Williams: Remembering you, Dad, on Father’s Day
I would like to talk to my dad since I’ve become a mature adult. I’d like to spend an afternoon laughing and reflecting with him. And trading memories. Just the two of us.
If I could spend an hour in his presence, I’d tell him that the time he invested in me was not lost. Nor ignored. Who he was then is who I am now because of his investment. And yet, he wasn’t trying to create a clone of himself. He was a sculptor standing before a small, stubborn block of wood. Little by little, and suggestion by suggestion, he smoothed the dimensions and intention of that wood block until its own shape began to emerge. I regret that he left me and us before his artistry was done, but what he did held.
I didn’t know his comments to me during those early years were so sage. That his words were wise enough yet industrial-strength enough to withstand the revolutions of a boy’s life; then to help sustain a young man’s life, and now to warm an aging son’s memories.
All those snippets of advice were so gently administered. It amazes me how they have survived through the decades and are as righteously solid now as they were throughout my formative years. Those snippets grew out of the 1930s and the desperation of the Great Depression. The Depression forged the values he gave me. If I’d had children, Dad would have expressed his values to them through me.
It’s been 37 years since he died at the too-early age of 67. I remember his occasional impatience when I wasn’t spending my time “productively” as a youngster. His philosophy, apparently, was that you used daylight to prepare for whatever might lie ahead in life. That might not have allowed a lot of time for childhood, but he didn’t have that luxury, either. He was 15 when the stock market crashed in 1929, living in a small southeastern Ohio coal town where spare dollars were already a scarce commodity.
Dad worked tirelessly to provide for his family. I don’t think he spent a lot of time mourning the events of his early years. He accepted life as it was, but toiled to improve the little corner of it that belonged to his family. As I think back, he was cheated of a full childhood by The Depression, which forced him and millions of others like him into early adulthood worries about supporting the family economically instead of enjoying the normal mid-teen rites of passage.
He was also cheated out of his post-retirement years by a heart attack that took his life within minutes and only two years after he retired at the age of 65. These are my conclusions. Despite his limited years on earth, I think he was a happy man. He had a satisfying career and a family he loved and that loved him.
His most important lesson to me was to read and to use words well. “A man who speaks well,” he said, “is received well.” If he hadn’t made that point to his son some 60 years ago, you wouldn’t be reading my/his words today.
It occurs to me that I have passed his advice and his values on. As a substitute teacher at the high school, I’ve told students that one of their most important paths to success is good speech.
I listened to Dad. I hope they’re listening to me.
To comment on this column, email firstname.lastname@example.org.