You couldn't say my father and I had a relationship like most of my friends had with their dads. After I returned from naval service at the close of World War II, he and I were friendly, but never close. Perhaps it was because he was frequently absent from my life up to the time that I enlisted; more likely it was because I was preoccupied with my friends and what was going on in my world, not exactly shunning him, but keeping a safe distance between us. An alcoholic, he had been a journeyman carpenter in the 1920s and '30s. With the help of AA, he stopped drinking in 1941, later starting up a roofing and siding company. His dream was for me to join him in the business, but I had other ideas.
After the war, during my summer vacations from college, I worked for my father; the experience convinced me that roofing would not be in my future. A perfectionist, he kept a close eye on me, and when he spied a shingle that didn't line up with its neighbor, I had to rip it off and nail on another while he stood behind me and looked over my shoulder. Nearing 60 years old, his agility on a makeshift scaffold always astounded me — I stood there 30 feet above the ground, knees shaking, trying to correct my mistake without mashing my thumb.
We left for work early during hot weather, anywhere from 6 to 7 a.m. This enabled me to be on the golf course by 4, a concession he granted both of us. He didn't relish working in 90-degree heat any more than I did.
I reluctantly deferred to my father's work rules. "Always buy good paint and a good brush." Years later I ignored this advice and found out the hard way that using cheap paint to cover our dock was akin to brushing on glue. And when working on a scaffold, "Never look down — just concentrate on what you're doing" (easy for you, Dad, difficult for me). "You should be getting to bed earlier" was the one that always got me (I was often tempted to ask, "What were you doing nights when you were 22?"). His admonishments were largely forgotten soon after leaving the job site; my mind was focused on golf.
My dad came from the "school of hard knocks" and wanted me to learn from the mistakes he had made. I wouldn't let myself concede that he could possibly know more than I did. I was determined to make it on my own, and live my life my way.
One bit of his advice did resonate: "You can get all the education in the world, but if you can't get along with people, you won't be successful." I tried not to forget that one. Dad was a prime example of how to get along with others; his friends were many and loyal.
Sixty years later, the wisdom of his words is clear. Thanks a lot, Dad; you were one smart guy.
Dan Riley, a winter resident of Spring Hill, is a veteran of the Navy Amphibious Forces in the Pacific. Retired from the Lever Brothers Co., he writes memoirs, short stories and poetry.