My father’s jackknife is my only tangible reminder of him. I have pictures, memories and stories of the man who died when I was a teenager. It is this jackknife, however, that defines my dad for me.
It is not a name brand knife. It is worn in spots, to the point that the design is nearly rubbed away. It is utilitarian, and probably would be just as useful today as it was when he last carried it 35 years ago. It was nearly always in his pocket. He would come home from the plant, reach into the pockets of his work pants, and pull out his keys and his jackknife. It was a part of him. That’s why I took it after he died.
My dad’s treasured jacknife
That weekend, I was in the basement tidying the work bench that hadn’t been used since he became ill. There it was laying on the bench like he just came home from work and emptied his pockets. I was almost afraid to touch it. But it ended up in my own pocket. It followed me to college, to my first apartment and is now in my china cabinet.
It looks a little out of place amid the collection of delicate items like vases and dishes. It truly is nothing special to an outsider. But that little knife, and the man who owned it, played a large part in making me who I am today.
When I think of my dad I think of a quiet man who rarely raised his voice. He built the family room addition of my childhood house largely by himself. He was always disappointed if he didn’t get his deer on the first day of hunting season. He and my mother made our vegetable garden the envy of the neighborhood.
I cannot build anything to save my life, but I married a man who is a problem-solver. I never developed a love for hunting, but I respect those who do and recognize its importance in the circle of life. I have a brown thumb, but I love taking advantage of my sister’s garden.
How to look beneath the surface
More than anything else, though, my dad gave me the gift of looking beneath the surface. After he died we found a New York State Regents diploma in his name, an honors diploma that even today means something. We found certificates from engineering classes he took while working a blue collar job and raising a family. We also found his high school yearbook, where my quiet dad won accolades as one of the leads in his senior play.
We probably learned more about my dad after he died than while he was alive, which is really a shame. I can’t, however, see him talking about his glory days. Maybe it was meant to be that way.
No one has used that jackknife since my father died. It would seem wrong in anyone else’s hands. But that humble little jackknife, much like my dad, taught me a lesson. Sometimes, you have to look past the obvious, you will see what’s really important.
Happy Father’s Day, Daddy.