My father passed away this week after weeks and weeks in and, more rarely, out of the hospital. I’ve spent a lot of time in dimly lit rooms thinking about a variety of things including growing up in my parent’s home.
Many of my friend’s parents had college degrees. They didn’t discuss this but as an adult I realize that engineer fathers and moms who taught meant college. Mom went to the community college after my sister and I were born. Dad got his bachelor in education the same semester my sister and I earned college degrees.
They didn’t have college but we had books. Mom read a variety of fiction, magazines and cook books. Dad preferred westerns, nonfiction about the American west, and thrillers. My reading didn’t mirror theirs but they encouraged it.
Dad knew that he had to beat me to the National Geographic. Even before I could read, I was fascinated by the photos, both the images themselves and the saturated colors. I pulled Dad’s books off the shelves and poured over images of cactus, ranchland, and all kinds of people.
Mom kept me supplied with books, many of which came from the library. We also got books as gifts from my parents and other family members. I was never sure why they were surprised when my luggage for a month long trip to the cabin included a suitcase of books. When we made the lengthy drive to west Texas, I may have been limited in how many books I could take but I made up for it in length. The summer I was 11, I read Alex Haley’s Roots. It took me all summer long.
Dad is also probably largely to blame (or the credit is his) for my becoming a researcher. State an opinion around Dad and you would get one question. Why? It was so much a part of who he was that one of his students dressed up like him for Halloween, lab coat, clip-on tie, and glasses. He then marched across the room saying, “Why? Why? Why?”
Maybe that’s why I ask this question so often when I critique a manuscript. My parents definitely impacted my life both as a reader and a writer and for this I am grateful.