours back plus the time of the actual trip. We saw old mills in operation, the tulips in Holland Michigan, various “how are things made” tours, zoos (Milwaukee was his favorite), museums (we’d be finished with a section while he would read every caption in the displays), just something different every Sunday. Oh, and did I mention three of the kids were prone to car sickness and the car had no air conditioning? It must have been miserable for him, but it instilled a hunger for knowledge and learning and a general curiosity that has served us all well in our careers–two teachers, one psychologist and two engineers.

As you said, we’ll never be the men our fathers were.

He did.

While raising four kids on not much money, my mom put a home-cooked meal on the table every day, grew a big garden every year, did a whole bunch of canning every fall, baked bread regularly, made homemade cookies and cakes, knit mittens, scarves, toques, etc. for us, sewed our clothes, kept the house clean and in good repair - all that good stuff. I remember as a kid wishing that we could have store-bought stuff like all the other kids. As an adult, that’s a real :smack: moment for me - wanting Oreos instead of mom’s homemade cookies, and not appreciating all the work she did, so that we lived a fairly normal life on very little money.

Sauron, That was a beautiful eulogy, and I’m very sorry for your loss, & I have something in my eye now…

My (step) Mom taking on three kids, 2 of whom were still in diapers, raising them & loving them as her own, when she was still in her twenties absolutely floors me. I ain’t that mature at the age of 34!

I don’t know why I always remember this one.
I had saved paper route money to buy a skateboard and spent most of the summer going everywhere on it. It was summer vacation so I didn’t have a care in the world except that I had my freedom to skateboard where ever I wanted.
Well one of the trucks on the thing broke apart. I was an expensive skateboard where all the components were bought seperately and when I bought it from the specialty store was told the trucks had lifetime warranties.
So when my Dad got home that evening after working his 10 hours I bugged him like crazy to drive me across town to get a new truck. I could see he was less than thrilled, didn’t have much to say on the drive, and couldn’t care less if my skateboard was busted.
He stayed in the car as I went inside by myself. The counter worker looked at the truck, looked at my receipt, looked at 14 year-old me and said “Uh, yeah, they don’t have lifetime warranties anymore. Sorry. Bu-bye.(beat it kid)”
I went back to the car and figured Dad probably didn’t care so I didn’t say anything. He asked “Did you get another one?”
I said “No, the guy told me they don’t have the lifetime warranty anymore.”
I figured Dad would say “Hmm, tough luck” but instead he grabs the stuff, says “wait here” and heads inside. I could see him through the front window laying into the guy raising his voice and the guy cowering.
And sure enough, he comes back to the car with a brand new truck in hand, drops it in my hands, and drives home without a word.

My parents had me late in life too (my dad was 49, my mom 38) and theirs was my father’s second marriage; they’d gotten married believing my dad was infertile. (He and his first wife adopted my horrible awful no good half brother together, which is a whole nother story.) Anyway, so I was the daughter he never thought he’d have. My dad was (is, still) textbook type-A - total hard charger at work, kept the company afloat with hard work, etc. He’d be at the office until late at night, traveled a ton, etc.

But when he’d come home for lunch, where he used to spend 15 minutes wolfing down a sandwich, once I was old enough to drag him around by the hand he’d stay for an hour or more letting me “show him” things. Real important things, like flower and rocks and trees in the yard.

And then he’d go back to work and be there until 8 or 9 at night.

I’m sorry about your dad, Sauron. He sounds like such a wonderful, loving father. Thanks for sharing a story about him!

What my parents did, and probably many other parents as well: carry me to bed if I fell asleep somewhere else.

I never realised what a big deal that is until I worked in a children’s home. When 10 kids fall asleep in front of the tv, you wake them up and walk them to bed. So one night, we got to talking about that. How our parents would carry us up to bed. And what that felt like. How you’d half wake up, but pretend to be asleep so it wouldn’t end. How they would tuck you in, give you a kiss. Man that feeling: nothing like it, is there?

