Born in 1917, my dad’s life has spanned the greater part of a century. Part of what Tom Brokaw called the “greatest generation,” he served his country well in WWII. He became the first member of his family to get a college degree, one in electrical and mechanical engineering. And he went on to get his MBA, at a time when having two college degrees was pretty special.
My dad has always been smart, really smart. And at 95 he is still sharp as a tack! A few of years ago we had to evacuate for a hurricane. As is often the case, it took us much longer to get ourselves packed and ready to leave. By the time we were leaving it was turning dark and the interstate was like a parking lot jammed with cars filled with everybody else trying to leave. When my dad saw the traffic, he said, “Why don’t we go Hwy 90?” My dad navigated us out of the city using the old roads that are no longer popular. We made it out in record time, all thanks to my dad!
I have always had a special relationship with my dad. Because of the timing of my mother’s illness, see I Remember Mama; it was my dad who brought me for my first day of school. In fact, it was my dad who brought me and came to get me each day after kindergarten (called “primer” back then). He brought me to my first day of summer camp, and later to my first day of high school. In fact every morning, through elementary school, he would wake me and my sisters up the same way. He would stand at the door and holler, “Rise and shine! Everybody up! Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed! Let’s go!” And like good little soldiers (we figured he must have learned that in the army), his three young daughters would drag ourselves out of bed and get ready for school. Dad would feed us breakfast and take us to school. Like clockwork, we followed the same routine every day. And every day we got to school on time.
Here are two quick stories from those early school years. The first happened when I was in first grade. We were learning about Christopher Columbus. We had some kind of homework, maybe answering easy questions about Columbus and his ships. Well, my dad was an excellent draftsman and made me a drawing of Columbus’s ships: the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. The drawing was magnificent! I was so proud of it I brought it to school and shared it with my class. I remember a boy sitting near me was especially impressed and asked me how I got my picture. I told him, “My dad drew it for me.” Then this kid asked me to give him my picture! Horrified, I responded, “Go home and ask your dad! He will draw one for you!” I was so young at the time; I did not realize what a special talent this took. I thought it was part of being a dad and so all dads could do it. I remember the astonished look on my young friend’s face. It took me a while to figure this one out!
At another time I had a big project to do on St. Louis Cathedral. I must have been in fourth or fifth grade. The assignment was big! It included an essay and a poster! And my dad was, and still is, a walking encyclopedia! We had encyclopedias that I used frequently, but my dad always had lots of interesting information about all kinds of things. The only problem was sometimes our eyes would glaze over at the wealth of information. But on this night, we started talking about the Cathedral and he was giving me all these facts and then he said, “I think I have some pictures that you might be able to use.” He went off and came back with a stack of postcards, souvenir postcards, with the most beautiful pictures of the Cathedral. By this age I knew, “How many dads have stacks of Cathedral pictures lying around?” Pretty cool! By the way, I got an A!
My dad is one of the kindest people I have ever known. To this day, I have never heard my dad say a mean or derogatory remark about anyone he knows personally. Now, I have heard him rail against the government on occasion, but that’s different. And on those occasions when I say something negative about someone, my dad will come back with a comment in support of the other person. And he does this in a way that opens my eyes toward the other, without putting me down! He has a kind and gentle spirit. One I admire greatly.
My favorite early memory of my dad is him kneeling at the side of his bed saying his prayers at night. I cannot tell you what a powerful sight that is for a child! The power and humility captured in that moment. The seeds of my own faith planted in that moment.
Thank you, Dad! Thank you for being there for me! Now it’s my turn to be here for you!