Reflections on being a father

As I reflect on my seven decades of living, it is only now that I realize just how much I have enjoyed the role of helping to raise a son and a daughter. I recognize that I made many mistakes as a father. I also believe my wife and I got a few things right.

Being a father is a huge responsibility. For me, I didn’t fully appreciate parenting’s magnitude. I flew by the seat of my pants, using others as models. For good or ill, my father was my chief influencer.

Dr. Benjamin Spock aside, us baby boomers basically were on our own when it came to being parents. After all, neither the Internet nor Google had been born.

We were offspring of the silent generation. Even with other parents as role models, not counting Ward and June Cleaver, I heavily relied on common sense and practicality in being a father.

I understand that we didn’t parent alone or in isolation. My wife and I had much help from friends, family, teachers, and the very organizations in which we served.

My wife and I tried to be on the same page when it came to parental decisions, though we weren’t always consistent. Still, together, we managed to raise two healthy youngsters from diapers to diplomas into adulthood, and then let them fly on their own.

As parents, we tried not to alter our lifestyles significantly once our children arrived. We took them to concerts, calling hours, museums, baseball games, and family picnics. We visited cities, state and national parks, hiked and fished, and generally enjoyed showing them the breadth and depths of life, as we knew it.

Being the father of adult children is a whole different ballgame than when they were youngsters. It is difficult to watch them make decisions similar to what their mother and I had done and not say anything unless asked.

However, being a grandfather has given me a clearer perspective on fatherhood. We live in a global world today, just as we always have. Only I didn’t connect those dots then. I do now, and I am so glad to see that both our son and daughter comprehend how interconnected the world in which we live is.

As mother and father, we imperfectly tried to teach and model the precepts of service, humility, fairness, justice, and mercy. Now, as a senior citizen, I am so grateful for the opportunities to observe our “children” in their daily, imperfect walk to make this rough and tumble world a better place.

I have cherished my role as a father. Now I find great joy in listening, observing, and reflecting as I watch our grandchildren grow all too quickly. It’s like being a parent all over again, only without the direct primary responsibility or the tax deductions.

If I had it to do over again, I would work diligently to explore far beyond my own life space, beyond my own comfort zone. I realize, too, the duplicity of my community involvement. Frequently other activities took precedence over that of my family. I also know that participation set examples of service to others for them.

It is gratifying to watch your adult children successfully employ the precepts you labored to teach them. It is equally uplifting to be there when they need assistance in doing so.

I am grateful that our daughter and son have developed into successful, productive, and caring adults. What more could a father want?

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Telling tales tall and true

Dick Stambaugh, native Americans, artifacts
Dad gave his last public presentation on Native Americans 10 years ago at age 88.

By Bruce Stambaugh

My late father wore a lot of hats in his long life. Husband, father, son, brother, uncle, engineer, sailor, hunter, fisherman, volunteer, traveler, archeologist, writer, photographer, teacher, leader, joiner, and planner. In short, Dad’s life was both full and fulfilling.

From these varied life experiences, Dad gained his most formidable reputation, that of a storyteller. No matter the situation, Dad loved to relive the past by telling one tale after the other. He could regale yarns with the best of them, embellishing the story when the facts needed a little flavoring. Perhaps that was one of the reasons people liked him so much.

Dad used his many interests and experiences to inform and entertain people of all ages and situations. He gave many presentations to school children and senior citizens alike about Native Americans who had lived in the Ohio region. Dad used arrowheads and other artifacts that he had found on nearby farms to make the talk as meaningful as possible for his audiences.

People often remarked to me that Dad was a great storyteller. With no disrespect, I’d reply by saying, “Yes, he was, and some of those stories were actually true.”

What Dad didn’t realize was that his adventurous life created a book of charming chapters all their own. Each one of my siblings likely has their personal favorite stories they could share.

