My Father's Daughter

Happy Father’s Day!  To all friends and family, I hope today is a special day for you to make lasting memories with all the dads and father figures in your lives. 
My brother with Dad and I
This Father’s Day, I’ve thought a lot about my own dad.  Normally I don’t spend a lot of time doing that on this day, but this year I feel a special tenderness in my heart for the man I hardly know but love just the same. 
My parents were divorced when I was just a baby.  I never had the chance to live with my dad or really get to know him.  My mom took my brother and I to visit Dad and his side of the family a handful of times over the years when we were growing up, but I don’t remember spending any quality time with Dad.  To tell the truth, I was kind of scared of him.  He had dark skin, didn’t look like me, had a strange lifestyle and lived on an Indian reservation.  I was a shy, sheltered little girl from a small town where everyone knew each other; we all looked a like, did the same things and attended the same school and church.  I had a hard time relating to him. 
Dad Performing A Navajo Hoop Dance - Lamanite Week, BYU
Two random memories about insignificant events stick out to me about those childhood visits to Arizona.  The first one was when I was about six or seven.  We went to Page, Arizona, for a Brown family reunion at Lake Powell.  For lunch we had sandwiches and soda.  My Dad handed me a can of soda and let me drink the whole thing!  No one had given me an entire can of soda before, and I thought it was pretty cool.  The second memory was when I was a bit older, probably 11 or 12, riding with Dad in his truck to the Kmart in Gallup, or maybe it was in Page.  I needed a pair of socks so we could go bowling.  He handed me a $100 dollar bill and told me to go pick out what I needed.  I’d never seen that much money in all my life.  After that, for the longest time, I thought my Dad must be extremely wealthy to be handing out $100s to little girls for socks.  But also, I thought it was neat that he trusted me with all that money. 

This year my Dad is on my mind because he’s getting older.  I see him losing his immortally and it makes me want to connect to him even more.  He’s always been a distant sort of heroic figure to me, beautiful, rugged, mysterious, invincible, tough, enigmatic.  Now I see him with new eyes as a man on the verge of his declining years who I desperately wish to know. 
How I Will Always Remember My Dad - Handsome & Strong
 This past April, I had a wonderful visit with my Dad as our family gathered in Gallup, New Mexico, for my grandma’s funeral.  That evening after the funeral, we sat in Dad’s hogan and visited until it was too dark to see.  His extremely modest, two-room home is wired for electricity, but he has to get a permit from the Chapter before it can be put into use.  This visit was also great in that Dad finally has indoor plumbing, so I didn’t have to use the outhouse.  Before it got too late, I took advantage of every minute to learn more about Dad.  I asked him to tell as many stories as he could.  I really wished time could have stood still that day. 

Dad's Hogan
Here are a few stories I know about my Dad.  I think they’re very interesting and I hope that by writing them down, my kids will read them some day and enjoy them with their kids. 

 My Dad, Benjamin Brown, is the second of 13 kids born to Tom & Winona Brown of Lupton, Arizona.  Poverty as we know it was a way of life for Navajos of his generation.  I don’t know how Grandma & Grandpa fed and clothed all those kids!  I asked Dad one time how they did it and he said, “They didn't.  We starved.” 
Dad As A Little Boy
When Dad was grade school age, the Indian Placement Program, a program ran by the LDS church from 1947 – 2000, was getting off the ground.  Navajo families sent their school-age kids to live with white families in Utah, Idaho and surrounding states in order to help them assimilate into their culture.  Dad’s first placement family was in Salina, Utah.  The first family he lived with was good to him and I think he really enjoyed his experience with them.  However, they moved and couldn’t take him with them.  There were several other families who asked to let him live with them, but his “agent” didn’t approve because they smoked or were not LDS or had some other “deficiency.”  He ended up living with the seminary teacher, whose wife was very cruel.  She did not let Dad mix with her family.  He was given one serving of dinner and then immediately sent down to the basement for the rest of the evening while her kids ate more food and snacks and got to watch TV.  She was physically abusive as well.  Sometimes Dad would be out at an activity, or just out playing, and the wife would lock him out of the house.  He said he spent many nights sleeping in the barn.  She would never ask him where he had been or if he was hungry or cold.  She was just glad to have him out of her house.  One time she had been extremely cruel and Dad tried to run away.  He went to a neighboring town because he had a brother there on placement who he hoped could help him.  When Dad’s placement “agent” found out, she marched him right back to Salina.   

