Saturday, June 30, 2007
Sunday, June 17, 2007
This is my first Father's Day without my father. In January, after a lifetime of quiet strength, great dignity, and exemplary devotion to family, he found peace from his long, brave fight with his illnesses. He was a private man and probably would prefer that I not to put all of this out onto the Internet for all the world to see. And it's not that a lot of other people don't have stories to tell of a great father. They do. It's just that...this one's mine.
My father was a man of great, very gentle strength. As an adult, and a father now myself, I better appreciate how my father spent a lifetime working, sacrificing, doing what had to be done and never making a big deal out of it. Because to make a big deal out of it was not my father’s way.
Somewhere in the middle of my father being ill I was reminded of a song. (That’s fitting because for almost situation it was not only my father’s way to have a song, but a song that practically no one had ever heard of.) The song I was reminded of is an old song called Old Rivers, one of those spoken songs popular in the late 50's that the actor Walter Brennan had a big hit with. In the song, a young man is talking about a farmer he knew named Old Rivers. He said,
“Well, that old fellow did a heap of work.
Spent his whole life walking plowed ground….
He'd say, one of these days
I'm gonna climb that mountain
Walk up there among the clouds
Where the cotton's high
And the corn's a-growin'
And there ain't no fields to plow.
My dad spent a great deal of his life doing a heap of work. As a man devoted to family, he exemplified a very high standard. There are many stories, but I’ll stay with this one, which is kind of a family favorite. We’d gone on a day trip down to the Cherry Hill (NJ) area, which is about an hour and a half south of where we lived. My sister, who was three or four at the time, left her purse at one of the places we'd gone, and she was very upset. It was just a kid’s pocketbook. Who knows if it even had anything in it? The next day, my father drove an hour and a half down, and an hour and a half back, just to retrieve that little pocketbook. Just as important, he never made a big deal out of it, seeing it as just something daddies do. (He was known to enjoy telling the story of the looks he got when he stopped for something to eat and walked in carrying a small pocketbook.)
It is simply impossible to discuss my father and not bring up his sense of humor. Not an over-the-top, hilarious, joke-telling sense of humor. It was more of a light-hearted way of avoiding whatever drama was trying to make its way into some situation. It showed up in the most amazing places. Several years ago my father survived being shot. A few weeks later, he called me at work, and the secretary who answered the phone was very concerned and asked how he was feeling. He said, “Not bad for a target.” It was his way of saying, “It’s not necessary to make a big deal out of it.” Again, my father’s way.
Four years as a soldier in World War II had a profound impact on him for the rest of his life. He talked about it quite a bit. My father worked hard to bring the character and values he’d learned in the army to everything he did. Toward the end, people who knew he was ill would ask me, “How’s your dad doing?” And sometimes I’d answer by saying, “He’s a good soldier.” And they understood what it meant as an answer to their question. They understood it was my father’s way.
Even as a gravely ill patient, he soldiered on. Managing household paperwork. Planning. Advising. All with quiet bravery. It was good for my father. And it was good for the rest of us, too. His courage made it easier for the people around him to be brave. Like all great leaders, he never said, “I’m a great leader.” He just led. And this, too, was very much my father’s way.
We're going to spend the rest of our lives discovering all the wonderful ways he’ll always be right here with us. And each time we do, we’re going to do something that will make him very happy. We’re going to smile.
So take your rest now, Dad, and have the peace you’ve worked so hard to earn. Be very proud of what you’ve done. Stand tall and climb that mountain. Walk up there among the clouds. Where the cotton’s high. Where the corn is growing. And where there ain’t no fields for you to have to plow.