If we can allow a bit of self-indulgence this week, mindful that not everyone was blessed with a good father, some of us might reflect on our good fortune.
Good father, I said. Not perfect. But he was there, always there, and that is a critically good start.
I trusted him to come home from work every night, trusted him enough to jump from a landing down three or four steps to his dependable arms, bathed in the glow of his smile and unconditional love and certain to receive my kiss and a little tickle. A fuss of loving.
I said always there. Not always. If there’s some mortar missing in the construct of my self-esteem and confidence, or a shadow in the locker room where I guard my trust, it may be related to the sudden disappearance and long absence when he was sent off to boot camp to serve America. A black and white photo of me in my replica sailor suit at the age of 2 seems to show the uncertainty of the moment long ago.
They did their best to keep the family together. I have old letters between them, and Dad never ended one without some mention of his little boy, or a mention of being together again as soon as possible. I recall bus trips and train rides and temporary stays in apartments or hotel rooms — Indianapolis for Navy radioman school, Charleston for a ship, following the ship to Ft. Lauderdale, then to Pensacola. Sultry southern shacks with linoleum floors and cockroaches and snakes in the front yard.
I was looking up to a man I considered tall, though he was called shorter than other men. He was awesome because he taught me how to do everything the first time I did it, answered my questions, even when the answer would inspire another question.
Some men teach their sons and daughters manly skills — fishing, hunting, fixing cars. Dad was the son of a carpenter and could handle those tools, and he let me help when he converted an attic into two bedrooms, but by that time I knew he cared more about how well I used my heart and my mind.
He nudged me in a certain direction, but he didn’t push, because what he wanted for me was attainable if the intentions were honorable and effort was applied. He wanted me to find love and contentment with my life. He encouraged education, but he knew he could not afford to send me to college. It would be up to me. But in any case, the love of a good woman and the sounds in the house of healthy children was the best way to measure the good life. Those were the valued riches.
In dealing with others, it was simple: Treat them as you would be treated. He had faith in God, but less in any one church. He was straightforward about honesty in business, respect among neighbors, fairness for strangers, and human sexuality.
When I showed some curiosity about the mysteries of love, he offered some basic information and then said, simply, “Just remember that the girl you’re with is someone’s daughter, who they love as much as your mom and I love you.”
The worst thing I could do was disappoint him. Kids were smacked or paddled for misbehavior in those days — in the home and at school. But I did not fear the rare swat as much as I did the shame of disappointing my parents, and Dad in particular.
He was boisterous, smoked stinky cigars, and drank too much, but he never wished anyone ill. In his last days, dying of bone cancer, he still liked a Sunday ride, and I went by to take him for a spin. He steered his walker down the ramp I had made for him, singing: “Blue skies, smiling at me, nothing but blue skies do I see ...”
Dean Minnich, a former journalist and county commissioner, writes from Westminster. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.