Fathers’ Day 2012 – Lessons Remembered
The Great Depression affected our family deeply, especially my father, the breadwinner and budding contractor. He lost house, business, cars, and the whole shebang. We wound up living out in the country with another family, and between us there were seven boys, two resident grandmothers, and the two couples. Mostly I remember mud and goats and peeling wallpaper, in that order. He lost faith in banks and a host of other institutions, to the point where he bought his last car with cash and never had a mortgage on our house in Philadelphia. Through it all, however, he lost neither his sense of humor nor his dignity nor his faith.
The old man was not perfect. He had moments of depression and pique, he could be unfairly sharp-tongued in his critique of his offspring, and he could bore through a wall with the anger in his eyes. Overall, however, he was mostly attentive and compassionate.
He taught me how to tie four-in-hand ties and the bow tie, which he considered the supreme neckwear for gentlemen. He lived by a code of style that doesn’t work in the Southwest: no straw hats before Memorial Day or after Labor Day. No white shoes except in the summertime, too, and he would not have been caught dead in sandals. They were only for children – like those knickers boys wore until they turned thirteen, in the old days.
He was a man of maxims, most of which I remember to this day. They haunt my mind. You polished your shoes on Saturday night for church on Sunday, and a real man never went out without a proper hat. Buy the best shoes you can afford because a good pair lasts six times longer than cheap, so you save money in the end.
These were serious matters to my father and his contemporaries. Style was one of the ways you demonstrated your substance; it was not superficial, it was not just icing on the cake, as so much style is in these post-modern days.
What he demonstrated was manliness. Like so many of his generation my father showed courage and maintained loyalty in a time of crumbled economic and social structure. He kept the family together as best he could. When he was a janitor because that’s all the work he could get, he would walk eight miles to and from work to save trolley fare for milk for the family.
My father was not famous for anything beyond his sense of humor, and that only in our family. But there was iron in his soul. He had heart. He taught us that you never give up hope, that you don’t quit, that you stay loyal to your family and friends. If you make a commitment you honor it. You lose your manliness if you don’t keep your word. You stay the course. “Be thou faithful unto death…”
He was a churchman. You don’t hear that word much. It defined a certain person willing to take on any job for the furtherance of the local church, because that was how you honored your faith and enacted your Christian duty. My father served, over the course of time, as treasurer, secretary, and president of the church council; and he served beyond the local church on an orphanage board and the Scout Council.
He was not perfect. But he did the best he could with the skills, tools, intellect and faith he had. More cannot be asked of any man. When I think of the word “father,” it’s that tenacity and loyalty and willingness to serve family and faith and society that defines the word for me.
published 15 June 2012