Hasking and other Reflections on Fatherhood
© 2012 by James Wiebe
All rights reserved
A Crying Man in the Parking Lot
The man in the parking lot of the movie theater is sitting in the driver’s seat of a red Acura, and he is heaving and sobbing and shaking in a way that expresses the deepest kind of Pain. His torso is curled forward, and his head is down, almost between his legs, From the crooked angle of his body, he is seeing just the bottom of the steering wheel, and the dirty carpet.
He had made it from the front door of the theater across the parking lot, to the car, making small talk with his wife about the movie they had just seen, but grieving over what he had felt. Before the movie had started, they had discussed taking in two movies in one evening: back to back, a rare treat for this couple. But that idea had died, in fact it had been killed, while they were walking out of the Cineplex.
(They had been in The Balcony, mind you, to the right of the main entrance. Stadium love seating with Restaurant service, to your seat, while watching the movie. Dolby and THX sound.)
He had made it to the door of the car. He had been able to unlock the car. He had been able to sit down. He had been able to place the key into the ignition, and even to turn it. He noted that the car had started.
But then, as the motor started and idled, muscles in his face began to contract, short tight ones, along the sides of the jaw. Other muscles in his gut turned to knotted cords of tension. They were very tight, and then they were even tighter. Liquid flowed out of his nose, but oddly, very few drops from his eyes.
His larynx tightened as well – breathing turning to a heaving or a hasking; and his eyeballs were pushed by the blood pressure of the emotion to the front of his eyelids. In the midst of his enormous pain, he wondered if the eyes could be damaged by so much tight heaving, hasking, pushing, sobbing, hasking.
The wife of the man was making a heathery crying of her own, just like the animal mother of a severely wounded cub – why is the cub so hurt? – will the cub stop hurting? – What can I do? – How can I soothe? – What light sounds can be made that will ease the pain? Can I stroke your back? – Her hand gently and very carefully moved up and down his arm and shoulder, and just across the top of his back, and then back down. Sending a signal through his hurt, that love was there, it was very much there!, and that it was waiting for him to come back out, and that love was there.
A long time ago, my father wanted to take us kids sledding, but we had no sled.
Back in those days when there was no money, these problems were solved without Walmart and without credit cards and without new merchandise of any sort. They were solved by smart fathers who retrieved cardboard boxes and boards from the basement, cut them into long flat panels, curled the ends up just so with the cardboard. And then we got into the car, for a trip to a hill.
And at that snowy hill, he then helped us children onto the sled for the trip to the bottom of the hill.
A long time ago, I was on that snowy hill, somewhere in Canada, and I was with my father. He was very real and very powerful, and very loving.
We went down the hill, then eagerly trudged back up through the snow, then went down the hill. Then down the hill, again, and again.
The memory fades.
I recently asked my mother about what I was remembering, A long time ago. She retrieves a poem my sister Christine wrote of the experience of sledding with Daddy. Here it is:
This is how it should be:
Christmas vacation, and I am six;
Daddy and I are driving outside the city
to a great hill with untouched snow.
Sun warms the car.
I climb the tracks Daddy makes
hearing the crunch each time the first time.
We stand at the top, just Daddy and I, breathing,
And the sparrows laugh.
“I’m afraid,” I say.
But then we’re sailing
and I’m safe on a narrow strip of wood
clinging to his broad back,
a solid thing in a swaying world,
and I’m laughing and wishing
We could fall like forever
into the sun sparkles and whipping wind
and the white snowdrift
waiting to embrace us
over and over and over.
by Christine. R. Wiebe
Three Connections to my Father
I look for connections to my father. Here are 3:
a. I am a Preacher’s Kid. My father was a minister. He had a strong faith. In comparison, I have a feeble faith, but even so, it connects me to my father.
b. He loved to fish. My mother gave me his very small collection of fishing equipment when I was young. I have managed to hang onto almost none of it, which doesn’t matter so very much. What matters is that I have found this same love of fishing, and I know that it would have pleased my father a great deal if he and I would have been able to fish together. I think of being in a boat with him.
c. My father took risks, because he knew the likelihood and the importance of the outcome. In his age, these risks were how men and generations were measured. You may think that some of what I call a risk may have seemed like a forced choice, or a lucky outcome. But I know this is not so: he knew the risk and he carefully calculated the outcome.
