As Father’s Day is upon us, I have been reflecting on my father and the lessons he left me.
My father was born in West Virginia. He had a mother, three brothers, a sister and they were poor. His father abandoned them when they were kids, making it hard for them to make ends meet. He was most likely destined to a life working in the coal mines until the Japanese decided to attack Pearl Harbor in 1941. That set off a chain of events that would forever re-shape his generation in America.
When he was old enough to enter the war, he was trained to be part of a gun crew and was slated to ship off to the Pacific but was later re-assigned to Europe as more troops would be needed for the liberation of Europe. Like many, he didn’t talk about the war much. I do know that what he witnessed there caused him to stand up to all forms of hatred and bigotry. He had no tolerance for disparaging remarks made by anyone towards anyone else.
He did mention once being part of a Christmas celebration held for the children of Wiltz, Luxembourg. His unit mate Richard Brookins was selected to play St. Nicholas. I discovered while doing some research after my father’s death, the impact that celebration had, coming just before the Battle of the Bulge where he was wounded, and his unit was nearly wiped out.
The war afforded him the unlikely opportunity to attend college. A teacher impressed upon him what a noble profession teaching was. And so, a teacher he became. He taught for 40 years, most of those years, at the same high school in Virginia. During the troubled desegregation period, threats were made against him if he dared enter desegregating schools to teach or to work with African American teachers. My father’s response was to ignore the threats. He started a welcome lunch at our house and began by inviting the African American teachers who joined the teaching team. Two of those teachers became very close family friends. He didn’t talk about it or hesitate; he just did it.
During his final days he was in the ICU with pulmonary fibrosis and was being moved to a regular bed. He wanted to go home but they could no longer supply enough oxygen to him in a home setting. My mother was hoping the move out of ICU was a good sign, but he knew that he was being moved to die comfortably as they could no longer do anything further. When they were starting to wheel him out, he said a separate goodbye and thank you to each of the staff. He addressed everyone by name, and it was if he were saying goodbye to old friends.
So that’s it. A few drops in a vast sea of memories. What I came away with, that I hope to carry forward, is a deep respect and kindness for every person, no matter who they are, what they look like, or where they come from. Happy Father’s Day.