Column: Father sometimes stares back from the mirror

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By: 

Roger VanHaren

Sometimes — not always — but sometimes, when I look in the mirror, I see my dad’s face where my face used to be. Mind you, I’m not complaining when I see my dad’s face there; after all, I am my father’s son.

There’s a line from a rock song (but I’ll be darned if I can remember who it’s by) that says, “Though my friends mostly don’t see it, I see my father in my own face.” When I was a kid I used to look at my dad, and I’d think,“I don’t resemble him at all.” I always thought I looked more like my mom. To be honest, I sometimes still look at myself and see a little resemblance to Mom. I think that the older I get, the more I’m reminded of my dad.

My dad had beautiful white hair; mine is greying and not very distinguished-looking like his. We have the same dark eyes. There are a few physical resemblances, but I don’t think that’s exactly what I see when I look at my face in the mirror and see in its place my dad’s face.

It’s more the expression, the look in the eyes, the attitude. We went very different roads in our lives: Dad was forced by circumstances to quit school very early and he became a farmer — a darned good one; I got a bachelor’s and then a master’s degree and taught English. Toward the end of his working career, Dad had to quit farming and took a job working as a custodian (he preferred to be called a janitor) at the high school in Oconto Falls. He loved the interaction with the kids and the faculty — the same things I loved about my job. So maybe our roads weren’t so different after all.

I’ve been thinking about Dad’s voice. Sometimes when I say something, I have the distinct impression that I’ve just spoken in his voice, not mine. It’s not something that I choose, really; I’ll just be thinking about or talking about my dad, saying something that he did or might have said, and I hear my voice and intonation shift a little bit, my rhythm changes a little bit, and something between his voice and mine comes out of my mouth. Don’t ask me to do it on purpose; I can’t. And probably no one else would hear it, but I do.

No doubt this is complicated psychological stuff I’m talking about here, but is it really? I think it’s just a little spark of understanding: I recognize my father in myself, that’s all. It’s just a real “connection.” Maybe I want to hear his voice coming from my mouth so that I never forget what he sounds like.

My dad did not have an easy life. Farmers live hard lives; they work way too many hours for too small a return on their labors. Janitors have hard, often thankless, jobs. They’re under-appreciated for sure. You know, he never complained about the hard work; he thrived on it, and I learned a great deal from his work ethic. He was (and is) a real role model for me.

Well, my dad had it rough, but he kept his true love for over 68 years. I hope I can do that. Marilyn and I will hit 58 this summer, so I still have a way to go, but, like my dad, I’m working on it!

So, Dad, I want you to know that I have no regrets when I look in the mirror and see you standing there. I can’t think of anything better.

Contact Roger VanHaren @rjmavh@gmail.com.