Mom and Dad on their wedding day, August 1942.
Dad loved to hunt, as much for the camaraderie with his fellow hunters as for bringing home game. That was especially true during deer season. Once when he actually shot a deer, he had a remarkable story to accompany the carcass.

Hunting in the hilly, steep terrain of southeast Ohio, Dad was tracking a nice buck through deep snow. With the buck quickly outdistancing Dad by going up the opposite hill across a ravine, Dad took a desperate shot just as the deer jumped a wire fence.

Dad saw the deer go down and schlepped to the spot as best he could in the wintery conditions. Dad was shocked by what he found when he climbed over the fence. Lying in the snow was a dead deer all right, only it was a doe. Dad happily retold that story every chance he could, with the snow getting deeper with each recap.

Another time Dad returned from hunting and showed us the game he had shot. He went out to feed Boots, our springer spaniel, but couldn’t find her. Thinking she had run off, we all looked and looked in vain. A week later Dad opened the car trunk, and there was Boots, faithfully and quietly waiting for her master to finally let her out. She had been in the trunk all that time without food or water.

On another hunting expedition in glacial kame and kettle topography, Boots ran a rabbit into the thicket of the marshy bottomland. The hunting party plunged into the briers and brambles in hot pursuit while Dad ordered me, just 10 or so at the time, to stay on the more open hillside. Soon I heard a shot, quickly followed by a yelp and then a shout from my father, “You shot my dog!”

Fortunately, Boots only had a few buckshot pellets in one paw and limped on. The poor rabbit, likely scared out of its fur, had actually jumped into the crook of a small tree a few feet from the ground. I don’t remember the fate of either the rabbit or the tree.

Dick Stambaugh was a fantastic storyteller. He also wrote some incredible, memorable tales through the exciting, engaging life he lived.

thecottagebybrucestambaugh
The cottage my parents built and where Dad loved to hunt and fish.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

Being a father brings lots of lessons

biking, Holmes Co. OH trail
A family bike ride.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Years ago a small army of children caused a raucous in a restaurant. My only son leaned in, and half in jest asked, “Why do couples bother to have kids?”

I saw my chance and took it. “I’ve wondered that a few times myself,” I retorted. A wry smile was the only evidence that my adult son got my point.

My wife and I felt fortunate to raise two beautiful children, a girl, and a boy. Like any other kids, they caused us grief and moments of angst of course. But in the bigger and better picture, they were both great kids. I’ll relinquish bragging rights to simply say I have immensely enjoyed being their father.

As young adults in our late 20s, Neva and I were raw at parenting. We didn’t have the infinite resources parents do today. We did have a strong support team. Besides our parents, siblings and friends who were also raising children helped steer us in the right direction.

be nice to people
Like the sign says.
Our own parents served as our most positive role models. They taught us to be polite, respectful, truthful, and fair. We tried to do the same with Carrie and Nathan. Not that what we did or said was perfect or absolutist in approach. We just believed in letting our children explore the world, allowing them to make mistakes as long as their actions didn’t endanger themselves or others.

We loved and love our daughter and son. We wanted the best for them. But we were realistic, too. Living on teacher salaries, we weren’t rich. But we weren’t poor either. Our wealth came not in dollars and cents or stocks and bonds but in enjoying as many life experiences together as we could. Often that meant relating to other human beings and to nature. We traveled, worked, worshiped, and played together.

We tried to teach our son and daughter the essential elements required for a successful life. We emphasized the formula of our parents. Develop a strong work ethic, be actively engaged in the community, participate in a faith family, and embrace the family circle no matter how crazy. To that end, we stressed being kind, generous, considerate, curious, questioning, creative, helpful, compassionate, mindful, and honest.

That being said, I’m pretty sure my own children have taught me more than I actually taught them, however. As adults, both son and daughter now offer unsolicited advice for personal improvement. I weigh their opinions seriously. Do I have any other choice?

infant, grandfather, grandchild
Holding a grandchild for the first time was just as rewarding as cuddling your own child.
Fatherhood has taught me to be patient with others and myself. It has taught me to laugh at the silliest mistakes and move on. It has taught me to always part with an “I love you.”

