116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
It’s happened several times: I walk into my parents’ house and find my father, Stu Cole, sitting in his chair. (Every man has “his” chair.) He’s watching a repeat broadcast on Cyclones TV and reliving of one of his proudest moments — when the 2017 Iowa State football squad beat 3rd-ranked Oklahoma on the Sooners’ own field.
“How many times have you seen this?” my mother or I will ask.
“One less than I’m gonna,” he quips. How very Stu Cole of him.
It’s Father’s Day, so of course I’m going to write something about my dad. As I’ve written previously, Coles aren’t big huggers, and we’re not into sappy sentiments, so we show our affection by poking good-humored fun at each other, often in the form of telling stories, some of which go back decades. Some of my very favorite family stories are about Stu Cole.
Each child of a loving father thinks their dad is the best dad ever. Those opinions aren’t formed by the size of their paycheck or their position in society, but by the memories of their childhoods, which usually include Dad doing something goofy in a way only dads can. Once, when my brother Rob was very young, Stu Cole took a miniature toy basketball hoop with a suction cup and stuck it to his forehead so his delighted young son could shoot baskets off of his face. When he removed it, my mother instantly burst out laughing — the suction cup had left a perfectly round hickey on his forehead. Mom had to get out her makeup to cover it before he sang in the church choir the next day.
Dad is an incredibly intelligent and talented guy. He was a horticulturalist for his entire career, which included 25 years as a golf course superintendent at a country club prior to his retirement several years ago. Keeping the course beautiful during the summer required a significant commitment of both Dad’s time and talents. That included setting the alarm as early as 3:30 a.m. on Saturdays to ensure the course was ready for golfers. His work ethic earned him the respect of club staff and membership, as did his good nature and wit. “If you ever see me on the mower and I suddenly turn and look behind me,” he’d joke with the members, “it means I just woke up and I’m checking to see if I missed anything.”
Working on that golf course and spending lots of time in the sun has done wonders for the color of Stu Cole’s blonde hair. But the purity of that blonde did cause a tiny blip in his plans to marry my mother, Julie. On their wedding day 42 years ago, Mom was approached by a great aunt before the ceremony who said (and I’m pretty sure this is a direct quote,) “Julie, there’s something Stuart isn’t telling you.” Apparently my mother’s elderly aunt was convinced that Dad was significantly older than he claimed and was dying his hair to conceal his age, because no person could naturally be that blonde.
Having inherited that natural blonde, I'm particularly amused by that story. My mother (a brunette) wasn’t fazed by her elderly aunt’s suspicion - she knew exactly what she was getting when she married Stu Cole. Mom grew up in a family where household cleaning was strictly the woman’s task. When Dad brought her home to introduce her to his parents, my grandfather was finishing up the vacuuming as they walked through the door. Never before had she ever seen a man use a vacuum cleaner, and she realized then that it would be awfully nice to spend her life with a nice guy from a nice family like his.
Stu Cole is exactly that. He’s a nice guy from a nice family. But even nice guys have their moments. In his case, those moments usually occur when he’s trying to fix or install something around the house. My dad is one of those guys who will throw a grown man’s temper tantrum when a project doesn’t go as planned. Few if any would ever expect that from such a polite guy, but the privilege of witnessing his enraged antics is usually limited to his wife and kids, who never fail to giggle at his outbursts when a screw falls on the floor or the measurements don’t add up.
He groans. He growls. He mutters things I can’t repeat in this column. If he’s got enough room, he might throw something to channel his fury — before I was born, according to my mother, he once got so frustrated at a project in the backyard that he threw a hammer onto the ground. When he went to retrieve it, he realized it was so stuck that he’d need a shovel to dig it out. While Stu Cole fumes at a project mishap, we laugh, knowing that when we tell this story to our extended family at the next gathering, he’ll be chuckling along and probably even helping tell it.
Oddly enough, that occasionally quick temper is something I’ve always appreciated about my dad (and not just because I knew I was in for a good show when he came to hang new curtain rods in my home last year.) Niceness in our home was never mistaken for meekness. Rob and I were raised by a father who always expressed his most authentic self, and showed us how to do the same. We never felt the need to suppress any part of our nature. We always knew the value of expressing an opinion. (That seems to serve me particularly well in my current career.)
For Stu Cole, being his authentic self includes planning errands around a trip to the soft serve ice cream shop, watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” around Christmas by himself so no one makes fun of him for tearing up at the end, taking his binoculars to every Cyclone football game, and staying up late on the computer to peruse the latest recruiting updates.
It also includes having sang in the church choir and served as a church elder for decades, taking communion to ill members who are sometimes only days away from death; raising two children to be happy and successful adults, and being a husband to a wife he still likes after 42 years. Stu Cole is my dad. Other daughters have their dads, but Stu Cole is mine.
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