“Dad, I want to be just like you!”
They already had their family, three sons and a daughter. Then six years later, another son was born. The Great Depression was in full swing for Norman’s earliest memories. But the optimism of the late 1920’s, when he was born, seemed to embed his personality for life. This characteristic optimism in the face of hardship still carries him through life.
Lost for hours. Asleep on the bank of a ditch. Two year old Norman was feared drowned as the frantic search intensified. He thought he was in trouble when he heard his name intently and repeatedly called. Then he saw the tears in the eyes of his panicked family. Instead of reprimands, the small boy, Norman, received the hugs of rejoicing. Today we are rejoicing that we can still hug him, in spite of his battle with a devastating illness since last fall.
Norman’s innovative mind started with little things, like a string stretched tightly across the driveway of his childhood home. Earl, Norman’s oldest brother, had to run quickly back to the house for something he had forgotten. His littlest brother’s innocent prank got under his skin (or was it just the cement finish of the driveway, which flayed certain parts of his face, hands, elbows, and knees that got under his skin?) Throughout the years, Norman’s innovations improved as he developed a successful family business specializing in the production and distribution of eggs in the much of southeastern Idaho, and parts of Wyoming and Montana. Norman’s people skills blossomed from the snot nosed little brother, who brought down his towering big brother in the driveway, to a man who is beloved by all who know him. (The staff of oncology lights up with happy smiles and greetings when they see him coming.)
Norman’s sense of adventure took him far. Too far for his other brother’s liking. His next older brother, George, was the inventor of the family. George had built a bicycle with an out-rigger to fit on the railroad tracks. This allowed the 1930’s rural bike rider to experience the unbelievably smooth and fast ride to distant places. Norman tried it out, but he went too fast, and too far. When he finally returned from his adventures in Ucon (a neighboring village), he found his concerned father and distraught brother standing at the farm railroad crossing, waiting for his return. His dad said the railroad bike was too dangerous. It was broken up. But his interest in the world wasn’t broken up. And on numerous trips, Norman has seen much of the world. He always planned and traveled independently and never part of a tour group’s agenda. This is one area where his people skills are legendary. Many stories could be told of how good he is at making the world his friend, one person at a time, but then this would be a book instead of a blog.
A life long love of learning for Norman began in a two room school house. Grades 1-4 were in one room. And grades 5-8 were in the other. Norman’s cousin Ray, was almost like a brother to him. After 8th grade graduation from from St. Leon, Ray describes how and why the Haroldsens became involved in high school band. Norman loved band, and even became a band officer when his City Girl opponent campaigned against him by saying, “We don’t want our band run by a bunch of country hicks do we?” Thanks to the backlash from her speech, Norman was a shoe-in for the position. From band music, Norman’s inventor brother, George, introduced him to Classical, which has become a life long love.
One damper in his high school experience was an explosion in Chemistry class. Though the resultant eye injury has left life long effects, it didn’t blur his vision of the future. And it didn’t stunt his zeal for learning and life. Norman graduated college with a bachelors’ degree in agriculture, but through out his life, including today, he continues to read, learn, and study. He was always the speller that I am not. And he knows world geography like no one else I know. (Of course he does, he’s been to most of those places.)
After college, newly wed Norman passed up other opportunities to come home and run the family farm. His dad, though, seemed to only be interested in a free hand. So after eight years of free servitude, and with his father’s critical word’s still ringing in his ears, “All you care about is chickens and church”, Norman struck out on his own, and started his egg business. This phrase illustrates what ever his present focus is. It could be repeated for everything he does in life. “All you care about is politics.” “All you care about is helping other people.” “All you care about is home and family.” “All you care about is visiting and getting to know other people.” The list could go on and on.
I love and look forward to my daily phone calls with my mom and dad. My conversations with them inspire me to want to be a better person. Often, I hear humors stories of their day. Because of his illness, I also hear of his frustration and feebleness, of his struggles and sorrow.
As I contemplate who my father really is, on this coming Father’s Day, one phrase I’ve heard him say more than once in these past months of illness will ring in my ears.
“Shame on me.”
Yes, anytime he has actually gotten emotional or expressed his weariness from enduring, he always follows up with “Shame on me.” He feels that with all he is blessed with, he has no right to allow himself to feel down about his troubles. I wonder what a great world we would live in, if everyone’s shame was comparable to my dad’s self imposed shame of ingratitude when he is feeling a little down.
So this Father’s Day, I’d like to borrow another phrase from my memory. This one came from my two year old son, Joshua, about twenty years ago. He had spent the day riding along with me as I delivered eggs up around West Yellowstone, Montana. We were just finishing up the last delivery before the hour plus drive back home in the delivery truck. I had decided to buy some soda pop for the ride home. After making my selection, I asked Joshua, what kind of pop do you want? Bubbling with the enthusiasm that happy two year olds can possess, Josh said, “I’ll have what you have. I want to be just like you.” That was a contemplative ride home for me. Do I want my son to really be “Just like me?” That comment inspired me to strive to be better than I was.
I think if I could go back home to visit my dad for Fathers Day, I’d bring his favorite soda pop, and another of the same kind for me. As we sipped our drinks, I’d try to muster Joshua’s two-year-old enthusiasm and say, “Dad, I want to be just like you.”