He Struggled with Health
In his 19th year, he made the decision to have his teeth extracted. Here are two paragraphs from the book, “Born Out of Season”, a short biography of Walter William Wiebe, by Katie Funk Wiebe, published in a limited edition of about 5 copies in 1997 (my mom wrote this book for herself and her children):
The following year, 1938, began with a difficult decision. He had ten upper teeth extracted in February. He was tired of continual toothaches and finally, on his own, went to the dentist and said, “Pull them out.” “Felt a little blue –punk” he wrote about the experience. In July had had wisdom teeth extracted and in August had an impression taken for dentures which he received in three weeks. But going without teeth for a period of time was not easy for a young man.
Near the beginning of the year he had a stomach ache, diagnosed as an appendix attack. He was sick for several days, but after taking his white blood count, the doctor decided surgery was not necessary. He gave him a hypo.
Dear Doctor – you missed the diagnosis.
He Was A Conscientious Objector
(As an apologetic preamble, my other father, Pres Huston, (dad of Kathy) served well in World War II, and took other kinds of risks. He chose to go into battle as a Mortar-Gunner.)
But my father, Walter William Wiebe, took the risk of being a Conscientious Objector. As an alternative to carrying a gun, he served several places, one of which was at Blubber Bay, somewhere near Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Although he had helped harvest timber, here at Blubber Bay he was tasked with: “mucking dirt, loading lime, breaking down an old kiln and firing stack kilns.”
I think Blubber Bay is an odd name for a place, and that perhaps the modern record would not show me that it really did exist. But it does. It’s easy to find. It has a Wikipedia entry. I could literally go there. You could go there.
My dad wrote these very words about Blubber Bay:
During the war I spent about a year in a northern district of British Columbia and lived there among the rough men of the north – loggers, fishermen, miners. I dwelt in a little shack under the evergreens together with a batching partner. Just across the road from our dwelling placed was a little logging camp. One weekend all the men of the camp had gone away for a holiday, but a new man who had just arrived from the city was left to guard camp. We noticed him as a stranger but paid little attention to him because we were quite satisfied with each other’s company. One evening, as we were preparing the evening meal we sang a hymn together. As we were enjoying ourselves we were interrupted by a knock at the door. We opened the door to our new neighbor. “I heard you singing and thought I’d drop over to have a chat with you,” he said. We began to talk, and as our conversation developed I noticed that he was very dissatisfied with the government, his lot in life and with the world in general. He was just recovering from a drunken brawl, a hangover as the loggers would say.
He was an Artist
I have a copy of a pencil drawing which Dad made of a place on Lake Superior. Because it was done by my father, I am intensely biased, but I think some might agree: it is a beautiful drawing.
|Camp on Lake Superior, by Walter William Wiebe|
At My Own River
Alaska, 2006 – in the wilderness, on the Kisaralik river, about 75 miles from Bethel, Alaska:
I can see this scene over and over, in my head:
We are in a two man river raft. I am with my best friend, Jason. The Kisaralik is still intimate in size, which means that it is only a few yards from one bank to another. It’s not very deep – just deep enough to raft, as we are doing. The river has solid forest on both sides. The banks of the river are muddy in some areas, and rocky in others. The muddy areas are filled with the large imprints of bears. We know this and see it over and over again, especially when we take breaks or pull out to camp for the night.
As our raft continues to float in this green tunnel, the raft glides around corners. It’s almost like a surreal movie scene, the forest gliding by, and us stuck in the tunnel of the river through the forest. We follow each other, because we are best friends, we are on the raft; the raft follows the river, and the river threads through the forest. The forest oozes through western Alaska.
