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My dad, I. His life before me

Published: Sunday 19 Jul 2020 | Edited: Sunday 19 Jul 2020

All this is gonna need to be taken with a handful of salt, because I'm patching it together from second- or third-hand accounts; then passed through my own blurry lens; then probably misremembered.

My dad was born in the 60s. He talked about watching the footage of the moon landing when he was in first grade. When he was thirteen, he and his family lived though the Teton Dam disaster. My grandfather was deeply involved in the reconstruction efforts as a building contractor. My dad and his brothers worked construction from childhood to early adulthood. From what I can gather, my grandpa worked them like adult employees and paid them like adult employees.

The Harris family has always been a gathering and partying kind of family. They've got strong traditions that bring them together several times a year. Except for one brother, the entire family has stayed in the small town they grew up in. Most of the second and third generations live there, too.

As far as I know, my dad has had tumultuous relationships with pretty much everyone in his life. He often spoke poorly of his mother. I never remember him showing her a kind or sweet gesture. He resented his sister for being the youngest and spoiled. He had pretty sparse contact with his oldest brother. He did have a close, supportive relationship with his other brother.

He lived through years of hate and hurt with his father. They had the kind of fights you hear about where no one knows how or when it started, only that the other man was at fault. There were a few periods of back-and-forth injury and repair that I personally witnessed. My dad was really critical of his father, speaking often of his flaws.

My dad was raised Mormon. Growing up in Sugar City, Idaho meant that was probably the least remarkable element of his life. He told me that he was mostly ambivalent about his participation in church until a local Mormon bishop took him under his wing and encouraged him to engage more actively in the church and to serve a mission.

He did.

He was a missionary in Arizona in the early 80s. When he got home, he enrolled at Ricks, a two-year college near Sugar City. There he met my mom and got married. After they got their Associate's degrees, they moved down to Logan and my dad got his Bachelor's and Master's degrees at Utah State. I think his degrees were in finance and hospital administration.

He was looking for a job in a hospital when he was approached by a friend to apply for an admissions role at Ricks College. He reluctantly agreed, and before long was climbing the ladder. He ended up working there the rest of his life.

That decision to take the job at Ricks is really interesting in retrospect, not just because of where it landed him (in a little-did-he-know-it-would-result-in-his-untimely-demise kind of way), but also why he did it.

My dad was obsessed with money. I think he took the job at Ricks, because it was a sure thing. He was exposed to the marketplace of jobs applications after graduation for long enough that he was getting anxious about being unemployed. He gave his reasons for why he took the job at Ricks instead of waiting for a more lucrative offer as a hospital admin, but I think he did it out of fear.

My mom told me that she forewent pursuing her education beyond an Associate's degree because she knew it would cause problems for my dad. My mom never actually discussed this with him, but she assumed that if she enrolled in a Bachelor's program, instead of working to support them while he was at school, my dad would have dropped out to avoid accruing student debt and going without income. She didn't want to derail my dad's plans, so she sacrificed her goal of higher education on the altar of his anxiety.

She told me he was always worried about money. And, that he always took care of everything. She was never really involved with decisions about savings or purchases.

Honestly, much of my dad's early life was probably lost forever when he died. He told stories about his adventures with his friends in high school. He talked about his mission with a lot of fondness, especially his mission president who was a role model for him. Even decades later, he was really animated by discussions about his research topics in college.

But there were certain periods of his life that he only mentioned vaguely. Besides a fishing story with his grandfather, and the moon landing thing, I don't remember many stories or discussions about his early childhood.

His school portrait from first grade shows the face of a sweet, happy boy. Every photo I've seen in the interval from middle school through his upperclass years of high school is colored with some level of despair. I'm speculating, but I think pain and trauma showed up early in my dad's life and haunted him for a long time.