Tribute to a Father

My father passed away on August 19, 2009. He was 85.

He has been the single most influential person in my life. While the list of his attributes, and the lessons he taught me, is long indeed, in this blog I want to focus on a most precious gift he gave me: loving and appreciating animals.

Dad grew up on a farm in Kansas. They had cows, pigs, chickens, dogs. As a kid he observed squirrels, turtles, birds, skunks, deer...whatever wildlife crossed his path. He learned to be gentle with animals, and they learned to trust him. I like to think he passed that gift, that skill, to me. He and I certainly shared a love of all animals.

I have fond memories of watching nature programs on TV with him when I was young, like Mutual of Omaha's Animal Kingdom, and Disney's Wide World of Animals (I think that was the name), marveling at the amazing diversity of animals in our world.

Growing up, my mother would have preferred we not have pets. Too much shedding, she said. But Dad insisted. "Every kid should have a dog," he said. I have vague memories of Rusty, a cocker spanial who died when I was four or five but was a wonderful cuddler. A few years later, we got Trinket, a pet store mutt. After serious negotiating and much to my mother's chagrin, Trinket was allowed to sleep in our beds; my brother Tim and I fought over who got her each night until Mom created a schedule. Dad tought Trinket lots of tricks, using patience, encouragement, and treats (carrots, of all things). Dad tought us how to treat animals, with kindness and respect, but with structure and rules as well. I'll never forget how Dad convinced Trinket to enjoy being vacuumed! It was his compromise with my Mom - Dad's way of trying to keep the shedding to a minimum. Trinket loved his attention so much than even the noise of the vacuum was tolerable, and he made the vacuuming seem more like a massage.

He could gentle any animal.

He introduced me - a suburban kid - to horses, driving my friend Kelly and me to a nearby ranch where we could rent horses for an hour while Dad chatted with the owner about who knows what.

Dad taught me that if a dog doesn't like being bathed, like my first Malamute, I could reduce the stress of the process of giving her the movement of her six foot leash tied to a tree outside. Forget the trauma of a tub. She had some control over her body, but couldn't completely avoid me and the bucket of warm water. It was an inspired compromise, and a lesson I never forgot. No creature likes to be completely subjugated and controlled; there's always a compromise.

My father was a true leader by example. I'm sure many of his lessons are still unknown to me, but will guide me through various life events to come.

I miss my father so much. Yet every time I hug my dogs, every time they make me laugh or provide me comfort, I remember him and thank him for teaching me how to love animals and how to accept their love in return. I can't imagine life without dogs and animals intimately woven into it, and that is just one of my father's many legacies.

Thanks, Dad. I love you.