(This is a re-post from 2017. Hey, I get Father's Day off!)
"Act like you mean it!"
"You did a half-way job!"
"Don't take the lazy man's load!"
"Buy ya books and buy ya books and STILL you don't remember!"
I heard those admonitions from my dad throughout the years I remained under his roof. Did I listen? Of course not. I had to learn everything from experience or "the hard way" as he often put it. Truth is I learned almost NOTHING from experience and have remained a semi-dunce for most of my adult life. Fortunately for me there was a future in broadcasting, a natural destination for those of us who prefer to hang at the corner of Lazy and Stupid. Dad's was a thankless job. He raised a couple of goofball sons who resented nearly all of his advice for, no doubt, the same reasons he probably gave little heed to the guidance of his own father, It's testosterone poisoning. Young men are so completely and hopelessly full of themselves that they become their own worst enemy and that's why good fathers were invented. Lucky lads have a dad with grit and manners to prevent their spawn from veering of course and into the ditches of life. It's love designed to save a son from the extensive pummeling that the world is waiting to administer. (see ass kicking)
Like most of the Greatest Generation, my pop came home from "the big war" ready for some peace and a slice of the American dream. He and his tribe were exhausted by the cosmic hand they had been dealt by the Depression and World War II so naturally wanted their sons and daughters to have the peaceful and happy lives they themselves had thus far been denied. Naturally we Boomers didn't appreciate any of this sacrifice. Nope, we, for the most part, thought them incredibly un-hip and Lawrence Welk square. Rules?? We couldn't live by their rules!
What's that old saying? "Too soon old, too late smart?" I'm sure that if you look it up there is a picture of my brother and me right next to the definition. Neither of us appreciated the tough love meted out by the old man until, well, after he was gone. He died when we were both well into adulthood and, though it was never openly acknowledged, both of us had the impression that in his final days dad was fairly well satisfied with how we turned out. We weren't in prison and we weren't hitting him up for money.
Two days ago would have been dad's 102nd birthday. (It was always convenient that his birthday fell right next to Fathers' Day as it meant only one card and gift.) He lasted through most of his 76th year which, frankly, seemed to be a whole lot more of an accomplishment in 1995 than it does in 2020 as I plow through my 72nd year. Naturally I wish he were still around so that I could sincerely thank him for his good advice and guidance; also for not killing me when most likely nine out of ten juries would have acquitted him if he had. He was a good man and an excellent father.
Though we never said things like "I love you" I often think about the final words my father said to me. My late wife and I were leaving my parents' home in Springfield, Illinois heading for the airport in St. Louis for a return to our San Diego home when dad, suffering from dementia at the time, walked over to the rental car to apologize for not recognizing me on several occasions during our stay. Through the haze of Alzheimer's he said, "Sorry I didn't know who you were. You looked just like a man." I told him that it was okay and not to worry about it. A simple, "I love you too, dad" would have been the better and more honest reply. To be "a man" was always the high bar he set for his boys. I'd like to think that with this brief bit of clarity he was telling me that I had finally gotten there. It sure felt like the best thing he had ever said to me. Years later I recall his words when I am tempted by natural inclination to default to my immature and irresponsible self.
Being a dad is easy but being a good one is a job for a man like he was. I hope that somewhere he knows that.