Memories of Dad on his 100th birthday!
He was practically a card carrying member of what Tom Brokaw called “the Greatest Generation.” Brokaw listed personal responsibility, humility, work ethic, frugality, commitment, integrity, and self-sacrifice as prevalent characteristics of this generation. Dad possessed these qualities and more. On the occasion of his 100th birthday, I feel compelled to look back at the kind of man my Dad was.
Since I knew him best as a father, I’d like to reflect on what it meant to be the son of this man. First, family meant everything to him, and he took his role as a parent very seriously.
I remember him in the archetypal role of healer. Whenever there was a fairly serious malady, it was Dad to the rescue. Example: I was highly allergic to poison ivy. Every summer, I’d find myself covered in rashes with gigantic water blisters between each and every finger. Besides the infernal itching of the rashes, there was the intense pressure in these bulbous blisters. Dad would sit me down in the bathroom while he sterilized a razor blade over the flame of his cigarette lighter, and then, like a surgeon, he would deftly slice each blister. As the water from the blisters would seep into a towel he had placed in my lap, Dad would carefully wrap my raw, sensitive hands in handkerchiefs. To this day, I look back on these healing sessions as great acts of love in action! As I’ve read his letters, I have learned that before training to become a pilot, he had been trained as a medic. He had obviously been prepared for a lot worse than a bad case of poison ivy or a scraped knee.
Another happy memory involves food. My bedroom was adjacent to the kitchen in our small apartment, and I remember evenings where I would awaken to the savory smells and the stove-top sounds of Dad preparing a midnight snack -- the sizzling of bacon and eggs or the percussive sound of popcorn popping. I’d roll out of bed and make my way to the door. “What are you doing?” I’d ask rubbing my sleepy eyes. “Making something to eat,” he’d reply. “If you want some, sit down there at the table.” Of course, I wasn’t going to pass on an opportunity to be up after midnight whether I was hungry or not. We’d sit together at the table eating, but not a word was spoken. When he saw I was finished, he’d say, “All done?” and I’d nod. “Back to bed then,” he’d command. And that was that. Love again -- via a simple midnight snack!
The thing is, as a child of the Depression, Dad took food seriously. Food was not something to be miserly with. From my earliest memories of childhood through the last years of his life, Dad fed us, and if friends stopped by our house during dinner, they had better plan on joining us at the table.
When I was in my teens, Dad built his dream house. He designed it and did much of the work himself, from carpentry to electrical, even though he was a plumber. It seemed that there was nothing that Dad couldn’t make or fix. It was comforting to know he could do anything.
Some time after I was in college, Dad began growing a vegetable garden, which year by year grew into the biggest I’ve ever seen short of a farm, and when we visited on Sundays, he provided my brother’s family and mine with more vegetables than we could ever hope to eat. Mom called him “Mother Earth”!
I could relate a million stories about Dad, but what I know is this. We are all a combination of our parents, but, in my case, I feel I have more of Dad in me than Mom. To paraphrase a song from The Lion King: "He lives in me!" On a daily basis, I feel his strength, his determination, and his passion deeply embedded in the core of my being. I always have!
Dad loved his family as much as anyone I’ve ever known. What he was to me and my brother Edmund, he was also to our children and our wives. Many times he told his grandchildren, “If you’re ever in trouble, you just dial G for Grampa.” They knew he meant it, and they knew that this simple directive, even though they never needed to use it, gave them great peace of mind and an enduring sense of security. My wife often says, “The world felt just a little safer when Dad was with us.” It was true. He was a man among men, and he loved us with all his might. We are all better for having been the recipients of his love, his strength, and his guidance!