My father died December 2nd, 2005, but you probably didn’t know him. You didn’t know Robert Herald Vipperman unless you were a friend, relative, neighbor, or coworker. My father was not rich or famous, or even infamous. Dad was a coalminer’s son, a husband, father, and grandfather. He worked for nearly fifty years as a candymaker in Salt Lake City.
My father was born under the astrological sign of Gemini, the twins, and I have often thought that was apt. My father seemed to be two different people at times, or at least he had two different sides. My father was an alcoholic who wrecked the first car I ever owned. This was not something we could talk about; there was much you didn’t talk about in our home. I was supposed to ignore the conflict within me, over honoring my mother and my father, as my Ten Commmandements bracelet told me, and having a father who could be mean and cruel. I was afraid of my father at times. He was a lousy provider because his alcoholism led to job losses. He drank up the money he earned.
There was another side to my father, however, a side that was a Daddy in the very best sense. He told me I was beautiful and smart. He never critized my looks.Even as I got older, he never commented as I put on weight. He was never overweight himself, and maybe he thought there were worse things in the world than being overweight. Perhaps his early poverty in Appalachia made him grateful we had enough to eat. I always looked fine to Daddy.
This side of my father, Daddy, read sixty-two books in the third grade. He won the reading contest his teacher conducted in their one room schoolhouse in Fire Creek, West Virginia. He really wanted to win the prize, but Daddy also loved to read. He passed a love of reading on to me. I haven’t won any prizes, but I couldn’t wait to learn how to read, and I have loved reading ever since. Although my parents were only high school graduates, they modeled good literacy skills. This, I am sure, contributed to my becoming a reading teacher.
Daddy was only twenty-three when I was born, when folk music was very popular. We sang “Puff the Magic Dragon” together, and for years we watched “American Bandstand” together on Saturday mornings. He could be a kids himself, sometimes, sitting on the floor with us, playing games. He could also be a strong, protective father. I was afraid of the Manson family. My Daddy told me he would protect me from them. He made me feel safe, as any good father would do.
In his book, “A Place for Us: Eleni’s Children in America” Nicholas Gage recalls when he realized his father was only a human being. Gage says his father had done the best he could, and though his father madede many mistakes, he never meant to disappoint his children. When I read that, it helped heal many of my own wounds. My father was only human. He did the best he could. What more can we ever ask of anyone but that?
That is why this I believe: Love can heal a lot.
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