The Mantra of a Man

I’ve often closed my eyes and pictured myself in my father’s place huddled inside a bunker under enemy fire during the Tet Offensive of early 1968. I can visualize, as if I were there, the barracks, the hangars, and the tool box my dad worked out of as an enlisted mechanic. I could probably make the argument I was there – biologically, at least – but obviously have no idea what his eyes truly witnessed. I’ve made up scenarios and situation that made him out to be the hero I always pictured, but I’ve always been good at embellishing what actually happened; and truthfully, I am embellishing my interpretation of his stories of what happened, so as in the game of telephone, I am probably much father off than I think, but oh well.

I’m not a sappy person; I usually am the guy who makes fun of people who boldly share their heart. Having a cynical nature can be freeing that way. The truth is, my father does not talk much, especially in matters of the heart. He is not the father that never said, “I love you”; in fact, he has never been afraid to say that at all. He has also been clear that he supports me and is proud of me. He just keeps a lot of things inside, and it can be hard to read him, or to really know what’s going on.

I may be the only person who thinks this about their dad, but it is hard to see my father as aging. Even though his hair is grayer (what’s there), there are more wrinkles, and he complains a bit more about his back pain, he still looks to me the same as he did when I was five and he wasn’t that much older than I am now. Because of that, it can be very hard to accept his limits.

I have been up to my armpits in home improvements, renovations, car repairs, and all the other manual labor-type activities that all us husbands live with, and—as per the nature of our family—I don’t like to work alone. With my dad in the same city, he makes an easy candidate to ask for help. Not so much that I need his strength in tightening a bolt, or arm length to reach something high up, but I like having him around. His wisdom (a lot of these type projects are new to me) and experience are nice qualities to have around while I am trying to take off a water pump for the first time, or lining up exactly where I’m going to hang the kitchen cabinets.

Don’t get me wrong, he has his faults. He has been known to gripe on occasion, and has the tendency to get annoyed when things don’t work the way they are supposed to (a trait DEFINITELY passed on to me), and sometimes he gets focused more on getting the job done, thus lending him to take the job over and do it for me. Again, these are traits I share too – but this is the one I truly hope has passed on – he is willing to admit that he made mistakes and is open to change. When confronted with that exact take over mentality last week he quickly recanted and was a great team player.

Ok, so I’ve shared some of my father’s weaknesses, but that is not the reason for this. What I hope comes through this LOUD and CLEAR is that my father has always been there. Never once has he declined to help on a project, regardless of how much pain he may be in, or the fact that he just spent all day at my brother’s house doing the same thing for him. Whether it was a swim meet, a ride to youth group, money for a trip, working on the car, etc… He has always jumped when asked, and never turned any of us away while in need (even when we only THOUGHT we were in need).

He has been instrumental in projects that I gladly take applause for – the basement, the kitchen, etc…and he would never even dare to take the limelight, for that was never his mantra. His mantra, was, is, and will be always to roll up his sleeves and make sure that those he loved had everything they needed. For that, Dad, thanks. I love you.

Don Stalnaker in his early 20s after enlisting to go to war in Vietnam.

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