It is a pristine scene. My mind feels pristine. My intellect grapples with the smoothness of the wilderness scene, the absence of work pressures, the way in which the daily cycle is able to focus on breaking camp; filling a raft, attaching a fly to a rod, catching a Salvelinus alpinus (Arctic Char); smothering its butchered steak flanks with an intense rub of blackening spices; enjoying the meal; reading a book, in our tent, as we pass time waiting for the sub-arctic light to fade in the July Alaska summertime.
Another corner for the river, and he pulls on the oars to move us from the left side of the river, or perhaps the right. I am able to thread the fly rod, easily manipulating a cast and landing endless numbers of Grayling.
I want to row the raft, but he gets angry with me, and I don’t quite understand why. So I keep fishing.
Yet another corner.
The Ursus arctos horribilis (Grizzly Bear) stands 86 yards down river, and is on a mud bank, next to the water, near the right bank. I can see that just beyond the Grizzly Bear, the river curves through the forest to the left. As the river is positioned, it is clear that as the river swerves, it will tend to take us to the right bank as the water flow starts turning left.
In other words, my friend will have to row with enormous strength to keep us on the inside of the river flow.
“James! Get Your Camera Out!”
Yes, I want to take pictures, but I also want to survive to read another chapter of our book, and to enjoy another slab of Arctic Char. So I implore my friend to row hard to the inside of the upcoming bend.
The Grizzly Bear is now about 45 yards down river, and I think I did not mention that The Grizzly Bear is a Female with Two Cubs.
Please row harder to the left, my friend. Please row harder. My heart rate is now greatly accelerated.
The Grizzly Bear With Two Cubs is now 19 yards away. Incredulously, the noise of the river has covered the sound of our raft, and the Grizzly Bear only now looks up and sees us approaching Her And The Two Cubs.
She swats her cubs, they pay attention to her, and in less than two seconds, all have disappeared into the forest. A moment later, we glide by the exact spot where they were standing. I am fuming over the fear I experienced.
The same trip, a day later
The river is much deeper, and winds through a valley. The hillsides are covered with tremendous amounts of vegetation, brush and bushes.
There is an clearing up the hillside, about 150 yards up the hillside. An enormous male bear is walking through the clearing. It sees us, and quickly stands on its hind legs and stares down at us. We continue to glide down the river.
He was a Preacher, and I am a Preacher’s Kid
My Father had decided to serve as a Minister to a small congregation in Ontario.
I wrote some brief lines to describe what happened to my father as a young pastor, but I think it would be more useful to once again steal liberally from his biography, provided by my mother. This is just a darn good story, and would be a great scene in a movie:
… One married man was regularly visiting a young single woman. This flagrant behavior upset some members who noticed the young woman’s car at the farm of the man. Around midnight an older church member went out to find a cow that had escaped out of the fence. On the road he saw two cars leave the man’s yard. One turned north, the other south and passed the church member. He took down the license number. Later investigation showed it to be that of the young woman.
… one evening, as Katie was home along with the children, she heard a loud knocking at the door and before she could answer it several men burst into the kitchen with the words: “We catched [sic] J----- in the bush with a girl.” They wanted Walter to come and do something, pronounce judgment, anything. He was at church at some kind of meeting, so off they rushed to fetch the pastor. With the minister in their possession, they drove out to the farm where Walter later reported they came to a kind of clearing. The father of the girl was draped over the hood of his car crying. The girl was sitting dejectedly in the car. The culprit had been surrounded by a group of men so he couldn’t escape waiting for the pastor to show up. The night was cold and dismal.
Walter felt totally inadequate for the situation. He simply told everyone to go home and that the matter would be dealt with the next day in another setting.
Mom told me the older man was 40ish, and the younger woman was 20ish.
In his inadequacy, he spoke wisely. Dad refused to join the lynching squad. Grace, compassion, thought, wisdom. Dad.
A Bad Landing; a Good Landing!
Will you struggle to understand why I’ve included this brief description of a power failure and emergency landing in one of my ultralight aircraft? Please don’t struggle.
