This post has been in the back of my mind for a long time, but I needed to think about it carefully to properly set the stage.
I really loved my Dad, who died in 1998. He also really loved me. We almost always had a great relationship and could talk freely about almost anything. We didn’t have one of those relationships that require professional outside intervention, and when he died I didn’t have any regrets about “things I wished that I had (or had not) told him”.
George R. Edison was a physician, specializing in internal medicine. He loved medicine and was an excellent doctor. He could be incredibly grumpy to patients, nurses, and hospital staff, but I think that most people also knew that he cared deeply about them. He made house calls, he answered the phone in our house at all hours, he often drove to the hospital in the middle of the night when we were all asleep. He used the term “phone abuse” to apply to anyone (including his family!) who needed to talk longer than a few minutes at a time, because it would tie up the line. He often needed to visit a sick patient in the hospital or a nursing home on Christmas day, delaying our family gift opening. He was a “lone wolf” and never joined a group practice, which he despised.
Dad knew that he wanted to be a physician since before high school. He was incredibly focused, very smart, and entered Columbia University at age 16 and Columbia Medical School (P&S) at about 20. There never was any doubt in his mind that he would be a doctor.
Somehow, I didn’t get the “focus” gene.
As I’ve mentioned early in my blog, ice hockey was the only focus or serious interest I had around the age my Dad was knocking off his premed requirements. Fortunately for Dad, he wasn’t very good at sports or building things, but he did become a dedicated and serious marathon runner as an adult.
Anyone who has read any of my blog must immediately realize what an amazingly patient and understanding Dad I had. He had earned his M.D. about the same age that I had dropped out of college twice, gotten married, built a house in the woods with no electricity or running water, and was working (for no money) as a saddle maker’s apprentice. Sure, he’d periodically ask something like “so, have you thought at all about going back to school?”, to which I’d answer something like “Abe Lincoln didn’t need it, and neither do I.”
Dad almost never judged me, despite the fact that he must have been worried…
One day, probably in 1983–about a year after we got married–Katherine and I were driving from Santa Fe to Salt Lake City to visit our families. I was loving saddle making but I knew very little about horses. It was really the craft that appealed most to me, but I needed to learn the cowboy side of things. We were living in our cabin with no water or electricity and cooking on a wood cook stove. As we drove through the beautiful (but harsh) desert of southern Utah, we came up with a fantastic new plan:
We would move to a large working ranch where I would be the saddle maker and Katherine would be the cook. This would provide on-the-job training in a beautiful setting in the middle of Southern Utah or Colorado or Northern New Mexico. I would improve my skills in saddle making and get real training with horses. Katherine had always been a good cook, and it made perfect sense. We discussed this together in the car for the next 6-8 hours until we arrived at my Dad’s house in Salt Lake.
I was so excited that as soon as we had our hugs, put down our bags, and had a quick stop in the bathroom, I eagerly told Dad about our new plan. I clearly caught him with his guard down, because he was stunned. After I finished, he told me:
“Son, that’s the stupidest goddamned idea you’ve ever had. What you need to do is make some money and make it fast.”
Katherine and I looked at each other, and I could hardly keep from laughing. But I also instantly realized for the very first time in my life that I could make my own decisions and didn’t need Dad to agree with me.
It was a stupid idea, and we never did it (at least not quite in the way we described–it was much cushier…). But it was liberating, and I knew then that I had become an adult.
This is exactly as I remember it, too!
It’s really interesting how Fathers influence us in our youth. Many times the path we take to becoming an adult is non-linear and tortured and in some cases not always pleasant. In my case, as a farm boy, I remember, for example, when I was 13,wallowing through knee deep mud in a pasture fetching cows in the pouring rain, following the previous day of sweating, nearly passing out from heat exhaustion (which was not uncommon in those days) from stacking hay and straw in the barn all day at temperatures of 100+ degrees. It was then, following years of watching my uncomplaining Father work as hard as humanly possible 24/7, that I decided that farm life was not for me and that college somehow was a necessity. Nevertheless, over the years, with time, and perspective, I realize what a valued and priceless education my father and the farm imparted to me, despite the grueling hardships of everyday life.
That is a great lesson and story! It is nice that you learned to appreciate the education that you got on the farm. Not very many people get that any more, and somehow I think that we lose something as a society without people’s experience like yours.