Exactly forty weeks after the attack at Pearl Harbor, Michael Allen Wolf, my father, was born. His very existence came at the moment America, coming out the financial disaster of the 1930s, realized all Americans would now be asked to sacrifice even more. No one would have felt the pinch more than Kansas farmers, yet dad’s father answered the call to serve as a tank mechanic in the Army, and my grandma was left with two young boys to keep the farm going, alone.
I think about what Dad’s younger days must have been like, first with his father gone to war and just a few years later dealing with his sickness and death. There was so much responsibility put on the Wolf boys’ shoulders. Ken, the oldest, and my dad did chores that grown men would have trouble with. When farm equipment failed, there was no money for parts, so they learned to tinker and jimmy-rig. When they didn’t have what they needed, they learned to make do. They came from the generation of rationing, scrimping, and saving (and looking at the garage Dad left behind, I don’t think he ever got over those tendencies).
Now, as the next generation, I look at what these years must have been like and I shudder. I can hardly imagine how I survived living in Los Alamos without a SuperTarget nearby, let alone going months surviving only on the yield of the garden and the farm.
But there’s a niggling of jealousy as well. Out of adversity comes strength. The traits that I admire most in my father were developed during the difficult years of his childhood. Messing with the farm equipment and rigging up solutions developed his tremendous ability to see and analyze problems from different angles and to come up with creative solutions. At his job at LANL, he was often given a task and no instructions, yet he built hi-tech machines that exceeded requirements (sometimes with parts from the local Hobby Bench).
The struggles his family faced as a result of his father’s absence and death meant that dad understood what it was like to go without. He had empathy for those around him who struggled financially, psychologically, or socially, and he never forgot his roots.
The generosity of his aunts and uncles while he was a child modeled the impact that one person’s kindness can have on another person, and throughout his life, dad helped countless others with his generosity and kindness, sometimes giving until it hurt.
No matter how I want to be able to draw out and solve a problem like Dad could, I can’t. I try to channel his generosity, his acceptance of all people, yet I might fall short. I just know that my fingers itch to call him when I’ve hit a problem with the plot of my book, or when my car breaks down, or when weird things are swimming in the dog dish, or when I just need to talk to someone.
A year ago last night, I sat next to my dad in the hospital watching TV while his wife and my husband were running some errands. We didn’t talk much, but spoke of my kids and life at the crazy Evans’ house. When it came time to go, he looked at me, very intently and said, “I love you, kid,” and I told him I loved him, too. In the morning, we got the call that he was gone.
Gone isn’t the right word, though. In my mind I still see the little farm boy in the curious eyes of my son when he is re-engineering his Nerf guns to shoot farther. Or in the fiery determination my daughter has when it comes to ensuring justice for everyone. Or in the kindness that both my children show to others, regardless of their backgrounds.
Yes, my father is still around me. My greatest inheritance is the example he gave me, and I am blessed that his legacy continues, reflected in the eyes of my children.