School Days On Indian Placement

Finally, in order to be rid of Dad, the couple decided to get him in trouble.  One of their sons had a really nice ring that suddenly went missing.  That night the seminary teacher took Dad downstairs to question him about the ring.  “Where is it?” the man asked Dad. “Where is what?” Dad asked. “The ring?  We know you took it!”  Dad had no idea what he was talking about.  When he couldn’t produce an answer, the man took Dad by the ear and lifted him out of his chair, “You better find that ring or you will be in big trouble.”  Because Dad didn’t know where it was, the story got out that he stole the ring and couldn’t be trusted.  A few days later, Dad asked the son about the ring and he showed him where he kept it safe and sound as part of a bookmark.  But that was that and they sent him home.  After that experience, Dad told Grandma he was never going back on placement.  
As A Young Man With His Parents & A Younger Sibling

When Dad was old enough to serve a mission, he was called to the Southern Indian mission.  The headquarters were located in Holbrook, Arizona.  From what I can gather, I think he really enjoyed his mission.  I know he worked hard because he told us how much walking he did and how tired he was all the time.  One story he shared was about visiting an old Navajo sheep herder who lived on land now covered by Lake Powell.  Dad and his companion arrived at Billy Many Goats house one morning to visit.  After a little while the man asked the missionaries if they would go on a short walk with him to see his sheep.  They agreed and they all began walking down the mountain, along with the man’s daughter who was about the same age as Dad.  After a very long time, they finally reached the sheep; however, they were at the bottom of the canyon and now faced a very long hike back up the mountain.  Dad said the man and daughter, the man being in his 50s or 60s, climbed back up the mountain just like goats themselves, never breaking a sweat, while he and his companion struggled and wore themselves out.  Dad learned a Navajo sheepherder’s idea of a short walk can be very misleading. 
As A Missionary
Elder Brown
As I listened to his stories, I looked around Dad's sparse environment and considered this man with hardly any earthly possessions, but who on the inside is rich with a lifetime of stories and experiences I can only begin to imagine.  After he and my Mom divorced, Dad eventually remarried and had three more children.  I love my half siblings Udo, Una and Rafferty.  Their sweet mother Edith, who I have fond memories of, passed away about 12 years ago.  I am happy to have known her.  She was always kind to me and loved to smile and laugh.  Una reminds me of her and Rafferty looks just like her. 
Una, Rafferty and Dad with Shawn & I (Udo not pictured)
I worry about my Dad as he gets older and somehow feel responsible for his welfare.  I guess that’s normal for all children, now matter how old they are and no matter how well they know their parent.  Dad is a diabetic and is probably not faithful at taking his insulin shots.  There is no refrigeration in his hogan for keeping fresh fruits and vegetables, but maybe that will change when he gets his electricity permit.  Also, he has very few teeth left and I’m really not sure how he eats.  But when I think about bringing him to Utah to live with me or live near me, I know it wouldn’t work.  He wouldn’t be happy anywhere but living up Tse de Tha Canyon in Lupton, Arizona, his home for over 70 years. 

View From Dad's House
Thank you for reading my story.  I hope you enjoyed your Father's Day this year.  And to my Dad, I love you and look forward to many more visits and lots of new stories as I get to know you better.  Thank you for being a part of my life.  I love you.
Dad & His Surviving Siblings


Stacie Brown said...

Very interesting! :-)

Sande said...

Karen, that is beautiful. You are a gifted writer, girl!

Sande said...

Karen, that is beautiful. You are a gifted writer, girl!