I am taking off from an airport. The plane is perhaps 200 feet off the ground (maybe not quite) and the engine suddenly quits. From the way in which it quits, I know it’s not a problem with the engine: it has to be a gasoline problem, or perhaps a remote chance of an ignition problem. The engine wants to run, but does not. It doesn’t have gas or spark.
I turn slightly to the left, and aim the nose down for an emergency landing spot.
I enjoy the moment.
I spot the tractor in the middle of the hayfield I am landing in. For some reason, it was left there after the last cut and harvest. The wheels of my single seat ultralight aircraft touch down as I flare the nose up (gently, even) and the plane rolls to a stop. I get out and wait for Gene to come around the corner in his Jeep. I know it will take no more than about 90 seconds, and he will be there.
It turns out to be a problem with the fuel line to the engine.
A Church Business Meeting
The Church business meeting runs long, and I’m irritated by the disagreement within the Leadership Team, of which I am a member. Why can’t the Leadership Team work efficiently and quickly like most of my business experiences? Why is decision making so difficult? What was I thinking, when I joined an Evangelical Friends Church, congregationally led?
He Dies in 1962
In 1962, our family moved to Hillsboro, KS, where he had received a job working for the Mennonite Publishing House. He had always wanted to be more involved with Christian publications, and this was the ideal opportunity. To his amazement (and to the amazement of my mother) he was able to pass the physical, even with the periods of bad health that had bedeviled his adult life. Just like rotten teeth, he had the problems with his belly. It hurt – a lot --- and he had flu symptoms now and then. He, along with our family, were given entry permits to come into the US and work.
The doctors in 1960, 1961, 1962 were truly perplexed with him. He would be ‘not well’ and then they would give him antibiotics, and then he might recover. Very recently, my mother mused on the idea that his general bad health might have begun in his teens, with his bad and infected teeth. Could this have spread to other parts of his body? I think it could. That makes sense.
Walter William Wiebe went to be with the Lord in November, 1962, and is buried in a small cemetery south of Hillsboro, KS. His death was quick, occurring less than two months after the move to Hillsboro, and about one week after he was hospitalized. The autopsy revealed that his abdomen was filled with numerous non-cancerous tumors, which filled and crushed the proper functioning of his organs.
I have no memory of seeing him that week. As I write this, I hurt, I ache, my eyes swell, and my eyes water. The hospital had a rule that children under the age of 14 were not able to come into the hospital rooms. My mother did not want me to see him, either: he was very ill, his teeth were out, he was scraggly. He was dying.
In all my memories, I push myself very hard to see him, and I might see him faintly, like a ghost, in the image where he’s fixing the brown plastic bowl. More on that in a few paragraphs.
I do remember being at the cemetery. I can see the groups of people, congregated around a bunch of trees. Mother tells me that she picked his cemetery plot because he would lie under the trees.
Years later, they cut those trees down.
I can see the people at the funeral. In the eyes of a nearly 4 year old boy, there are a lot of people in attendance. We’ve been in Hillsboro, KS, for just 6 weeks, one of which was they dying of my Father. For knowing no one well in this small town we’ve moved to, many have chosen to come and support the remaining fragments of our family: my mother; my three older sisters, myself.
I really didn’t have a clue what all of the fuss is about. I can’t remember the death of my father, and it clearly didn’t imprint at the time on my almost 4 year old psyche. But I do remember all of the people at the funeral.
