What Dad did for me

Dad and me: proud in our matching suits, Grandma and Grandpa Bartel’s house, 1978.

Being a relatively new father and an unremittingly introspective sort of person, I’ve been reflecting a lot about my Dad, Jerry Johnson, and what choices he made as a father that formed who I am. Today is this great man’s birthday and here is a short list of what makes him so outstanding:

— He took me everywhere. Through most of my childhood Dad was on the road a lot driving an 18 wheeler throughout Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas picking up and delivering oil field pipe. When he could, he took me with him. Sometimes Mom came with, a lot of the time it was just me and him. Once I was old enough, I was in charge of pouring the coffee. No small task on a bad stretch of I-35. The smell of diesel fumes still unfailingly reminds me of those trips.

— He always had time for me. I cannot remember a single time that Dad said anything like, “I’m busy, go somewhere else.” I was his little helper for jobs large and small and he often found a task for me to do. Once when he was torching apart an old truck to make a trailer he put a garden hose in my five year old hands for fire suppression. I think I only sprayed him once. It bugs me that geography keeps me from being a more useful helper to him now.

— His praise is unconditional and copious. Mom and Dad came to all the school and church plays, all the band concerts, and always had good things to say about my artwork. There were many self-produced solo shows in my bed room and they were always happy to attend. Some parents may see their role to be a never satisfied critic; my Dad has never been anything but a loyal fan.

— As mentioned above, he always had a project going — usually adding on to our house. I watched (and helped?) him pour concrete, put up framing, sheath, and shingle a seemingly endless stream of projects. Now even though I work with wood every day the smell of pine pitch and plywood glue still takes me back to those projects.

So what did Dad do for me? I grew up in a home with perpetually busy, traveling man who could always find time and praise for me. Through his example he led me to know that, our world, this life, is good and it’s never done — it is always in the process of becoming and I am a part of it. What a gift.

Happy birthday Dad. I love you.

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