So we decided: fuck this, all children should have that. And we made it a rule, but a secret rule for adults: any child under the age of 12 that falls asleep will be carried to bed. No exceptions. It was pretty hard work on movie nights, but we did it. And I thanked my parents, and told them that I had to see the difference in a child’s life when there isn’t the certainty that someone will carry you to bed and tuck you in to understand what it means that someone does that for you. But at the same time I had always understood, because even now it’s so easy to remember that feeling of how strong papa is, how he lifts me, kisses me, how safe I feel. And just knowing that no matter where you fall asleep, they will carry you to bed.

Thanks mum and papa, for carrying me to bed!

I’m 52 now, and my father died when I was 9, just shy of his 39th birthday.

Now, as my screen name suggests, I grew up in Queens, in New York City. It’s almost a cliche by now to hear native New Yorkers my age say, “You know, I’ve lived in New York City my whole life and I’ve never been to ___.” You could fill in dozens of landmarks or big events: the Empire State Building, a Broadway show, the Statue of Liberty, the Thanksgiving Day Parade, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, whatever.

But you know, there isn’t a single thing I can think of that my Dad didn’t take me to see. Practically EVERY weekend, he took me and my brothers to see or do something amazing, even when we’d have preferred to stay home and watch cartoons. I only had my Dad for 9 years, but there’s very, very little that I can think of that we’d always meant to do but never got around to.

Beyond that, I now appreciate something that I didn’t appreciate at the time. My Mom taught me to read long before I started school. And whenever I started reading some kiddie book, my Dad’s inclination was to snatch it from me and replace it with something more challenging. If I was reading an Encylopedia Brown book, he’d look it over, then say, “You like mysteries? Then here, start reading Edgar Allan Poe, G.K. Chesterton and Arthur Conan Doyle.” If I was reading the kiddie version of some classic, he’d give me the original instead- he figured I’d be better off reading Washington Irving than a bowdlerized, illustrated knockoff version of “Rip Van Winkle.”

My dad died on Good Friday, 2012.

One thing I thought about while making notes for my eulogy was how he always wanted me to work in the garage with him. Fixing engine, changing oil and whatever else. I hated it growing up because I was not mechanically inclined at all. I thought he just wanted someone helping him. (not that I was much help!) I realized that what he was doing was trying to spend time with me, while also getting things done. He knew I didn’t really like that sort of thing and I know he never really understood me. I just hate that I couldn’t have realized it 30 years earlier.

I was the youngest which means I got all the good stuff because my dad earned more money as he got older. We were never rich but I never lacked anything. If he couldn’t afford it he built it or refurbished it starting with toys and bikes. the sandbox was built from scrap wood and we drove down to a river and hauled sand back to fill it. He attended every game I every played and when there wasn’t a coach available he went to the library and checked out a book on coaching and coached us to a winning season. to have a home field he and I went out to the area the city declared a playing field and we hacked out the tree roots that were still in the ground and he altered a fertilizer spreader to spread lime down as a line drawer.

His HS education was every bit as good as my college degree. He learned how to learn. He built is first house using common sense and library books. He fixed cars with basic tools and… library books. I have a zillion times more tools than he ever had to do the same type of work. It’s scary what he built with the few tools he had.

He was always there for us and would take on tasks he didn’t know how to do for his family. I don’t think I’ll ever live up to anything he accomplished on any level. My mother was pretty good at what she did also. I still remember some of her sage advice. when I questioned her about the task of “love they neighbor” she said I didn’t have to like them but I had to respect them and treat them the way I wanted to be treated. These were depression-era people who survived a world war and created their own reality together with a high school education. If everybody had parents like mine the world would be a massively better place to live in.

I was just blinking a lot until this post.

Then I lost it.

Smeg is right, he did.

I recall going out in the woods with friends for a weekend camping trip. It was muddy and my car got stuck trying to leave. My dad went out looking for us. I was sure glad to see his truck and winch.

I always knew my dad would help me any way he could. The one guy that never let me down.

My dad drove us around a lot. When we’d go downtown for an Indians game he’d drive us around and tell us all of the stops he made on his bread truck when he had the downtown route (he was the fill-in guy), before we went to the game. We would go on driving trips. Kind of like turner’s dad but not always to museums or whatever. Sometimes just to drive! His dad did this with his family too, so my dad must have enjoyed it.

