DOWN HOME: Getting to know the man behind the label ‘dad’

Sandy Turner
Sandy Turner

I began writing this column years ago in my parents’ dining room late one evening after another day of taking care of mom during her last months of life.

A good majority of the days were filled with watching mom sleep and wondering what dad was up to as he dealt with his emotions by shooting squirrels out the kitchen window.

The combination of caring for mom, with the help of hospice, and being entertained by dad made writing my first Down Home column easy. Over the course of 10 years, after mom’s passing, I continued to use dad for writing material, although, unfortunately, even if he did read my column, within minutes he would forget what he had read.

He couldn’t remember what day it was, or even the year, but he could retain information he deemed most important – where the BB gun was, along with the remote, the cookies and the dog.

Dad was gone most of the daylight hours while I was growing up, managing his own construction company while spending the weekends fishing. By the time I was an adult, I realized my close relationship with mom overshadowed any connection I had developed with dad. Up until mom’s illness, I’m sorry to admit, I hadn’t given my relationship with him much attention.

I spent quality years blaming dad’s absence on everything wrong in my life, and it was easier to stay disconnected than it was to make the effort to get to know the guy who stood behind the label of dad.

The day after mom's passing, I found him fumbling through his closet. As soon as he looked at me, I felt guilty for leaving him alone the night before to sleep in my own home for the first time in three months.

Through the tears in his eyes I could see a man, who, after losing his mate of 57 years, was scared and lost.

“I need some direction,” he said.

For the first time since I was a child he hugged me tight and I cried for losing mom, but also for finding my dad. From that day forward, when my days were stressful, dad reminded me of how simple life really can be.

Dad shared his life with me – the good and the bad – and I wish I hadn’t waited 40 years to get to know the man who spent his life carrying the burden of supporting the family.

I loved finding evidence of his engineer mind, still at work, even though the dementia had stolen so much. During one of our daily lunch dates, I noticed he had tied a funnel and a piece of PVC pipe to the end of one of his chimes hanging off a tree limb. When I asked him about it he said he had bought it that way so I should ask the manufacturer.

The chimes were his Father’s Day gift the year before, and I figured he was trying to make it less noisy so that year I bought him a yard spinner. A noiseless, large, bright yellow airplane with a propeller that circled in the wind. Soon after I found he had tied PVC pipe to it as well.

Miss you, dad, and my Father's Day message is still the same – thanks for asking me to give you direction when, really, it was me who needed pointed in the right way.

Sandy Turner lives in Independence, Missouri. Email her at