From the time I was a young child, I have vivid pictures in my mind of my father. He was tall and strong and would “ride” me on his knee and give me “whisker rubs” for fun. He was an old-fashioned father, but full of love.
After a day of hard work (and I’m sure he would have liked to rest), I would pester him for attention. He was a stern man, expecting good behavior from us, and I tried to be good to please him. But he had a great streak of humor, so I knew I could count on him to be a fun Dad.
He loved to tell tales, mostly of his childhood in a family of five boys back in Denmark. He told tales about Paul Bunyan and some about Baron Munchusen, a European hero and jokester, but some tales I am sure came his own imagination. His accounts of hunting and fishing were definitely my favorites, and he told them over and over, and I listened to every word, over and over.
As we grew older, he would play harmless jokes on us kids-not spur-of-the-moment pranks but ones that were well thought-out, with a moral. He expected the best from us in all that we did. “All that you do, do with your might; things done in halves are never done right,” was repeated to us until it found its way into our conversation.
He was a perfectionist in farming, carpentry, taxidermy, his silver fox work, and most of all, he was a fair and just father. I think back to how hard he worked for the good of his family, getting up at 5 a.m. to walk to his job at the Carroll fox farm (up north on Hwy. 47), work eight hours, and walk back home, do farm work, tend the foxes, and still have time for my brother and me. After we got a car and had our own fox farm, he had it a bit easier.
As I grew up and helped around the farm, I always tried hard to please him and do the tasks appointed me for each day. A smile from him made my day.
As I look back, I don’t see how he could accomplish all he did each day. But he knew how to relax; I can still see him, at the end of a hot busy summer day, dive into the Wisconsin River for his daily swim. He was an excellent swimmer, and this was his relaxation. He loved the water and enjoyed living by the river, with its good fishing in the summer.
He did not ice fish, and I often wonder why, as he had the opportunity. But in the winter he was busy harvesting wood for the next season, to keep the woodbox filled. Every evening he had us help him bring in armloads of wood chunks for use the next day.
When we were at our homework, he would sit in his favorite rocker and read his books and magazines (this is how he mastered the English language). He had a great appetite for reading and was very learned about many things, especially nature in the Northwoods. He was an artist and did wood carvings, always of animals and birds. He sat up late at night reading, carving, painting or fixing something my mother had lined up for him to do. But he was an early riser, ready to do the day’s work.
He did not speak perfect English. He kept his Danish brogue, but he was known in the community as a wise and learned man, helping his neighbors when needed, and receiving their kindnesses in return.
During his long life he had many joys, including remodeling the old log house into a nice home for his family and having his own silver fox farm. But he also had disappointment. During the Depression he had to give up his business, with a great loss of income. Through it all, as so many others were doing, he kept up his spirit and tried other things, such as carpentry and taxidermy.
He never said much about it, but his look told us he was glad we were his children. In later years, when my brother enlisted in the service during World War II and I was well into my teaching career, he was quietly proud of both of us.
He lived a long and fruitful life, and taught me many things that have helped me along life’s road-an appreciation of life and God’s wonderful creation, a sincere belief in God, love for his fellowman and his adopted country (my America!)
Many of you reading this have great memories of your father, too. May you remember him with pride!