Simple Man

Simplicity, clarity, singleness: these are the attributes that give our lives power and vividness and joy.

~ Richard Halloway

First impressions can be slippery bastards at times. We want to cling to them, allow them to set the tone for subsequent relational maneuvering. But more often than not, they are but an awkward glimpse. One small facet of the whole.

It was my first visit to my then-girlfriend’s rural home in central Minnesota. No light pollution overpowering the stars. No neighbors within shouting distance. A pine-scented breeze caressing the fields, carrying upon its back a chance of showers by morning. And a car with the windows rolled down. So he piled forth to roll them up, just in case. We met at the kitchen sink where I stood reluctantly nursing a glass of sulfur-smelling well water, waiting between sips for the cloudiness to evaporate, to just maybe start resembling the processed city water I’d grown up gulping. For half a second we contemplated each other’s presence, me in my grungiest sleeping shorts with my ample gut hanging over the waistband, him in his birthday suit.

“Don’t look, Ethel!”

Too late. Strains of Ray Stevens’ “The Streak” were the second thing that floated through my mind during that early-morning encounter with my father-in-law. A slightly more calculated and predictable response than my initial reaction:

“Egad! Who are these people!?”

It’s safe to say I don’t remember much about him prior to that moment. I’m sure we’d met out in the yard after Garsy and I arrived, maybe we shook hands, perhaps we chatted a bit over dinner and possibly he’d said goodnight before he turned in. My pre-streak recollections are foggy, lost in the haze of cautious acclimation. But as he disappeared out the front door and I quickly finished my glass of water, a third thought: a boundary had just been demolished.

Denuded, if you please.

And the cool thing is that now, twenty years later, I know he would have no problem with me sharing that story. He’ll probably break into that big grin of his, hunch his shoulders and laugh, and then proceed to put his own spin on it. I can’t wait for this summer’s reunion . . .

Gary is my kind of country. Fishin’-in-the-dark, counting-all-the-stars, just-a-swingin’, she-thinks-my-tractor’s-sexy country. He loves his mama, his kids, and a cold beer. He was in town this past week, a week from hell for me on several fronts, and yet he took time to take us swimming. Never one to favor the sidelines, he jumped in and propelled the grandkids . . .

. . . and giggled with them when they surfaced, spewing water and smiles.

For two-score-and-one years, he’s worked the line manufacturing fishing boats for Lund. If you’re a serious fisherman, odds are good that you’ve spent at least one quiet morning casting a line or two from inside a boat he built. He got his walking papers recently, a sad sign of the times. And yet, there he is, still smiling. Making time for things that matter most.

We spent an evening this past weekend sitting in my garage watching the neighbors shoot their Independence Day wad. We talked, as we always do, about simple things. Around him, I don’t have to put on airs or pretend I have all the answers. Sometimes we just sit and enjoy the silence. To spend time with him is to brush up against honesty.

Integrity.

He trusts me to do well by his daughter. He’s never said that in so many words, but I see it in his eyes. I wrote a letter to him once, out of a sense of duty, an obligation to let him know how much I loved her and, much like the suitors of old, I asked his permission to marry her. The only reply I ever received came in the form of a slightly firmer handshake and a trusting glance.

The same sort of glance he gave me as he tossed me the keys to his new convertible . . .

“You want me to drive?”

“Sure.”

So we hopped in, just us and the womenfolk, and headed to town. I punched the gas like Jimmie Johnson coming around turn four with the checkered flag in sight and relished the powerful link between man and machine under the open sky. I must have looked like an idiot smiling so big.

My father-in-law understands the simple things. He awakens my senses, granting me the freedom to emerge from my despondent, navel-gazing slumber into timeless, never-for-nothing moments, and for his trust, his gentle prodding, and his heart of gold, I will be forever grateful . . .

[top photo credit]

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20 thoughts on “Simple Man

  1. I know the kind of country you speak of. It’s a real treasure. One just doesn’t hear much about men like your father in law. I imagine that is just fine by them.

    I have been told a few times in the last several years that I am much like my father in law. Each time it was meant as more of a joke because he stands for such simple things. I always took it as a compliment.

  2. This is a touching and well written post. Your appreciation of your father-in-law speaks volumes about you. If he is simple man, so are you. And that is wonderful. Thanks for sharing your father-in-law. Thanks also for the video and song.

  3. Smile and sigh. I know the place you mean. Wisconsin’s Northwest is very much that place. But, I was the big city girl that left.

    Fished in a Lund, counted stars, never liked beer, and mosquitoes are evil.

    But, I know those men and their sensible wives, not prone to hysteria. Now I can bake, can, find north….

  4. What a beautiful tribute post. I loved it, and I love the kind of person your father-in-law appears to be. I spent the first half of my life trying to get away from the “simple” country people in my life, and now I cheris them more than I have words to express.

    “…despondent, navel-gazing slumber…” I will remember that phrase and laugh for days to come! That is EXACTLY how I feel these days. And I think it’s exactly what a ton of people are going through. We’ve lost our energy, our drive. Maybe we need a ride in the open wind, too.

  5. Amazing post.

    “The only reply I ever received came in the form of a slightly firmer handshake and a trusting glance.”

    You just said so much about him with that sentence and just made me love him.

  6. the simple things, yeah i like that, somewhere along the way my life has gotton way to complcated.

    Father in laws, eh? Yeah I had a beaut too … set us up for life in a material kind of way – thing is, now how come I feel so proud when my sons invite their girlfriends around for a meal to meet us. But then when my daughters invite their boyfriends around I feel a little uncomfortable, words seem to struggle comming out my mouth – can you tell me how come?

  7. The handshake and trusting glance…sounds like my dad. I loved this. Your words paint him well. Has he read this? I hope so. I think he would be pleased.

  8. I like Razz’s measuring stick! I’m going to do some measuring today to see who’s in and who’s out!

    How are you doing? You said the week he visited was bad on several fronts.

  9. What a beautiful testament to a special man! I really enjoyed reading this. It made me think about the father-in-law I never got to meet. Todd’s father passed away in 1996 and I never got to meet him. But from all the descriptions I hear about him he was a great guy, sort of a womanizer but also a charmer. I guess he had some incredible charisma. I’m sad about never getting a chance to know my daughter’s grandfather. I think it’s great that you appreciate your wife’s father so much, not just for what he gave you (your wife), but for the kind of man that he is.

  10. Just a-swingin’…ah, the memories that song brings up. Glad you have such great memories in that part of the state. Both my parents are from a bit south of there, and I wish I had as fond memories. I guess it is more important to grasp the few straws of good than let the masses of bad weigh you down. Great post.

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