Growing up, my father was in poor health. Years of smoking, back in the days before people knew the long-term effects of tobacco products, took its toll on his lungs and he was diagnosed with emphysema in his late 40s.
As a result of his poor health, my father wasn’t able to do a lot of the things other dads did with their sons. We took an occasional fishing trip and worked out in the yard together, but he could not be away from his oxygen for long and the slightest exertion left him winded.
Confined to the house much of the time, my dad found enjoyment in playing hours of solitaire at the dinner table and watching birds from the window. I never really knew of my dad’s interest in birds, nor did I realize he spent his days after retiring from his job on medical disability watching them from the window.
One day, however, I came home from school and found him in the basement building something. It was a bird feeder and as I helped him fill it with bird seed he explained to me how it worked. We mounted it to a post in the yard and then sat back and watched.
Over the days that passed slowly a following of birds began to use the feeder. Just a few at first, but it wasn’t long before word spread among the avian community that our front yard was bird seed central.
Soon we weren’t just attracting common birds from the area like Cardinals, Sparrows and Mourning Doves, we had more exotic birds showing up like Goldfinches, Downy Woodpeckers and one summer a Baltimore Oriole nested in a tree near the feeder.
My father bought a book so he could identify the many breeds and varieties of birds now frequenting our feeder. If I looked out and saw a bird I didn’t recognize I would ask my dad what it was, but his response was always: “Go get the book and find out for yourself.”
In my early teenage years we moved from our rural home to a place closer to civilization and then, not long after, my dad passed away. Later, when I owned my first house, I kept a finch feeder and I can recall watching Goldfinches feed there daily.
But only recently, spending time with my girlfriend Anita at her place, have I once again taken an interest in watching the birds. She keeps two feeders on her deck and they attract a variety of birds as my father’s bird feeder once did.
This summer, so far, we’ve watched finches squabbling for a place on the thistle feeder where they can fill their bellies. We’ve watched a sparrow feeding its young on the deck rail, bringing it seed from the feeder and dropping it into the awaiting bird’s hungry gullet.
As I watch these birds congregating on the patio almost daily, I am reminded of my dad and his love of the birds. It brings back a bright spot I remember during hard times when I knew my father’s health would only continue to decline, never to improve.
I understand now why he took so much enjoyment in watching his birds and I’m thankful it was something nature gave him at a time when he needed something happy in his life.