Complications of Appendicitis
The cause of his death was a significant and deadly complication of undiagnosed appendicitis. The name for this rare disease which murdered my father is ‘pseudomyxoma peritonei’, and it is a stupid and horrible disease to die from. It causes a thick mucin to spread throughout the abdominal space. It surrounds the digestive organs, like the colon, small bowel, liver and eventually stops them from functioning properly. While pseudomyxoma peritonei generally does not spread beyond the peritoneal cavity (the space that holds your intestinal organs), it can cause dangerous blocks to the bowels, and so must be treated definitively. *
It’s a stupid disease to die from because ANY MEDICAL CLINIC TODAY would have caught the burst appendix (or appendix that was about to burst) through simple diagnostics, perhaps an X-ray or CT scan of the lower abdomen, and a quick check of the blood, looking for an elevated white blood cell count. My sister has had appendicitis, easily resolved. My niece had it, also fixed. As I am writing this, my nephew just had it about two weeks ago. He was taken to a small town hospital in Lincoln, KS, were they took pictures of his internal organs. Since no physician was available to read the images, they were digitally sent half way around the world to Australia, where a doctor sent back the word that someone needed to cut him open and pull out the inflamed appendix organ. They hauled him to Salina, KS, and it was Done. Fixed. Still Alive. My nephew has a Life Expectancy to about 80 years.
My father was 44 when he died.
And I am now 53.
The Brown Plastic Melmac Bowl
Just two weeks before his death, he is down in the basement of our home. I am staring intently at what he is doing: repairing a plastic bowl which has fallen; one of the tabs of the bowl has snapped off.
Using a file, he carefully files the edge of the bowl so that the evidence of the broken tab disappears. After just a few minutes, the bowl looks like it came new from a store without tabs. It is perfect, but in a different form and look. My Father has fixed the brown plastic Melmac bowl.
I use the bowl as a change container on my dresser top. I see it every day. It is 10 feet from me as I edit this story.
|Brown Melmac Plastic Bowl, repaired by Walter William Wiebe|
Hasking isn’t a word!
From the biography of my father:
Walter loved language. He wrote:
"I am going to coin a new word today – ‘rutualism’—if someone has not thought of it before me. A rut is a grave with the ends knocked out. It is easy to get into a rut in one’s personal life. It is easy for a group to get into a rut. It is easy for a church to get into a rut. It is the easiest thing for an institution to get into a rut. God does not want us to get into a rut. We don’t want form (ritualism) in worship services. We wanted a simple religious worship service. And our simple form became a rut. Is there a word of Scripture that teaches us that life should not get into a rut. For a new word there must be a new concept. Or for a new concept there must be a new word. Is there a concept for such a word as rutualism?”
My dad engaged in word creation, and so can I. So let's talk about my word, which I made up -- hasking!
And as the title informs, hasking isn’t a word. I made it up. Thanks, Dad, for giving me encouragement to make up words.
The Microsoft Word editing software that I am using to write this has underlined both rutualism and hasking with red lines, warning me that I don’t have the support of lexicographers worldwide in the use of these new words. This brings me pleasure.
My Mother Never Remarried
My mother never remarried. This has angered me a great deal over the years, because I wanted a father. However, I did receive some father substitutions, which included the following:
a. Big Brothers. Occasionally a pretty good deal. Some losers mixed in.
b. Mr. Jost, who took me fishing on his farm, who also taught me about snakes, secret places, driving a tractor, pulling hooks from the mouth of a catfish, and much, much more. Mr. Jost was the first miracle of my life. My experience with Mr. Jost is worthy of a book in itself.
This ‘mother never remarried’ thing has one benefit to me – I burn with a love for my father that is undiluted by any substitution. I know that his love for me is even stronger than mine. I know that it is real, and that it still exists. I cannot talk in any past tense about this love. It is now. It is yesterday. It is tomorrow. It is in my future, every day of my future.
And here is something even more powerful: It is the same for him, my Father, towards me.
His love still burns for me.
The movie that I saw recently was “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”, which is the story of a young boy who lost his father in the 9/11 disaster.
I enjoyed the movie as it captured the desire of the young boy to reconnect with his deceased father, through the search of the meaning of a key.
Kathy (my wife) and I had talked about seeing two movies that night, but as we left the theater, my mood had turned to broiling depression. I did make it to the car, and I did start the car’s engine. Immediately thereafter, my mind and body roared displeasure over how I’d been rubbed raw with the loss of my dad.
The scab heals over this wound, and it does heal very well, and for long periods of time; (Months, even Years). But the wound is still there, and some things prove that well, such as the hasking that I experienced.