A Father’s Hands

A Father’s Hands

My father’s hands did many things. He was a butcher and so his hands were nicked and scarred and very strong. His knuckles were often swollen and red, but remarkably the nails manicured and clean. I think he was quite proud of them. I remember the last couple years of his life, he was into this Reader’s Digest contest where you had to keep reading and mailing off certain coupons to buy this (gaudy) zirconium ring. This contest went on for months and months. But he was determined and when he went on holidays he passed on the duty to my eldest brother, who had to promise he’d check Dad’s mailbox for the next issue, find the coupon and mail it off so he would not lose all the credit of his past diligence. Finally the day arrived and Dad got his ring. He proudly showed it off to everyone, this knuckle-buster on that rugged working man’s hand.

Dad went to University when he was in his forties, to get certification for a job teaching at a tech school. He went for a year and studied nightly. He’d chuckle after dinner reading his psychology book. As if any professor, who wasn’t much older than his eldest, was going to teach him anything about child-rearing. But, we were proud of him. How hard it must have been to hit the books at his age and be the elder of the group. So he went from meat manager of a supermarket, to teacher which really was his passion. He loved it. Public Television had a series where he demonstrated cutting sides of beef. Often I’d walk through the living room and on the TV screen were Dad’s hands slicing meat with such artistic finesse. He often said to us, if something is worth doing it’s worth doing well. Doesn’t matter what it is. I think of these sage words often in my life.

I remember one summer holiday while fishing on a lake, he returned sooner than usual with a hook caught in his hand. How painful that must have been, but one would never detect that it was. Stoic and brave was his demeanor as the doctor at the local hospital cut the hook and removed the metal prongs as gently as he could.

His hands flipped eggs frying in the pan on Sunday mornings after Mass. Every Sunday without fail. It was always a different kind of breakfast with him at the stove. He wore his butcher’s white apron for one. And he whistled. The smell of bacon drifted into whatever room his six children occupied. And then he’d, one by one, call out to us and ask ~ ‘Salt and peter?’ as if he’d forget from one week to the next what our preference was.

I watched him hammer shingles on the roof of the playhouse he built just for me. He made a real window and door and wood floors. Just for me.

My collie broke his leg one winter. He was running down an icy street with my dad and I trailing behind. He caught his leg in a gap in the ice and broke a bone; he limped back to us with this pathetic front leg bent at an awful angle. Dad picked him up, this eighty pound animal, and carried him back to the house. I remember the sympathetic murmurings he made to the injured wimpering animal.

When I was a child I had a female cat who gave birth to a litter of three kittens. When they were only five or so weeks old they developed some kind of disease in their eyes and they all had serious infections. When he noticed this one summer evening he shook his head sadly and said… sometimes it’s the kind thing to do to put an animal out of his misery. I didn’t know what he meant until the next day the kittens were gone and my brother told me Dad had put them to sleep. Car exhaust. I couldn’t look at him for weeks, knowing his hands were capable of doing that.

His hands held my son only hours after he was born. He was the third person to hold him after me and my husband. I remember the softening of his features when he saw him in my arms, with my hospital robe barely tied and delirious eyes. He took him gently from me and with such instant love looked into his grandson’s little scrunched up face.

Funny what we remember the most about someone. I think I miss his hands the most.

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One Response to “A Father’s Hands”
  1. Gaboo says:

    Thanks for the tale Ms Moody. Inspired me to revisit a few memories with Dad, some of the glimpses.

    Today? Both of my kids are at work. One left at six am, but I did get the nod in passing and the acknowledgement I needed. I know they care about me by looking after themselves.

    “Don’t screw up.”

    “You won’t hear from me.”

    “You’re a good kid.”

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