On my 40×40 list, #35 states, “Write a letter to five people who have inspired me, change my life and/or supported me.” This is one of those letters. Happy Father’s Day, Old Man Cooper.
Remember the countless hours you spent on the stairway of our old house with me sitting between your knees and a bottle of No More Tangles in your hand, trying to unsnarl my doll-like hair? I do. And I remember calling you from college, frantic and nervous about an upcoming final that I hadn’t studied for (or done the homework, or attended class). Even though you were in the middle of your busy work day at the bank, you always took my call.
And you would say the right thing.
I remember that you would lend me your knife on backpacking trips so I could whittle myself a fork out of a piece of wood each night before dinner. Even when I was four. You put up with my need to always be the caboose when hiking and running, and tried to encourage me to move along by telling me that fairies lived in the fungal growths on trees and they would only come out if I kept in motion. It was a brilliant plan; I was determined to see those fairies, so onward I would trod. (I’ve already told Roper about fairy houses – he seems to have my penchant for being last).
After our nightly runs around Sahalee you’d always “race” me to the finish line, pretending to sprint but letting me win. In the evenings I would sit in the curl of your legs as you lay on the couch watching TV in front of the wood stove. Each night we’d take turns reading pages out of Dr. Seuss books and you would tuck me in.
You taught me the 80% theory. That perfect grades were for other people, like Mom and Big Monkey. You taught me to let people underestimate me, and then to surprise them. I got my self-deprecating humor and love of a good story from you.
You also taught me that anything worth doing is worth doing right. The FIRST time.
You taught me discipline and personal standards. If we did something you didn’t like – something major – and just apologized for it, we’d get the obligatory two-fingered Collarbone Thump with every word you delivered. “Sorry (thump) doesn’t (thump) cut it (thump, thump),” as you’d stare us down. “If you were sorry, you wouldn’t have done it in the first place.”
I hated those collarbone thumps, but they made an impression. They made me think of the consequences of my actions before I acted on them. They made me responsible.
But you also fielded years of disciplinary calls from our vice principals regaling you with the latest stupid stunt Big Monkey or I pulled. On the phone you’d promise to straighten us out like pieces of wire, and then wouldn’t mention it when you got home, knowing that the mere thought of Mom finding out was punishment enough.
You taught me flexibility and spontaneity. To juggle everything, you’d routinely change your clothes (from three-piece suit to soccer attire) in the car, while driving through Seattle traffic. My favorite Saturdays were when you took me into work with you. I treasured the days that we headed downtown to your big fancy office building. If I was lucky, we got to eat at the Iron Horse and have my grilled-cheese-fries-and-a-coke (always ordered as one word) delivered by model train. What a treat!
You taught me how to ski on the rope tow at Alpental at age three. I’d hunker between your legs for both the tow up and the exhilarating ride down. And when I started whining and crying about cold fingers you’d quickly put your big gloves on my little hands. I never understood how your hands weren’t freezing too, but now that we have a little shaver I realize that the passion to be out there, and instilling that passion in my child, is enough to endure almost anything. Your hands WERE cold.
Thank you for the sacrifices.
You deserve a medal for teaching me to drive. You obviously have nerves of steel. And I’m pleased that I seem to have inherited your knack for talking your way out of most tickets.
You are always early. Anytime we make a meeting plan, I know that you’ll be there thirty minutes early. Toby doesn’t understand my hypersensitivity to promptness. I blame you ;) Although none of this makes sense when I think back on how many flights you missed or nearly missed when you were traveling for business.
You’re recharged by a ten-minute nap and you almost always conquer the Sunday crossword puzzle. We can always count on you to make breakfast and insist on doing the dishes after every meal. You even ironed your own dress shirts (when you didn’t pay me to do it). For every museum Mom took us, you finagled a way to hit the slopes – including taking Jeff and I out-of-bounds in Chamonix (Best. Run. Ever). You never shy away from a new adventure and you are always, ALWAYS fair.
You rarely say a bad word about anyone. But I’ve adopted your habit of referring to everyone by nicknames (Mrs. Bird Dog, The Dipshits…) You also have your own Dad-isms that I adore. I have made it a lifetime goal to keep you on the phone for longer than three minutes and have only recently become mildly successful.
Toby and I may or may not refer to you as “Eastwood” behind your back.
Dad, you were a hero for mom. You were a hero for Jeff and me – you afforded us time with her to say goodbye. We will never be able to repay you for that. Thank you for doing everything right.
Thank you for introducing me to Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin. Thank you for always greeting us with, “good morning, sports fans!” and always having a positive attitude about life. Thank you for taking me on a trip of a lifetime to Africa. Thank you for enduring long, circular conversations with my son, like the one I hear coming from your patio swing right now. You are an amazing role model. Stubborn, but amazing.
I am always thrilled to hear that I remind people of you.
I love you,