Fatherhood has taught me to celebrate both the joys and disappointments that life brings. The good Lord knows there are plenty of both. The pleasures of parenthood go far beyond the first time holding your newborn baby. The sorrows speak for themselves.

I know I wasn’t the perfect father. Neither was my dad or any father for that matter. But mistakes and all, I just tried to do my very best to guide my children from birth into adulthood.

That is the purpose of being a parent. Raise your children to be interdependent adults who productively contribute to society. Isn’t that all a father should really expect as a measure of parental success?

muskie fishing
I never caught a fish this big. My son was one happy camper.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

I am my father’s son

Allegheny Mountains
I still have personal mountains to climb.

By Bruce Stambaugh

My daughter’s words cut right to the truth. In the brief silence that followed, I was once again reminded that I am my father’s son.

The situation embarrassed me. I don’t even remember what caused the unpleasant commotion. I do recall my daughter’s sternness vibrated to my core as soon as she invoked my father’s name.

I bit my tongue, preferring instead to analyze the situation mentally. Dad, God rest his soul, would have persisted in driving home his point.

It’s taken me a long time to confess my similar faults. What’s the line about teaching old dogs new tricks?

Internally confronting the reality of your negative personal behaviors, comments, and intentions isn’t easy. But it’s necessary if I want to be a better husband, father, grandfather, friend, and person. It’s just the way it is.

Being too quick to respond is only one way I am my father’s son. I had a marvelous mentor in Dad offering an opinion whether requested or not.

I’m an expert at translating an interesting short story into a novel with no climax. I might even mention the main point. That never bothered Dad’s storytelling.

photography
Shooting with my lens.
I can’t tell you the number of times my wife has chided me for wiggling my leg while sitting beside her. At church, at home, in a theater, at a concert, I’m used to a nudge, an elbow, or verbal reminder that I’m activating global seismographs with my leggy machinations, just like Dad.

Fortunately, all my fatherly similarities aren’t undesirable. I enjoy meeting new people. They have enriched my life. Dad never met a person he didn’t like until they proved otherwise.

Dad was a man with many interests. He loved hunting, fishing, archeology, family gatherings, dancing, baseball, football, basketball, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. He was a lifetime community activist.

My likes are just as diverse. A lot overlap with Dad’s, like sports and serving community. However, I shoot wildlife with my camera and frame my trophies rather than eat them.

Ohio's Amish country
Where Dad liked to visit.

Dad liked to travel, too. With a house full of children and all of those outdoor interests, we didn’t often traverse beyond Ohio’s borders. We didn’t have to. The Buckeye state had plenty of day trips to offer families, including visiting Amish country.

I had the good fortune to marry someone who enjoys exploring new places near and far. It’s often fun revisiting the same locations my family did all those years ago.

It’s interesting to hear my two sisters-in-law confiding with my lovely wife about how my two brothers’ idiosyncrasies compare to Dad as well. At least I’m not alone.

super full moon
Dad was over the moon for Mom.
Dad had one admirable quality that glowed like a super full moon. He loved our mother to death. Dad showered Mom with flowers, candy, and cards every birthday, anniversary, and holiday.

He wasn’t exactly jealous. Dad just knew he had a beautiful wife, and wanted to keep that relationship as secure as possible. He thought the solution was to smother Mom, which came across as control.

Given the spunkiness of each of our wives, neither my brothers nor I need worry about that. We appreciate and encourage spousal individuality, and celebrate our special days accordingly. We know we are as fortunate in love as our father was.

I’m thankful for all that my gregarious, energetic, enthusiastic father modeled even if I unconsciously replicate some of those talents that occasionally land me in the proverbial doghouse.

