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MailTribune.com
  • Tall tales of fathers and their children

  • When daughter Amy came home from her first day in elementary school, she was about to burst with excitement.
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  • When daughter Amy came home from her first day in elementary school, she was about to burst with excitement.
    "Dad, Mr. Webb pushed us on the swings — he is almost as big as you are," she exclaimed.
    That would have been Dick Webb, the Williams Elementary School principal, a great educator and all-around good guy. He also stood about 6-foot-5, making him substantially taller than Amy's dear old dad.
    As the paterfamilias, I gave it my best shot but I periodically fell short as most parents do along the way. I certainly didn't do anything to warrant standing that tall in her eyes.
    Yet that 30-year-old anecdote, whose memory always causes me to smile, reflects the way most of us perceive our parents when we are young. In our eyes, they are larger than life.
    Incidentally, Amy, who is a bit gravity-challenged, was named a 2013 Teacher of the Year last month at Grants Pass High School.
    In her father's eyes, she is every bit as tall as her elementary school principal.
    Father's Day gives us dads, who are also the sons of fathers before us ad infinitum, an opportunity to assess how much we've learned from our children.
    I was a junior at the University of Oregon when first-born daughter Sara began toddling about. The future school nurse baby-sat me when I wasn't in class.
    I was there the day the tyke first started running. And I was devastated.
    Although she had started walking at a precocious 10 months, she ran with a decidedly lurching gait, dragging her tiny right leg in a pronounced limp behind her. Distraught doesn't even start to express my reaction.
    Then I burst out laughing.
    There was absolutely nothing wrong with her. She was merely mimicking the way I ran when I dashed after her to keep her out of mischief. She was reflecting the fact I have a hitch in my gait, one that becomes more dramatic when I try to run.
    I remember gathering her up in my arms, filled with joy and relief as she giggled and squealed. The memory of that cherished moment will never fade.
    My fatherhood didn't stop with Amy and Sara. I've also had the privilege of helping to raise three stepchildren in Rick, Sheena and Derra, all of whom I'm immensely proud.
    They are all making their mark in this world. Rick recently started a construction company in Washington and routinely works in Alaska and Russia. Derra, with degrees in both biology and chemistry, works for Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland. Sheena is the food and beverage manager for the Hilton Hotel in Phoenix.
    If all five were strangers and I had the good fortune to meet them, I would like and respect them. They have all grown to be fine humanoids.
    Of course, when contemplating fatherhood, you can't ignore the quote long attributed to Mark Twain, although no one seems to know where it originated.
    "When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around," he reputedly said. "But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years."
    My father — Paul R. Fattig, Sr., born in Ashland on June 17, 1906 — died when I was 9, so I never got to know him as I would have liked. I never reached the point where familiarity breeds contempt, then evolves into newfound respect.
    Fact is, as a kid in Kerby, I figured adults knew everything. My dad had lost his right leg in a logging accident in the mid-1950s, then became a self-taught botanist, learning the Latin names for many indigenous plants in Southern Oregon.
    His friends were cut from the same cloth. Three in particular left a lifelong impression on me. One was a former Josephine County sheriff, one the local doctor and the other a fellow who could recite poetry for hours.
    All four were accomplished storytellers. On a June evening they would gather under the trees behind our humble house in Kerby and hold court for hours.
    I remember being mesmerized by their tales interrupted occasionally by a buzzing mosquito in those innocent pre-West Nile days. To a child, these were true renaissance figures whose knowledge was staggering. They covered everything from plants to planets.
    I would later discover the doctor wasn't quite a full-fledged medical doctor, the former sheriff served during the war when it was difficult to fill the position and the poet had a bit of a drinking problem.
    What's more, I would learn that my father's only formal education was the eighth-grade education he received at the Uniontown School in the Applegate Valley.
    But he, like his friends, was a good person who left his mark on the world. My father will forever remain a towering figure in my life, one who made all the difference.
    Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or pfattig@mailtribune.com.
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