Living the Simple Life with My Quirky, Adventurous, Hardworking Dad
By: Lisa Luken
Growing up, I didn’t think my parents were cool. I lived on a farm in the Midwest in what seemed like the middle of nowhere. My dad farmed the open land that stretched a mile down the road to my grandparents’ house and my mom worked various jobs while taking care of me and my sisters.
My family lived a simple life. I grew up watching my parents do their best to achieve work-life balance while providing for our family. I watched them work hard and play hard—traits my sisters and I have carried with us well into our adult lives. I didn’t always have the most fashionable clothes or the latest gadgets, but I was blessed to have always had what I needed when I needed it.
Recently, I had the opportunity to look back at the simplicity of my childhood while organizing and scanning our family photo collection. Through this project, I was able to see my youth through the eyes of my parents. It was humbling to learn what life was like long before I was born, and it was thrilling to recount my childhood through the snapshots of everyday moments and big celebrations captured over the years.
The process of organizing the photos took me on an unexpectedly emotional journey. I was able to get a glimpse of my great-grandfather’s travels in the Navy, my grandmother’s wedding, my parents’ childhoods, and ultimately, my arrival. This journey back in time gave me the opportunity to see a side of my parents that I hadn’t fully noticed growing up. I got to see my creative, nature-loving mom and my adventurous, quirky, hardworking dad in a new light.
As we take the time this month to celebrate fatherhood, I’d like to express my gratitude for the fathers and grandfathers in my life. I’m filled with memories of my dad and his fun-loving, unique way of living life.
While I have carried many vivid memories with me over the years, the process of organizing my family photos added even more to my list of noteworthy “dad” memories.
There was that time he slowly pulled into our gravel driveway on his motorcycle, one hand on the brake and the other tucked tightly by his side. “Hey girls, look what I found!” he shouted. Carefully snuggled into his hand was a black and white rabbit, blind in one eye, that he found on the side of the road. The little bunny would be christened by our family as “Spunky Wabbit” and he would live in the black-and-white rabbit cage my dad built for him the next day from wood scraps in the barn. That was so typical of my dad—he was always noticing the tiny details (I still don’t know how he spotted the cottontail while riding down the country road on his motorcycle) and he was always working on a project.
Then there were the times when he’d play with us kids at the park, happily serving as the fourth person for the teeter-totter or sometimes being the only one brave enough to climb to the top of the playground tower.
Of course, I can’t forget all the memories of doing farm chores with him; most notably, the days we spent walking along rows of soybean fields to pull button weeds. This task always seemed to be required on the hottest, driest summer days, but my dad never failed to get us to follow through with our responsibilities. Amazingly, we’d always find arrowhead treasures as we walked the fields doing our job. It wasn’t until years later that I realized my dad had strategically planted the arrowheads each morning in the exact rows we’d be walking that day.
The trickery didn’t end there, though. I would also see his sneaky side during the mornings after he’d have his buddies over to play cards in the garage. He’d have me and my siblings sweep the floor and clean up, and without fail, we’d find quarters that had “accidentally” fallen on the ground from the night before. Thanks to my dad, I acquired quite the collection of quarters and arrowheads over the years.
My dad may have had his ways to “trick” us into getting our chores done, but we knew he always had our backs, providing for us and keeping us safe while still managing to get his work done. Long before baby carriers were fashionable, he’d zip me up inside his coat and accomplish what he could, taking me along for the ride.
When winter came and the work on the farm shifted from plowing fields to plowing snow, my dad’s love for adventure and being outdoors kept him outside all winter long. Between snowmobiling and skating on the frozen fields, my dad always kept us active and encouraged us to embrace the outdoors.
When the snow melted and spring arrived, it was time for rides in our small plane. I come from a family of aviators, and my dad’s favorite hobby was to hop in the plane and go flying. One of his favorite activities on clear Sunday mornings was flying up to Wisconsin for breakfast with me and his dad, just because we could. I think of life now and how complicated it can become, and I long for the days when hopping in a plane and flying to another state for breakfast was accomplished in such a laid back, matter-of-fact way.
And I can’t forget the weeks we spent in northern Wisconsin every August when our family convened with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, second-cousins and extended family members (I could never keep track of who everyone was). We fished and swam, and my dad always managed to keep us entertained. He would turn our fishing boat into a speedboat and tow us around the lake on tubes made from the old tires of the farm equipment. We would hike through the woods and watch sunsets on the lake. And after these long days of slow living, we would gather around firepits cooking the day’s catch, toasting marshmallows for dessert and sharing stories with our extended family.
While each season and each vacation provided memorable and entertaining moments with my dad, it’s the everyday moments that really stand out the most—the repeated routines that shaped each day and contributed to my simple childhood.
Each night at home on the farm, after dinner was cleaned up and while bedtime books were being read, my dad would make popcorn on the stove and my grandfather would arrive like clockwork to share a beer and reflect on the day’s work. They’d plan the next day’s farm tasks and dream up their next big business venture. I listened in to all of this with a child’s perspective while my mom read, all while enjoying my bowl of salted stovetop popcorn (a routine that stuck with of me well into adulthood).
Looking back, I know that these routine nights and adventure-filled days shaped who I am and paved the path I’ve taken in my life. I know my sense of adventure and my love of gathering with others to share good food, good wine, and good stories grew from those days and nights at home on the farm and in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.
I’m grateful my parents captured my childhood in photos—not only the significant events, but also the everyday moments. And I’m grateful for my adventurous, playful, quirky dad who exhibited grit and persistence, who taught me how to work hard, and who showed me how to savor the rewards of each day while always dreaming big.
Here’s to celebrating all the quirky, cool, adventurous dads in this world who have made a difference in their children’s lives in big ways and small ways, and here’s to sharing our favorite memories with them through Nixplay frames!