|My dad, wearing conventional clothes|
by Gayle Hallenbeck Lynds
My father, Paul Hallenbeck, was weird. When I was a kid, I didn’t understand why. Years later, I finally figured it out. God help him, he was an artist.
At six feet nine inches tall, you couldn’t miss him. He had bright red hair, glowing blue eyes, and a nose destined to be admired for its grand size. He was a handsome fellow, and his smile would light up a room.
But if you didn’t watch him, he’d go to elegant events without his socks. I doubt he realized this would become a cool thing a decade later. He was just more comfortable, and it gave him an edge to poke his finger at the silly conventions of society.
In the summer, he’d arrive at the dinner table without his shirt. Grandma – my mother’s mom – would stare at his bronzed chest and curly red chest hair, turn on her heel, and leave, horrified. Although I think he enjoyed irritating her, the reason he didn’t put on a shirt was he’d been out in the sun, torso naked, wearing a baseball cap, working in his oversized vegetable garden or among his fruit trees. He was sweaty.
|Some of Dad’s wood candlesticks & bowls, 1980s & 1990s|
Come on, we’re talking comfort here – his – and he was hungry. Oh, and Grandma represented “society.”
Then there were the times visitors would arrive at the house, and he’d close the basement door and stay down there happily alone – he was working on one of his wood projects.
He always made us late to events, whether church, family, or school related, because he was, again, working on a wood project and happily alone. So Mom got wily: She compensated by lying about the hour at which we needed to leave the house. The truth was always a half hour later than she’d announce, and he was always a half hour late, which meant we got there on time.
|Dad’s china cabinet, 1980s|
Besides gardening and wood projects, Dad specialized in being resourceful. One spring afternoon he and Rennie, our neighbor, stood in our backyard staring at the long string of mounds ruining the aesthetics of Dad’s grassy lawn.
Rennie was chortling. Dad was gloomy. They agreed it was the doing of a single energetic gopher.
“Some things just can’t be fixed,” Rennie taunted. “You’ve got a gopher. He’ll never let you catch him. Might as well make him a pet.”
Dad shot Rennie one of his withering looks that said, you are so wrong. “We’ll see. How about loaning me your lawn mower?”
It was a gas one. “You’re gonna kill it?” Rennie said, surprised.
Dad was a known softie. “We’ll see,” he repeated.
So Rennie fetched the lawn mower. Dad attached a hose and stuck the free end into the earth where the gopher’s tunneling began.
|Dad & the garage he built by hand|
As the motor churned, and the gas blew into the tunnel, they watched.
“You’re never gonna catch it, Paul,” Rennie said. “They’re too damn smart.”
The gopher was in motion, tunneling fast, the ground rising as it skedaddled across the property line and into Rennie’s flower garden. Dad had studied the pattern of the tunnels and realized the only place left for the gopher to go that’d be uncontaminated was the virgin territory at Rennie’s place. Rennie wasn’t going to easily convince the gopher to return to ours.
“Oh, hell,” Rennie said.
“Yep, they’re smart,” Dad agreed. He removed his hose and walked off, grinning. “Have fun with your pet gopher.”
I could go on and on about Dad’s eccentricities – there’s a long laundry list in family lore, but instead, take a look at his modestly called “wood projects” displayed here.
|One of Dad’s mysterious wood plates, 1990s|
Dad’s days were spent as a tool-and-die engineer, but at night and on weekends through the long Iowa winters he designed and created beautiful pieces of art in wood. He often built his own machines and tools to get the looks he wanted. For instance, he made wood plates that still baffle wood-workers and engineers – how had he managed to achieve that ruffled look?
As Dad grew older and more confident that maybe he was on to something, he showed his work at art fairs in the Midwest. He won many prizes. Some of his pieces are still displayed in banks, libraries, and homes. This was the time in my parents’ lives when my father made sense at last to all of us.
Mom would introduce him proudly, “I’d like you to meet my husband. He’s an artist.”
By then I was publishing, and he and I would often talk about how we solved problems in our work, what we did to encourage our creativity, and how we figured out what we wanted to do next.
|Article about Dad in Nebraska newspaper, 1941|
Like him, I usually didn’t wear socks and I was often late wherever I was going. Was it because I was imitating him … or because I was like him, distracted, my mind churning with exciting ideas?
Yes, my father was weird. And I turned out weird, too, as well as an occasional embarrassment to my children. Now I watch them embarrass my grandchildren. Life is good. Thanks, Dad — and Mom, too.
Dear Rogue Reader … Please leave a comment about your dad or another man who’s been important in your life…. Happy Fathers Day!