I probably leave the door open for that question–the one I get all the time–because I’m never happy with the simple answer, which is that my parents worked for the Presbyterian church for 22 years. I want people to hear the story. To imagine what it was like for my dad to leave the farm in eastern Oregon and end up in places like northern Africa. How he came back from war, as I once heard him say, with the world on his heart. How the emperor of Ethiopia returned home after World War II to find a country devastated by the Italian occupation–and invited church groups in to help with schools and hospitals. How someone told that to my dad…by then a young minister with three kids in Portland, Oregon…and said, “You’d be great in Ethiopia.”
Since I grew up in rural Ethiopia (unlike my younger siblings who grew up in the city), I spent lots of time tagging after Dad while he innoculated mules against sleeping sickness and as he dangled down a cliff by a waterfall, putting in a mill to grind grain into flour. Once I watched him clinging to the roof of that house in the picture–in a wind storm–fastening some kind of tarp so the grass wouldn’t blow away.
Was it scary? Lots of times it was. My dad was the one in my family with the outside genes. I could never have written Lanie’s stories the way I did if I hadn’t spent so much time outside with him. But he also was a big part of shaping my writer self in another way. He spent lots of time reading to us and telling us stories.
So that’s the kind of thing I think about on Father’s Day. I also think about what it was like to watch my kids tag after their dad and my dad. To see the sweet times when they shared a book together.
When my second son graduated from preschool, each child got a chance to stand up and answer the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Lots of the boys wanted to be firemen and policemen and circus acrobats. I thought Jonathan might say he wanted to be Spiderman.
He stood up in his small cap and gown and said, “I want to be a grandpa.”