Happy Birthday Dad!
Today is my father’s 92nd birthday. Our birthday celebration will have to wait a couple more weeks because my dad is currently in Texas for a month, training field trial dogs with my stepmother. If anyone feels well enough to be on a road trip in their nineties, more power to them!
My dad is pretty darn special and I’ve always felt proud to say, “I am the girl who is lucky enough to be Jim Howard’s daughter.” He was born in rural Idaho, third in a family of 5 kids, one of whom died as a child. He was named after his great-grandfather, James Hansen, who emigrated from Denmark to homestead in Wisconsinin the 1800s. My dad grew up hunting and fishing and developed a love of the outdoors, which he passed along to me. He served his country in WWII and earned two purple hearts and other service medals. He sometimes still wakes up in the middle of the night thinking about the war. He earned his law degree from the University of Colorado and practiced law for over 45 years. Early in his career, he travelled the country negotiating oil leases; later he was in private practice in Denver. He also served as a judge for a time in Arvada,Colorado.
My dad is a wonderful storyteller and has many a tale to share from his rich and varied life. Here are just a few highlights and memories, in no particular order:
- He once swam all the way across the Columbia river to retrieve a goose he had just shot.
- As a young man, he lived in southern California and rode around on an Indian motorcycle.
- Dad loved to go trout fishing in cirque lakes that he’d discover in the Colorado high country. Typically a solitary endeavor, he’d depart early, pack a lunch which usually included a shot of whiskey, and would thoroughly enjoy the day. On one trip, he accidentally slid down a steep slope feet first. He broke both his ankles, crawled out to his car, and then drove himself home.
- While in the military, in addition to being an infantryman, he was a boxer and served as a medic.
- For a time, he worked as a cook at a ranch and perfecting cooking “for a big group of hungry guys.” My dad is still a great cook.
- Poetry has been a lifelong love. He used to write poetry and was an editor of a poetry column for a school newspaper. He particularly loves “The Rubiayat of Omar Khayyam” and has memorized many a verse.
- Jazz at the “Trocadero Ballroom” at Elitch Gardens was a favorite evening out for many a year, until its doors were closed forever in 1975. He particularly liked guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli who often played with tenor saxophonist Bud Freeman.
- My father loves dogs and there was never a time when we didn’t have at least one or two when I was growing up. Along the fence line on his property, there is a pet cemetery, where more than a dozen of his 4-legged friends from the last 40 or so years now rest. He has trained field trial retrievers most of his life and has spent many a joyous hour doing so.
- He gives the best toasts ever, and they always bring a tear to my eye.
- My dad is a voracious reader and has an extensive vocabulary.
- He likes to eat donuts—which he calls “donies”--and my visits are a good excuse for him to buy them “for me.”
- My mother died when I was a kid. The day after her death, my father told my sister, brother and me that, “we’ll all just have to love ach other a little bit more now.” Those words have stuck with me all these years and continually remind me of the importance of family.
- In 1994, we were lucky enough to visit McNeil River State Game Sanctuary together. We spent 3 days in joy watching the brown bears at close range. This was truly a gift and the very best adult experience we’ve ever shared. We were also lucky enough to visit Pack Creek on Admiralty Island on another visit to Alaska.
- I’ve learned many things from him, including: “God helps those who help themselves”; a dog’s tail is also known as its “happiness indicator”; an onion sandwich tastes pretty darn good; be kind to all living things; if you can’t say somethingnice, don’t say anything at all; and every person has value—treat the doorman the same as you would the president of a company.
If you’re still reading this, you can probably tell how much I love my dad. We’ll be celebrating his birthday, belatedly, at Tres Margaritas, a Mexican restaurant near his home. He especially likes to go on a Monday night because the restaurant has live mariachi music to accompany the food and wine. I’ll close this entry with one of his favorite verses from ‘The Rubiayat’:
Awake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night
Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight:
And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught
The Sultán’s Turret in a Noose of Light.
Father, hero, friend—same guy. Happy birthday Dad…I love you very much!