By Leslie Criss/NEMS Daily Journal
“When I was 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”
– Mark Twain
“The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.”
– Theodore M. Hesburgh
Several years ago on a Sunday morning at his church, my father was greeted by folks commenting on a story about him that appeared in my newspaper column that day.
I was not present, but I can tell you what happened – because I know Francis W. Criss.
He blushed, grinned sheepishly and said, “I’ve decided I can’t say or do anything as long as Leslie is around or it will end up in the paper.”
Through my 20-something years of column writing, I’ve told all types of tales about dear old Dad, and he’s remained tolerant.
I’ve shared the story about my double-dog-daring Dad to suck a frog up the vacuum cleaner he was using in the garage. He accepted the dare, only to be rewarded by my tears of disbelief that he’d done such a thing. So, he emptied the vacuum bag and dug out and dusted off the dazed amphibian in order to placate his daughter.
I’ve written about Dad’s amazing green thumbs – he’s a gardener extraordinaire. So far, in the past few months alone, I’ve enjoyed his lettuce, radishes and cucumbers. And the tomatoes are yet to come.
The story’s been told about the Valentine’s Day my Dad was going about the business of burying his own father, and yet in the midst of all the sadness, he stopped and bought Valentine happies for his two adult daughters.
My dad helped pack up all the stuff accumulated over time by my sister and me and moved us – multiple times – to multiple places. He never once complained.
With the patience of the finest of fishermen, he sat through a steady string of dance and piano recitals through the years and never once lamented the fact he’d been given daughters and not sons. I’m sure on many of those occasions he’d much rather have been fishing.
A tale that’s yet to be told about my father involves the man who loved and cared for his wife of 58 years, in health and later in sickness – a multitude of illnesses that eventually took her life last November.
If he ever complained, it was rare, and born of the deep pain and frustration of often feeling helpless.
Not one to ask for – or easily accept – help, he cared for Mom alone until it was apparent that was no longer an option for one human being, and my parents moved in with me.
In the weeks, days, moments that were to be her last, my mother was surrounded by love, perhaps the most amazing example being that of her husband.
From her hospital bed in my living room, my mother was fully aware my father was always as near as a whisper.
He talked to her even when she could no longer respond. He held her hand or stroked her face with the gentlest of gestures. And he never ceased reminding her he loved her.
He has given hugely to my sister and me in the decades that are our lives. But the greatest gift, by far, was watching him love our mother, especially in days that would become her last.
Thanks, Dad. And happy Father’s Day.