As Father’s Day approaches, I am hit with the realization that Don Quixote is the perfect image for my dad. I hadn’t thought of it before, but it is so true. He was so imaginative, so creative, and so full of stories and ideas all the time. He was like a walking encyclopedia. He wanted to do things he couldn’t possibly do, and he had a very thin grasp on reality sometimes – he was off tilting at windmills.
Not that he was crazy, but he didn’t really understand how other people felt, and so he didn’t have the same boundaries most people have. Yet he was always willing to ride to my rescue – I was his only child, and he was the only man in my life ever willing to do so any time of the night or day with no questions asked.
Janice Krahenbuhl, one of Gilroy’s most accomplished teachers (2006 Teacher of the Year), shared this special memory of her dad after she realized how much I was missing mine, who passed away 11 years ago.
“To me,” she said, “the toughest part of losing my dad in November of 1976, was the fact that I would never hear his voice again. When I really did things ‘right’ when I was a child, he would say, “That’s the stuff!”
“I was (by far) the youngest of his children, and he was 72 years old when I was 22 and graduated from college. At my graduation, as they read my name, ‘Janice Krahenbuhl, high academic honors,’ I gazed up in the stands of thousands of people, and amazingly, our eyes met.
“He was such a clown! There could be no doubt in the mind of anyone nearby who he was there for, because he put his opened program on his head and collapsed on the knees of the person sitting behind him in the University of the Pacific football stadium. What a relief to have the last one educated! That said it all!
“I know how much you must miss him – my brother and I, the only ones ‘left’ of the five kids – always communicate the eve before Dad’s birthday of July 9, and it’s always a special connection. I’m teary for you right now as I think of how you are thinking of your Dad.”
I miss my dad’s voice too. My dad had the most mellifluous tenor you’ve ever heard. When he soared high to hit those impossible notes – the notes were so clear and pure that people said it reminded them of bells ringing. When he stood beside me to sing hymns in church, I got chills up and down my spine. On Christmas Eve, he would stand and sing from the balcony and his voice would float down to us from up above as he sang “The Lord’s Prayer.” Everyone in the church would be holding their breath, mesmerized. You could hear a pin drop; when he finished there would be a collective sigh.
Yet he never had any confidence. He was totally insecure, unsure of himself, doubtful of his talent, afraid to step out of his comfort zone, afraid to sing in new settings, afraid he wouldn’t be good enough, afraid he wouldn’t sing perfectly. Every note had to be perfect. I remember arguing with him one time about a choir cantata that he was feeling he didn’t know well enough. But I knew that he could have sight-read it with no rehearsal and sounded better than other members who had practiced for weeks. But there was no convincing him; he withdrew at the last minute.
If he thought he didn’t know the piece perfectly, he wouldn’t even attempt singing it – he would just be a no-show. He would suddenly become “ill.” Sometimes my mom would shop to get him a new outfit for a special performance; she’d encourage him for weeks ahead of time; she’d compliment him and try to build up his confidence: on the day of the performance she’d get everything ready and ironed, and then at the last minute, he would suddenly come down with a sore throat or an upset stomach. He would take to his bed, and she’d have to constantly bring him tea and mushroom soup. We would tiptoe around the house to keep it quiet for him. Whenever a big performance was coming up, she learned to stock up on lots of mushroom soup.
So that’s where I come from – watching this example of incredible talent all my life but seeing it framed in such fear and anxiety. My mom always told me how sensitive a soul he was and that we had to take care of him.
He was shy and insecure and didn’t express his emotions. Although he never once said it out loud, I know some part of him really did love me. I have really learned a lot from him, including what I don’t want to be like. The hardest things in our lives are what teach us the most. My dad taught me this: take risks; do what you love; don’t be afraid to make mistakes, and don’t hesitate to tell those who mean something to you that you love them. In an unexpected way, my dad inadvertently made me what I am today – resilient, persevering, empathetic, and grateful for the love I have in my life.
In memory of you, Dad, Happy Father’s Day.