I am a fucking awesome driver now and have an amazing sense of direction. And I’m the only person I know in my peer group (we’re a bunch of outer-outer-suburban kids) who is even remotely comfortable driving downtown. I’ve driven around other big cities too - Chicago, Seattle, Atlanta, San Francisco. No biggie! Everywhere I go in Cleveland I feel like I have been there before, and I probably have.

My dad worked his ass off when we were kids, too. He was laid off most of my childhood so he did everything from laying asphalt to splitting wood to the aforementioned bread truck. I always melt when I hear this line from De La Soul’s “The Grind Date”:

“I mean, my dad’s got five kids, man and I mean yo
he hates drivin’ a bus but he loves five kids”

Lovely story, Sauron – so sorry for your loss.

Aaaaaand, here’s where I lost it. In a good way. Good for you, and yes, I know just that feeling of safety and security you’re talking about, and I hope every child feels it at least once.

My mom did a lot of chauffeuring in my high school years, as I was involved with theater and choirs and speech team, all of which required before and after school and weekend rehearsals, performances and tournaments before I could drive. It doesn’t sound like much, but as a single mom who was also a teacher and worked 6am until 5pm all week and then came home to grade papers and plan lessons until 10 or 11, I bet she would have liked to sleep in on a Saturday once in a while. I think I appreciated it at the time, although not quite with the level of awareness I have today.

What I didn’t appreciate, didn’t even know was a sacrifice at the time, was that she always bought me a book. Always. I don’t recall a single time we were near a bookstore that she didn’t buy me at least one book. And now I know that, especially during her substitute teaching days, there were weeks she was literally scrounging under the floormats for enough nickles to buy a gallon of milk. She had to suck up her pride and ask her parents for more than one loan to make ends meet, but I always had a fresh book.

This is going to sound very shallow but - I appreciate that my dad always sent his child support on time and made his portion of the mortgage payments on time, every month, never a complaint, a court date or a reminder needed. My own adult experiences with non-custodial parents has been far less rosy. Being all the way across the country, he wasn’t there to play catch or look at flowers with me on a daily basis (although he did when I visited him), but he lived up to his financial responsibilities, and while it’s terrible that that’s a remarkable thing, it really is a remarkable thing, and I appreciate him for it.

I lost it there too. And then I remembered how big my relatively small children were by ten - it was around then we stopped.

And it is a remarkable thing. Even the best intentioned parents have months were they get busy and leave a bill unpaid. Or they have to put off paying someone by a week for a month so that the check won’t bounce. That he ALWAYS prioritized the payments you needed and never forgot or got busy is actually saying a lot.

gracer That is really special.

My dad tinkered around the house a lot and I loved to tag along. Growing up I did a lot of stuff from digging fence posts by hand, pouring concrete, painting and the like.

The fence is dead straight as a professional survey showed later, the concrete is level and flawless almost 30 years later and the paint never had runs or drips. I think there was murder in my eyes more than once when he made me do something over or over until it was perfect.

Now he is long gone and I do antique restorations as part of my buisness. It’s a lot of attention to detail and patience while doing some very delicate fiddly work where you have one shot at it.

Thanks Dad for not letting me get away with doing something half assed and I am now damn proud of my work. One of my biggest regrets is he never got to see my shop and what I’m doing.

As an aside, my buisness partner has three kids all involed in sports, band, clubs, all sorts of things. Some nights all three have something going at once. We struggle and shift things around a lot so if he needs to go at 3pm, off he goes to stand in the rain and watch his daughter sit on the bench for a field hocky game. 5 years and he never missed a game for her. I hope someday she has a conversation like this.

I never thought of it as a big thing, but my dad taught me to read at a very early age. It was a ritual that “going to bed” involved getting a book and having dad read a chapter to me, pointing out the words and explaining them to me, and it slowly evolved into me reading the chapter to him (still with the occasional point and explain).

And he never discouraged me from reading anything. If it looked like it was over my head, he might ask if I was sure, but that was all. When I was 6 or so, I found his copy of The Collected Ghost Stories of M. R. James. I started reading it and promptly had the screaming heebie-jeebies in the middle of the night. My mom wanted to take the book away from me, but dad said no, he needs to start what he finished. Screams and all.

Thanks, dad.