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Wednesday, October 16, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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A Father’s Wisdom Columnist Who Lost Her Dad When She Was Young Discovers What She Was Missing

By Kathleen Corkery Spencer Special

He hands me the power drill and I line up the screws. We use a straight-edge drill bit, not a Phillips.

He says the structure we are working on is an old one, pre-1970. Otherwise, the screws would probably have a Phillips head. He knows this like he knows the secret to hanging dry wall, or the best way to extend a can of paint, or who coached Notre Dame in 1956.

All my life I’ve wondered what it would be like to have a father. And now I finally know.

I knew very little of my own dad. By the time I was born, he was already dying. The few memories I have of him are fragmented glimpses of objects and places - a soft camel-hair coat, a worn black rosary, the old Sherwood office building and Sacred Heart Hospital.

For years we measured time by the days between hospital stays. In the end, we were all a little surprised that he died at home. The men in our family who stepped in to fill the void soon died in their own wars, both public and private.

Growing up without a father, I didn’t know what I was missing. But not being able to identify what it was didn’t keep me from missing it. Passages that other girls, willingly or reluctantly, were guided through by their fathers - learning the language of tools, going to father/daughter dances, driving lessons, or deciphering the NFL were left to me to traverse alone or not at all.

It wasn’t that these lessons could only be taught by a man. It was that in our old family the number of mentors of either gender was dwindling faster than I could grow. Like a lot of fatherless daughters, I spent years trying to fill a space I didn’t even know was empty.

By the time I married, in my early 30s, I had gotten the search for Father out of my system. It had been a virulent virus that died with the realization that the only thing I ever gained by looking back was a stiff neck. I learned instead to look forward.

And then there he was, my husband’s father. The icing on an already exquisite cake.

We have the kind of easy friendship that is often impossible between parent and child. There are not years of expectations, hopes, disappointments, struggles or misunderstandings between us. The slate is clean.

As two adults we can shape our friendship as we choose. Like many fathers and sons, our bonds are forged quietly and often under the guise of something else: sports, yard work, all-purpose tinkering.

I have learned more about men from my husband’s father than any number of marathon discussions with women friends have ever yielded. Conversations with my father-in-law are rarely about what they appear to be on the surface.

With him it’s all subterranean. We talk about drill bits but think about patience, we discuss garden mulch but learn about nurturing, we paint rooms and decide that one person really can change the face of their world.

From knowing the father, I have come to understand the son. I recognize the joy and the burden of growing up learning how to fix things. And the frustration that comes to every adult who inevitably confronts something that can’t be fixed.

Both my husband and I have learned something about tools. I have learned in life that a fully equipped tool box holds more than just a hammer. My husband has learned that even the best toolbox is not equipped to fix everything. And each of us, in our own time, has learned this from his father.

He hands me the drill and I finish the job. He trusts that I know how. I feel big, strong and capable. This, I think, in whatever way life presents itself to us, is what it means to have a father.

MEMO: Editor’s note Today we introduce Kathleen Corkery Spencer’s column to the Women & Men page. Spencer has been a frequent contributor to this page, and her writing appeared regularly during our newspaper’s ice storm journals. After today, her column will alternate with Jennifer James’ column and appear every other week. Spencer has deep roots in Spokane. She is a lifetime resident and has lived in nearly every one of its neighborhoods, including the Cannon Hill area, the Gonzaga district, the West Central neighborhood, the NorthTown area and currently the Waikiki/Little Spokane area. She attended St. Augustine School, Marycliff High School and Gonzaga University. Spencer’s subjects will range from national disasters to the simple preoccupations of daily living in Spokane. “The writing I most enjoy reading enables people to look at themselves and each other with humor, compassion and even wonder,” she says. “The service this kind of writing provides is to help people remember their humanity and their connection to a larger community.” These are Spencer’s goals as she begins this column. We look forward to your response. Watch for her column every other Sunday on the Women & Men page. Write to her at The Spokesman-Review, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2160, Spokane, WA. 99210

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Kathleen Corkery Spencer Special to Women & Men

Editor’s note Today we introduce Kathleen Corkery Spencer’s column to the Women & Men page. Spencer has been a frequent contributor to this page, and her writing appeared regularly during our newspaper’s ice storm journals. After today, her column will alternate with Jennifer James’ column and appear every other week. Spencer has deep roots in Spokane. She is a lifetime resident and has lived in nearly every one of its neighborhoods, including the Cannon Hill area, the Gonzaga district, the West Central neighborhood, the NorthTown area and currently the Waikiki/Little Spokane area. She attended St. Augustine School, Marycliff High School and Gonzaga University. Spencer’s subjects will range from national disasters to the simple preoccupations of daily living in Spokane. “The writing I most enjoy reading enables people to look at themselves and each other with humor, compassion and even wonder,” she says. “The service this kind of writing provides is to help people remember their humanity and their connection to a larger community.” These are Spencer’s goals as she begins this column. We look forward to your response. Watch for her column every other Sunday on the Women & Men page. Write to her at The Spokesman-Review, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2160, Spokane, WA. 99210

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Kathleen Corkery Spencer Special to Women & Men

Wordcount: 878

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