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  • Rev. Barbara Ballenger

Rector’s Note: Father's Day-6.15.23

My father, Jesse Gerber, would have turned 100 years old this Sunday, June 18, which is also Father’s Day. He died of a brain tumor 35 years ago when I was about to turn 22 -- just weeks after I had moved away from home and started my first job as a newspaper reporter.


I’ve been thinking about my dad a lot lately, perhaps because a century is a startling thing to contemplate, especially when it is connected to someone I knew and loved, rather than simply sitting in a history book to mark the passage of time periods. As I look at my family members, I realize that my sense of history flows more from their lives, than from calendars.


1923 was the year that Calvin Coolidge became president upon the death of Warren G. Harding, and the first issue of Time Magazine was published. But I only know that from looking it up on Wikipedia. To me it’s the year when my father was born, six years before my mother, who arrived just before the Stock Markets crashed in 1929. She will be 94 on July 5.


My dad was in his late 40s when I was born, his hair already thinning and silver. My mom said that at first the hospital attendants wouldn’t let him see me, his third and youngest daughter, because they assumed he was a grandparent and not the father. By the time I came along he was head of Adult Vocational Education for the City of Akron, Ohio, a job he had until he retired in his late 50s. It was the professional expression of his own avocation as a woodworker. He spent most Saturdays absorbed in his basement workshop, out of which he constructed gunstocks for his hunting rifles, as well as rolling bookcases, cabinets, plantstands, and just about anything we asked him to make.


I went looking for photos and mementos of him recently in the boxes in my basement that are supposed to hold such things. They must all be at my sister’s house. I came up with a scant collection – blurry photos I took as a teenager, a few pieces of doll house furniture, and of course the musical instruments that he courageously made at my request – a Celtic harp and a lap dulcimer from kits, and a hammered dulcimer from some questionable instructions I found in the back of a magazine. I played these instruments like mad when I was in college and fancied myself a collector of folk instruments.


My dad was so intrigued by the hammered dulcimer that he made a few more and started to sell them at local craft shows before he got sick during my senior year in college. I do have the laminated sign that he hung up at his first show: Gerber’s Woods and Goods.


My dad wasn’t really musical, though he had a repertoire of Boy Scout and military songs that he would sing with gusto on long car trips. When I was little I thought he was the best singer in the world, and I was convinced we should go into show business together as a singing duo, or at least land a spot on the local televised talent program, The Gene Carroll Show, broadcast out of Cleveland.


He would dissuade me from my more unrealistic schemes with good humor, but he never discouraged me, which is a great quality in a parent. And he often accompanied me– taking me rock hunting in local creek beds, playing catch with me in the backyard to keep me sharp for CYO softball, heading off for trips to a local ice cream store where I would buy foot-long sticks of grape Bub Daddy chewing gum, and he would indulge his own love of ice cream sundaes. I tried my hand at the target shooting that he loved, and we discharged recurve bows and handmade crossbows at bags of newspaper placed at the other end of our cinder block basement, much to my mother’s chagrin.


And we would make things in his basement workshop, as he insisted that I help when I asked him to craft something for me. If I stretch my memory back as far as I can go I come up with the following that we made together: a toy horse that I could ride; a wooden rifle that I was not allowed to point at anyone; a doll house that I still have, and another modeled on my grandmother’s house that fell apart over time; doll furniture and tiny plates and bowls that he turned on his wood lathe, and of course all those instruments. And while we made these things, we helped make each other. That’s what the give- and-take of parenting and childing do for us – they help fashion us into the people we will be, both adult and child. It’s a developmental two-way street, for better or worse.


At their worst, holidays like Father’s Day or Mother’s Day can swallow us in convenient fictions about what parents should be – golf-playing dads and cookie-baking moms. They can trade in dangerous nostalgia, papering over bigger disappointments, traumas, losses, betrayals. They are too obtuse for the really subtle stuff that truly shapes us as children or parents. For that reason, I don’t evoke Father’s Day lightly.

But I’m letting this Father’s Day off the hook this time around, 100 years after the birth of my dad. Memory walks like this have their own ulterior motive, answering questions like: how did I get to be the way I am? Where did this nose come from or this love or this pain? Whom do I owe and whom do I blame? So this year, I’ve let myself time travel a bit, and appreciate someone who helped form what I’ve become, who likely would have accompanied me here if he could have, and in some ways who never left.


Happy Birthday Dad. And Happy Father’s Day too.

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2 comentários


dianamary54
23 de jun. de 2023

What a beautifully rendered remembrance! Loved it.

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sam hogg
sam hogg
15 de jun. de 2023

what a profound and nuanced account of a precious relationship. i'm moved to think and feel about my own sonning and fathering.

sam hogg

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