My father’s roll-top desk is massive. It has seven large drawers and 25 smaller drawers of various sizes. It’s mine now. As he lay dying in late 1996, he decided that I should get his desk because I was the traveler in the family (the desk disassembles relatively easily, although it’s heavy as…). My brother was given the 125-year-old family Victrola since he wasn’t a traveler and it would become a pile of sad antique splinters if it was dropped.
My dad could always be found at his desk. It was his command center. It’s where he paid bills, wrote letters, sketched out his workday and weekend painting jobs, and held court with my brother and I when we came to ask for advice or something as simple as “What’s for dinner?”
But, most importantly, it was the place each night he became just “George” again. My father loved knowledge and words, yet fought every night—after he cleaned his paint brushes in the sink downstairs, took a shower to wash the paint and grime away, ate dinner, played catch or did Scouting projects with my brother and I, spent time with my mom, and handled the myriad other duties of modern life—to find 30 minutes, maybe an hour or so, to sit at his desk and read the Chicago Tribune and Daily Southtown, Time Life books on Native American history and World War II, and tomes on nature and history. In those minutes or hour, this man of constant action became someone else with his dark reading glasses on, the soft light hitting his bowed bald head as he sat at his desk bent over a book. At his desk, there were no benches and fieldhouses to paint at the city parks where he worked, “rough-around-the-edges” coworkers to deal with, or park denizens sticking guns in his face (it happened more than once on the job)—just words and ideas on a page. He could have easily been an aristocrat in the library of his country estate. In this time, he was just George, not George the father, George the painter, husband George, or bill-payer George. He became what he could not be in his hard daily life—a scholar, a student, a thinker, a man of stillness and peace.
In reality, I’m not fond of the desk itself. It’s an ocean liner in our small city living room, where we really need a tiny speedboat. It’s so massive that you can easily forget what you’ve put in there. A big wooden deck is such an anachronism in 2022. No one I know seems to have such desks in their homes anymore. When my son Liam was born, we used the desk as a changing table. It holds all types of things , but I haven’t used it as a desk in years. It’s so not a desk anymore that Liam asked me one day recently, “Why do you still keep my changing table around?” Big smile.
I rarely sit at my dad’s desk, but still cherish it. It was my dad’s desk, and the only large item I own of his.
And there’s one more thing that’s special about it. I’ve kept one drawer exactly as it was the day he died on January 16, 1997, lying in a hospital bed five feet from it. It’s a time capsule of his life—cancer remedies, old matchbooks (“Mellow Yellow…A Hyde Park Tradition Since 1976”), a stick of spearmint gum that retains its smell 25 years later, old coins, nails, and washers, various handwritten notes (some clear: “Ramada Inn, about 170th Halsted,” and some not so clear: “See note. Get squirt gun.” or “Miller Eagle.”), and much more. And like a MacGyver- or a Swiss-Army-Knife desk, it’s become the go-to spot in moments of last resort when I or Amy need something that we can’t possibly have on hand or are out of—an odd size screw, a piece of bright rope to mark a suitcase, a washer to hold in a glass window on a screen door, a stamp, a clamp, a match for a candle during a power outage, and shoelaces, but, no, not the stick of gum. It’s the desk drawer that keeps on giving. And when I walk by it throughout the day, sometimes I almost feel like my dad might be sitting there waiting for me with a smile. And that’s enough for me. And why this ocean-liner of a desk will always stay with me.
Here are some other stories I’ve written about my dad, one about my father-in-law, and one about the joy of being a father. Happy Father’s Day to all of the fathers and father figures in the world!
Copyright (text/photos) Andrew Morkes
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ABOUT ANDREW MORKES
I have been a writer and editor for more than 25 years. I’m the founder of College & Career Press (2002); the editorial director of the CAM Report career newsletter and College Spotlight newsletter; the author and publisher of “The Morkes Report: College and Career Planning Trends” blog; and the author and publisher of Hot Health Care Careers: 30 Occupations With Fast Growth and Many New Job Openings; Nontraditional Careers for Women and Men: More Than 30 Great Jobs for Women and Men With Apprenticeships Through PhDs; They Teach That in College!?: A Resource Guide to More Than 100 Interesting College Majors, which was selected as one of the best books of the year by the library journal Voice of Youth Advocates; and other titles. They Teach That in College!? provides more information on environmental- and sustainability-related majors such as Ecotourism, Range Management, Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Built Environment, Sustainability Studies, and Sustainable Agriculture/Organic Farming. I’m also a member of the parent advisory board at my son’s school. Stories about my work have been published in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Daily Southtown, Beverly Review, and Practical Homeschooling.
In addition to these publications, I’ve written more than 40 books about careers for other publishing and media companies including Infobase (such as the venerable Encyclopedia of Careers & Vocational Guidance, the Vault Career Guide to Accounting, and many volumes in the Careers in Focus, Discovering Careers, What Can I Do Now?!, and Career Skills Library series) and Mason Crest (including those in the Careers in the Building Trades and Cool Careers in Science series).
My poetry has appeared in Cadence, Wisconsin Review, Poetry Motel, Strong Coffee, and Mid-America Review.