We don't know a whole lot about Sal's dad. We don't see him very much, but we certainly hear loads about him through Sal's memories, and his relationship to Sal is probably his most important contribution to the story.
We do know one thing for sure, though: he's the one who decides to move to Euclid, and Sal is maybe a little bit mad at him for this. Okay, a lot mad. Sal tries really hard to blame her dad for her mother's leaving, but she has a hard time doing so. She understands how much pain he is in, and that it wasn't any more his fault than it was hers. Plus, she loves him like whoa.
But let's back up a bit, and see what we know about the man himself. In Bybanks, we get the sense that Dad Hiddle works their farm for a living. Just like Sal, he loves the outdoors, which makes the move to Ohio a bit tough. In Euclid, he gets a job selling farm equipment – a job that seems like it's 0% fun. He has to wear a suit to work, which is not like him at all.
Sal explains to us just how much he loves the farm in Bybanks:
He loved the farm because he could be out in the real air, and he wouldn't wear work gloves because he liked to touch the earth and the wood and the animals. It was painful for him to go to work in an office when we moved. He didn't like being sealed up with nothing real to touch. (18.4)
Through these descriptions, we begin to realize just how hard it must have been for Dad Hiddle to make the decision to move to Euclid. He must have really been hurting a whole lot to be willing to leave his home and farm.
Good, Simple Boy
We also know that Sal's dad is an extraordinarily kind and generous man who loves his family with his whole heart. He does nice things for people right and left. If he sees a flowering bush in a field, he'll dig it up and take it to his mom. When it snows in the winter, he helps shovel his parents' driveway and roads. Once, he left a flower for Sal and a flower for Sal's mom on the breakfast table before he left to work in the fields. When Sal recalls these memories, we get the feeling that her dad did stuff like this all the time. He's a very generous, loving man.
We learn that Sal's dad is Gram and Gramps Hiddle's only living son, and when Sal tells us this, we also get even more scoop on the man:
My father was the only son left, but even if their other sons were still alive, my father might still be their light because he is also a kind, honest, simple, and good man. I do not mean simple as in simple-minded—I mean he likes plain and simple things. His favorite clothes are the flannel shirts and blue jeans that he has had for twenty years. It nearly killed him to buy white shirts and a suit for his new job in Euclid. (18.3)
Sal's dad doesn't want fancy things. He likes what he likes, and he doesn't feel the need to own things or to buy new things. He's a simple guy, and he likes life quiet. So quiet, in fact, that he might even have a bit of trouble talking about things. For example, for the longest time, Sal believes he and Mrs. Cadaver are dating. Sal never wants to hear his explanation of how they met and how they know each other. It seems like Dad Hiddle isn't the kind of guy who would yell and scream to make Sal listen to him. He seems to just let things happen as they will.
Perhaps one of the most important things we learn about Sal's old man is just how much he mourns for his wife. He is so grief-stricken, that he decides to chip away at a plaster wall in their house. Like Sal, he wants to do something with his sadness. When he's done furiously chipping, he finds a fireplace hidden behind the wall. He carves his wife's name into the fireplace. He grows so sad that he can't bear to live in Bybanks anymore.
"But for now," he said, "we have to leave because your mother is haunting me day and night. She's in the fields, the air, the barn, the walls, the trees." He said we were making this move to learn about bravery and courage. That sounded awfully familiar. (18.23)
Poor Dad Hiddle. Can you imagine missing someone so much that you can't bear to stay in the same place anymore? It's almost as if his grief has completely taken over his life, and he'll do anything, no matter how drastic, to get rid of it.
Despite all this grief, Dad Hiddle manages to teach Sal lots of important things about life. For example, he's the one who introduces her to the saying, "don't judge a man until you've walked two moons in his moccasins" in the first place – way before this message shows up on Phoebe's doorstep. Though we don't get to know everything about him, we come to realize that Dad Hiddle is a very wise and wonderful dad.
Blaming Dad Hiddle
Could it be possible that Sal's dad is just too perfect? At one point, Sal, "wished that my father was not such a good man, so there would be someone to blame for my mother's leaving" (18.26). It makes sense to blame somebody for being mean to you, for stealing your socks, or for laughing at you, but not for "being such a good man." Why would being good be a bad thing?
Just before she says this about her dad, Sal tells us about one of her most important memories, which helps explain how being so good might be not-so-good. She recalls that, just before her mother left, Chanhassen would often criticize Sal's dad for being too good:
I had never seen him angry. 'Sometimes I don't think you're human,' my mother told him. It was the sort of thing she said just before she left, and it bothered me, because it seemed as if she wanted him to be meaner, less good. (18.8)
It definitely sounds like Chanhassen is mad at her husband for being so nice. Does the fact that she said this mean that Dad Hiddle's kindness and generosity were part of the reason she left? If Sal has made that connection in her head, however true or not it is, then it would make sense she try to blame her father for her mother's departure. Maybe, if he'd been just a little less perfect, and a little more mean, her mother would have stayed in Bybanks, and none of this would have ever happened.
But what do you think? Does that sound fair to you?