Maybe that’s why we don’t have a dog.

family vacation
Ash Cave, Hocking Hills State Park, Logan, OH.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

In honor of two very friendly fathers

By Bruce Stambaugh

My late father and late father-in-law were clearly different men. But they had a lot in common, too.

Both my father and my father-in-law, Wayne, were genuinely friendly to everyone they met. They each set an example on how to interact and connect with others.

Stambaughs, Millers
Marian and Dick Stambaugh (L) and Wayne and Esther Miller. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
Dad was lanky and gregarious. Though skinny as well, Wayne was of average height. Dad was a Type A talker. Wayne was more laid back, but could easily carry his own in any conversation.

That was especially true when it came to sports. Both men were like little kids if baseball, football or basketball were the topics of conversation. They had a love-hate relationship with all teams Cleveland.

They didn’t just talk athletics either. Dad played three sports in high school and perused his enthusiasm for games well into adulthood. Wayne bowled and played church league softball.

Both found those activities as a means to an end. They got to play, and they thrived on the conversational interplay before, during and after the games.

Of all their commonalities, friendliness was at the top of the list for both Dad and Wayne. In fact, they became good friends, in part because they knew many of the same people.

farm tractor
Where my late father-in-law felt most comfortable. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
Wayne was a farmer, and Dad loved farms, but for different reasons. Farming was Wayne’s livelihood. Dad made friends with farmers near and far because he liked to hunt and fish. He also found their various stories fascinating.

Wayne and Dad got along famously. In fact, once Neva and I set our wedding date, both men started to invite folks to the ceremony that knew both families. Unfortunately, some of those people weren’t on our invitation list. Is it any wonder we had 400 guests?

I learned early on that Dad liked to meet new people. He’d take us kids along on his excursions exploring farms all over eastern Ohio.

Wayne Miller
Wayne Miller at our daughters wedding in 1998. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
After he retired and stumbled onto the hobby of Indian artifact collecting, Dad’s interests in farms had a new twist. Again, Dad’s high-spirited enthusiasm carried over to his children and grandchildren, who he coaxed into accompanying him on his relic gleaning excursions. It was his version of hands on lessons in history, geography, and conversation.

I knew Wayne liked me right away. On my first visit to the Miller farm, he took me straight to the barn to see the pigs. My wife said it normally took other guys two or three visits. I was honored, and our relationship blossomed from there. He treated his other son-in-law with equal love and respect.

family
Dad and Mom with our daughter, her son, and me. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
Dad would use the arrowhead hunting excuse to visit Wayne and Esther’s farm, along with neighboring fields. Their real friendship was just part of the formula that successfully melded our two families together.

Even in death, Wayne and Dad connected. Wayne died on Dec. 22, 2001. Dad died on Dec. 21 eight years later.

It is no wonder that even today people that knew Dad and Wayne describe them both with the same fondness. They use similar complimentary terms to reflect on each man. Both were sociable people, easy to like and admire, they say.

Of course, both Wayne and Dad were human. They each expressed themselves in less than articulate ways at times. But to those who knew them, or maybe only once met either of them, the conclusion was the same.

People remember the genuine congeniality of both Dad and Wayne. That’s a legacy we’d all like to leave.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

In honor of Father’s Day and catalpa trees

bloomingcatalpabybrucestambaugh
Blooming Catalpa Tree. © Bruce Stambaugh

By Bruce Stambaugh

I made a very revealing, personal discovery today. The 2014 calendar is identical to the 1947 calendar.

I know that’s not earth-shattering news. But it was for me. And it all started with me taking a photo of a blooming catalpa tree yesterday. I remember a story my late father once told me, one I have written about before, and will never forget.

Whenever the catalpa trees bloom in northern Ohio, Father’s Day is near. I had never paid much attention to that until Dad related his moving story.

