He is with me every time Slow Dance leaves the dock. He may not have been my “father,” but he was the kind of “Dad” every child deserves. He was my stepfather, Chester Woodrow Shore. He was a “man’s man,” yet humble and kind. He died unexpectedly on March 1, 2003, one day before his eighty-first birthday. To say that I miss him every day is the classic understatement. From the moment he came into my life, he was always there for me. If not for him, I don’t know where I would be in life, or if I would be boating today.
My mother and father divorced when I was a toddler. A couple of years later she married a man that before the age of twelve, I was begging her to divorce. He never touched me, but when drinking, he became a nightmare for mother. No child should ever see their mother bruised or her eyes blackened. No child. Ever. It never goes away.
Mother and I had it tough after she filed for divorce and he moved out of our home. But Mother was strong, she was frugal, and we survived. I can’t tell you the year or day, but I will never forget her smile when she arrived home from work one afternoon. On the way home, she had run into her high school sweetheart when she had stopped to fill the car up with gas. In conversation, she learned he was going through a divorce. After graduating from high school, the war had separated them, and ultimately each married someone else. Later, when his divorce was final, I was invited on their first date, and about every date until their marriage in October of 1960. In their forty-plus years of marriage, he never once raised his voice to Mother or me. Soon after their marriage, he began calling me “Junior” more than he called my name. I wish I could say that I called him “Dad” for the rest of his life. Country music star Brad Paisley, and Kelley Lovelace wrote the song that best described my “Dad” when they wrote He Didn’t Have to Be.
That first summer after they began dating, we started going to a lake cabin that he leased from a friend. He introduced me to boating in his beautiful sixteen-foot Borum Mahogany runabout. He taught me about boating and taught me to water ski. He also taught me the importance of boating safely and to respect other boaters.
After he and Mother were married, they bought a rustic little cabin on the same lake. Later, he taught my “bride” to ski, and in the summer of 1968, just weeks before our son was born, she was skiing with my dad at the helm. When she told her doctor about it, he asked if she knew what could have happened if she had fallen. Her response was that she knew that she wouldn’t fall with my dad at the wheel. She was right, he was that kind of man.
Early in my career my bride and I were transferred multiple times in a few short years, but we were living back in our hometown when our daughter was born. Our children called my dad, “Bop.” Growing up on a farm, he had smoked since his early teens. One Sunday after lunch at my parents’ home, our young son and daughter climbed into his lap. As they sat talking to him, our son, who was about eight at the time, asked, “Bop, why don’t you love us?” Shocked, my dad replied, “Bo, you know I love you very, very much.” Our son’s innocent response was, “Bop, if you really loved us, you would quit smoking so you could watch us grow up.” From that moment, the man never smoked another cigarette. Not one. That day he quit smoking,”cold turkey.” It was another example of the kind of man he was. On the day that he died, our son insisted on being with him as he was taken off life support. It was the last thing he could do for the grandfather he loved so much.
He died five days before his first great-grandson was born. He would be so proud of each of his three great-grandchildren. If he had lived, he would be ninety-eight today, March 2, 2020. He enjoyed anything and everything to do with boats, fishing, and hunting. He would have loved Slow Dance, and I’m confident that we would have gotten him onboard for a ninety-eighth birthday cruise.
He would have loved witnessing each of his great-grandchildren on the water, whether boating or fishing. He would be proud at how the oldest has excelled in rock climbing to the point that he now climbs with the varsity team at boarding school. He would have been proud to see his great-granddaughter make her solo run on her dad’s Hells Bay flats boat when she was only eleven year old, and shot her first deer at fourteen. He would be equally proud that his youngest great-grandson, who just turned eleven, has an amazing vocabulary, could sell ice to Eskimos, and shot his first deer before his eleventh birthday. Our grandsons like boats, but his great-granddaughter is the one that loves being at the helm every chance she gets — which is almost daily during the summer months. To her, boats are more important than “electronics.” She’s a high achiever, and when it comes to boating, she is mature beyond her years. As her uncle Bo says, “She does not lack for confidence.”
There was never a question that I couldn’t ask “Dad,” and while he may no longer be around for me to ask, he’s still with me when we leave the dock — right there at the lower helm, where I go when the cruising gets rough. His picture gives me peace and a little more confidence.
Happy Birthday, Dad. I love you and miss you.