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Rebekah Lund


My Dad

My dad works on lots of stuff.  Cars, trucks, tractors, bridges, roofs, houses, the list goes on.  58 years old and still going strong, despite a battle with cancer, eating at times like a bird and others like a ravenous wolf and smoking like a chimney.  You’d think he’d have quit smoking after the cancer, but he just says “I gotta die from something.” He has quit drinking again, hopefully for good.  He’s been sober for 2+ years, which is good for him, and our family, especially my mom.  My parents’ fateful meeting occurred at the Moose Lake State Hospital in 1977 where she was a nurse and he was a patient seeking help for alcohol abuse, so she knew he had issues then.  Duane Arnold Schmidt.  A man of more character you’ll be hard pressed to find.  I’ve seen him at his worst and best.  I’ve pretended not to know him. I’ve hid from him.  But I‘ve mostly sought him out for advice on life.  It drives my husband crazy how I’ll still always “check with my dad first.”  For example, we were recently thinking about selling our home, but I had to check with my dad first to get his thoughts.  It seems like when I look into his dark gray, weathered eyes, that he knows the answer to everything. 

My siblings and I have interesting relationships with my dad.  We have loved him always and hated him sometimes.  When we were small, he taught us lots.  How to fish, How to swim.  How to be resourceful.  He introduced us to great music; Johnny Cash, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Leo Kottke.  While kids at school listened to the New Kids on the Block, we listened to old country records and A Prairie Home Companion.  I was embarrassed then, but am grateful now.  My dad looks like a country singer too.  Kids at school thought he looked like Elvis with his slicked-back, thick black hair, or like Randy Travis with his scrunched-up face.  And he would sing too.  When I had friends over they would always ask for my dad to sing and play guitar, and I would look up at him, hugging my arms around my knees, thinking, man, is he cool or what?

My dad had a perm once in the late 1980s.  This was odd for him with his normally slick hair.  But it matched the salmon-colored, striped polo shirt he was wearing at that time too.  These were the days.

It’s funny how what a person wears can be indicative of where they are as a person.  Later on, when my dad wore the black leather jacket which my mom detested, we knew he was in a different place than the permed salmon polo shirt days of my youth. 

When I was in tenth grade, my dad fell off the proverbial “wagon” he’d been on for our childhoods.  He worked in the cities during the week and usually came home on the weekends.  I can’t remember the exact first time he started drinking again, because he was gone so often, but I remember when he came to our Christmas concert that year.  I played the clarinet and was in choir, my sister played the trumpet, and the boys were drummers.  In our little town, we looked forward to this night, as we dressed in new clothes and performed for the community.  This year, however, was different.  My dad strolled into the commons area of our high school with his hands plunged deep into his pockets and his head hanging down to his chest.  He reeked of booze.  My mom just rolled her eyes when she saw him and said “Oh, Duane.”  Ugh.  Our secret was out.  None of our friends knew this struggle my father endured, but now they all did, along with the rest of the town.  He didn’t come for the music, thank God, or he probably would have tried to sing along, or have given me a standing ovation for playing Jingle Bells on my clarinet.  He staggered in at the end in time for cookies and punch.  He clumsily grabbed my youngest brother, Ben, by the shoulders, trying to exude some fatherly vibe or something.  We went home that night knowing that my dad had a problem, one that we were not familiar with.   I eventually grew accustomed to these incidents for 10 or so more years.  One time, my dad literally ran away from me in a strip mall to go buy booze.  I was waiting for him in the car and he made up some thing he had to go check out and he walked out the back service door of the mall with a bag full of liquor to somewhere I’ll never know.  During my senior year in college, I rented a house in the town where I grew up and commuted to school in Duluth.  A few days before Christmas that year my siblings and I were hanging out;  my dad had gone on a binge.  He kept calling my house saying he was going to jump off a bridge.  He wasn’t really.  It was cold and he wanted a ride home.  So, we unplugged the phone. Of course, we all wanted to drive to Superior in the snow and go pick him up and bring him home, but we were in our enough is enough stages by then.  We were waiting for him to hit “rock bottom.”  According to us, he’d hit it many times already.    

During  these rocky years, my dad did many other things too.  He married off daughters and a son, became a grandfather many times over, fixed cars, and more. And life has gone on and continues to go on.

What I have learned from my dad most of all is that none of us is perfect and to forgive ourselves and others.  Recently, my dad and I were driving home from Duluth on a routine Target or Wal-Mart trip with my two daughters in the back of the van.  We are both sometimes painfully passive in our ways, but my dad said to me “You know, I could have not forgiven myself for being such a lousy father for those years, but I have.”  Of course I didn’t say anything back to him, I just stared ahead at the highway through teary eyes, but I know that he wasn’t a lousy father.  He was doing the best he could.  And that is good enough.