My father was brilliant. If I had to categorize him as a character in a fictional world, he would be the absentminded professor. One moment he would try to use trigonometry to help me understand 3rd grade math; the next, he would be completely unable to remember where he left his car keys.
In my younger days, he had a marked duality that made him formidable. It wasn't until I became a working parent myself that I began to understand this: the pressures of making a living, combined with the task of raising four responsible human beings, can be overwhelming. At his best, he was kind and approachable. When at his worst, it was his voice that intimidated. But even then, my biggest fear was only that the neighbors would hear him yelling. My second biggest fear was being whipped with his belt. While I think it only happened to me once, the sound his belt made traveling through belt loops was enough to bring me in line, and I can still hear that sound in my head.
Naturally, I appreciated the times he was approachable. And my favorite childhood memory of him is the Summer nights when he would sit in the backyard with my sister and me, pointing out the hazy constellations that hung above our bright city, and telling stories about when he was a boy in Kansas City, Missouri. His boyhood adventures took on an almost legendary status in my mind. The stories were so big and so brave, that it could have been Mark Twain telling me about Huckleberry Finn. But it was those stories that made him human, and much more real to me.
In the following years, he became just a father again. It wasn't until about forty years later, during an impromtu lunch and what would be the last time I ever saw him "living," that he became real to me again. He opened up in a way I will always treasure - about his dreams and all the things he loved. And that hour I spent with him might be my favorite memory as an adult.