If your dad is still living, a suggestion: write him a letter. I lost my dad a few years ago, so a letter is too late. But on this Fathers Day, I felt it was important to remember my dad.
My dad was kind. He was funny and affectionate but did not express himself in words very easily. He was a hero who didn’t even know it or acknowledge that status. During WWII he was so anxious to join the cause that he lied about his age and at 17 found himself in the Navy. He was soon shipped out to the Philippines where his vessel, the USS Orestes, was blown up in the battle of Leyte Gulf. A huge piece of shrapnel cut through his upper thigh and he had to learn to walk again, but he was better off than so many of his compatriots who died all around him on that day. I remember sitting on his lap as a little child, his arms filled with tiny pieces of shrapnel still visible under the skin. He would tell me his “war stories” but only the interesting and funny stuff about him and his buddies traveling the Pacific and all the adventures they had. No one will ever know about the really bad stuff. I have his Purple Heart, one of my most precious possessions.
He and my mom embodied The Greatest Generation. After the war they were married and took over my grandparent’s farm, had 6 children, one of who died at age 6 of cancer. Their lives were marked by struggle, a good deal of sadness, and the endless hard work it took to build that rough farm into a productive orchard and successful bakery and farm market. My dad was a rural mail carrier, driving that little mail truck through all kinds of weather including brutal Pennsylvania winters when roads drifted and everyone else chose to stay inside. And when his route was over at about 3 o clock in the afternoon, he came home to work the farm, until dark…and beyond.
Dad wasn’t perfect, he had a temper and could be hardheaded, but at a time when fathers were known for being stoic and unemotional, my dad was a born romantic. I remember he loved that shamelessly sappy late 60s song “Honey” by Bobby Goldsboro. After working for decades he finally was able to get together enough money to take my Mom to Hawaii, where she always dreamed of going but never believed she would, hiding the trip itinerary in a tiny replica of the pot bellied stove that was in their old farmhouse when they first moved in around 1950. One Christmas he stacked presents up to the ceiling for my mom, all containing small gifts but making quite an impressive display, with all of we kids happily serving as co-conspirators.
When I was home sick he would never fail to bring me something to cheer me up, most often a package of chocolate Tastycakes and an Archie comic book. I was always thrilled and I’m sure he knew that, and was happy.
In an era where girls were expected to be secretaries or farm wives, especially in my tiny rural community in the 60s and 70s, my dad told us we could be anything. And we got the message. Both of my sisters went on to get their doctorate degrees and are well known scientists, tops in their field, and I obtained my Masters degree and have had a career in writing and PR. My parents showed us by example the value of hard work and expected a lot from us. I didn’t appreciate it then, and resented having to work and tend the farm market when all my friends from town were at the community pool. But I value it now, and that value is reflected in the achievements of their children, especially my two brothers who enjoy flawless business reputations and the respect of their peers. How my parents must have denied themselves to make sure that all 5 of their kids had the opportunity for higher education and a better life than they ever had.
Dad was addicted to cigarettes, from the time he was 17 . Cigarettes were put into the rations the men would get during the war. Unfiltered Pall Malls were his preference. The end of his life was sad and difficult as he was overcome with emphysema, struggling to breathe. Perhaps one of the best lessons he passed on to me as I helplessly watched that struggle was to never start smoking.
My dad was always up early and during my childhood. I knew when I got out of bed in the morning he would be at his chair at the kitchen table, smoking his ever present cigarette and his cup of coffee, reading the paper. Every time he seemed so happy to see me. What I would give now to hear that big greeting: “Hiya Sweetie!”
I never expressed myself in these words to him, he would have been embarrassed, but I sure hope he knew. Dad, I am so proud to call you mine and so lucky to have had you in my life. Happy Fathers Day.