On Sunday afternoons, my mother’s parents took turns visiting their three married daughters, all whom lived in Canton, Ohio. But on Father’s Day in 1947, Grandma and Grandpa Frith went to each of their daughter’s homes to visit. While sitting on our my parents’ front porch, Dad eyed a blooming tree down the street, and asked my grandfather if he knew what kind of tree it was. Grandpa Frith told Dad that it was a catalpa tree. Some people refer to it as the cigar tree, in reference to the tree’s long, green fruit pods.

The next day Grandpa Frith went to a job site where he was working as an electrician. He had turned off the power to do his electrical repairs when someone came along and turned the power back on. Grandpa Frith was killed instantly.

In retrospect, Dad said Mom, Aunt Gerry and Aunt Vivian were ever so grateful for that last visit they had with their father. They even wondered if it wasn’t simply meant to be.

I was born that December, never having met my grandfather.

Knowing that this Sunday, June 15 is Father’s Day, the exact same day as 67 years ago, seeing that blooming catalpa tree had even more meaning for me than ever before.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

Remembering Dad in the very best ways

bigmeadowsbybrucestambaugh
Big Meadows, Shenandoah National Park.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I was certain I could hear Dad, and see him, too.

My wife and I were making marvelous memories with our daughter and her family in Shenandoah National Park. We drove a section of the Skyline Drive, and stopped to hike a couple of trails.

As we motored along the twisting scenic highway that runs the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia’s mesmerizing Shenandoah Valley, I remembered I had been there before. I said out loud to no one in particular, “I haven’t been here since I was a kid.”

Indeed, it was the same stretch of road that I had ridden along with my parents and siblings nearly 60 years ago. On that trip, we were on our way to visit some of Mom’s relatives in southern Virginia. Dad, always up for an adventure, insisted we detour to experience the vistas, floral and fauna that the famous Skyline Drive offered. I think we stopped at every turn out to embrace the views.

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The excursion with our grandkids was a diversion from the hectic schedule of finishing the school year and rushing from soccer matches to baseball games. I couldn’t have anticipated the emotions it would evoke in me remembering that long ago family vacation.

I could hear my late father in the rustle of the leaves of the forest canopy, the call of the Eastern Towhees, the fragrance of wild blossoms. I could see him point, index finger to lips, at the grazing white tailed deer that casually ignored us. I heard him shout, “There’s a bear,” as a young black bear scampered across the road in front of our van.

familyphotobybrucestambaugh
Family photo.
It seemed Dad was everywhere we went, in the woods, on the spiny rocks on which we climbed and rested, in the beauty of the Big Meadow where Tiger Swallowtails fluttered free from bloom to bloom, and the field sparrows called from thickets of scrawny locusts and carpets of heather.

I certainly felt Dad’s presence as the grandchildren hoofed it up the trails, scampered steep, craggy rocks, and posed for pictures atop ancient outcroppings with more wavy mountains as the backdrops. I saw Dad’s smile in the grandkids’ smiles.

Once we scrambled to a place where we had a 360-degree view, I corralled the grandkids and their parents to stand for a family photo. Dad carried his camera wherever he went, too, documenting family outings.

The grandkids energy and enthusiasm for exploits carried them past their Poppy onto the heels of their own father while their mother and I lingered to absorb the views and catch our breath. Echoes of the past mingled with those of the present from forested ridge to forested ridge.

When we all assembled on the next precipice, my daughter used my camera to capture me with her trio of trouble and orneriness. The shot joyfully reminded me of my father surrounded by his own youngsters.

I don’t remember stopping at Big Meadows south of Luray on the trip with my family so long ago. As I lovingly watched the grandkids romp along narrow trails that snaked through lush carpets of knee-high grasses and plants, their excitement hit home.

A cool mountain top breeze hurried white fluffy clouds through bluebird egg sky. Emerald forests perfectly framed the sentimental scene. Amid the children’s giddy laughter, I thought I heard my father say, “You were here when you were young, too.”

“I know,” I replied silently with a smile and a tear.

bigmeadowsbybrucestambaugh

© Bruce Stambaugh