W is for William

is for William.

William VanderWerff became my dad when I was ten years old. He married my mother following the death of my father. I called him “Dad” from the beginning, not because I was told I should, but because he was the Dad in the family.

One of our first father-son encounters involved the garage door. I was sent out to put bikes and toys into the garage. In a fit of infantile anger, I threw up the garage door causing it to stick so I could not pull it down.

“The garage door is stuck,” Mom said, implicating me as the cause with a hard-eyed stare and tight-set lips. Dad went out to un-stick it.

“How did the door get stuck?” Dad asked when he came back into the house. The ensuing discussion between us produced the (not mutual) understanding that it happened because I was mad at being asked to do something I did not want to do.

“Don’t you think you were being impudent?” he asked.

“No,” I said, having no idea what impudent means or a ten-year-old brain mature enough to think of asking.

“Impudent means being a smart aleck and not thinking about the feelings of others,” he explained. “Now, I think you need to go stand in the hall over there for fifteen minutes and consider whether or not you were impudent.”

A non-violent man, Dad did not believe in corporal punishment, unlike Mom who, with a stick, spanked first and might ask questions later. Standing in the hall became the standard of punishment, followed by a lecture of interminable duration—or so it seemed. Consigned to my post in the hall for countless infractions and facing yet another lecture, I often thought I would prefer a beating.

Not educated beyond high school and with no credentials in child development or child psychology, Dad had an innate sensibility about what was appropriate and when. The themes of his lectures were consistent which had more to do with my lack of comprehension than with his ability to make a point. Each time a theme was expressed, he tailored it to fit the situation.

“Use your initiative,” he would say. “Initiative means doing the right thing at the right time without being told.” It wasn’t only a matter of telling me to use my initiative. When Dad observed that I did something he considered a good example of initiative, he was quick to offer positive reinforcement. “You used your initiative,” he’d say. “Good for you.”

Thinking was a major theme throughout my childhood and adolescence. “You have to think about what you’re doing,” Dad said innumerable times. But it was more than simply “thinking about what you’re doing.” Identifying the possible actions, evaluating choices for action, and recognizing the consequence of each action were the critical elements of the decision making process. “Think about what you’re doing,” Dad would say, “and consider the consequence of each act.” He was patient and went through the steps of the decision making process each time he gave me the lecture. He stressed the importance of evaluating the choice of action in any situation, putting particular emphasis on accepting responsibility for the choice made. “Think!” he’d say. “Use your head for something besides a hat rack.”

“Do the work. Work makes you free” was another common theme. If you’re working, you’re not free, I thought. It didn’t make sense and I thought it sounded stupid. Freedom was always more important to me than work. It took a long time for the wisdom of Dad’s work-freedom admonishment to sink in.

Looking back on my childhood and adolescent years, Dad looms large. He was the dad I needed. His influence blessed my life.

0 thoughts on “W is for William

  1. Cathy


    Another fabulous short story in just one page! I feel like I was in the hallway with you.

    With only three more blog posts to go, the depression is setting in. I don’t want it to end.

    Well, at least I have a list of the “wonderful verbs,” you have used in these blogs – something a college English professor told me to compile when I found a writer who used them well. That writer is you!

    Alas, I will enjoy my last three days of the blog and then wait for you to take another trip so I can travel there with you through your wonderful words.

    1. Dennis Post author


      You’re causing my head to swell. It is difficult to remain humble in the face of such praise.

      I am participating in another blog competition following the A to Z Blogging Challenge. The Writers of Kern Blog Challenge posts will be published on Wednesday and Saturday through May 18. I hope I don’t let you down.

      Thanks for your enthusiasm.


  2. Joan Raymond

    Such a wonderful tribute to your dad. I love the way he would use words beyond your comprehension, but then explain their meaning and give an example. Then, he took the time to reinforce a lesson you learned in a positive way.

    In my home we got spanked (more than a few times in my case) and I lost television privileges which hurt more than the spanking!

    1. Dennis Post author

      When I think back on my growing up years, I am amazed at how skillful my day was. He certainly had is own demons; but his sense of child-rearing came from a sacred place. I am pleased you enjoyed the story.

  3. Annis

    What a great man he was, Dennis! As I read through, I could see how his teachings took hold. Proves once again, we get the people we need in our lives to teach us the lessons we need to learn. Interesting isn’t it how we now see our parents’ wisdom. Thanks for this one. xoA

    1. Dennis Post author

      He was a great man, Annis; it took a long time to realize that. And, I realized it in time to tell him how grateful I am to have him in my life. We had a good relationship. As I said in the post, he was the dad I needed to have.

  4. Terry Redman

    I recall my dad spanking me one time–I deserved it as I recall. His other disciplining was closer to what you describe. A curt word, or a curse in a loud tone would cut to the bone. He was gentle, shy and a keen observer of people. Thanks for sharing this with us, Dennis

  5. Davyd Morris

    A fine memory, tribute, and life lesson. You must have developed a wonderful relationship with your dad, William. Relatives are tricky, we may not be able to “pick our relatives” in a biological sense, but we can pick who will relate to and who we will hold close in our hearts. Thank you for reminding me.

    1. Dennis Post author

      I did have a good relationship with my dad. I think the relationship was possible not only because of the man he was, but because I came to realized he cared about me.


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