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Thoughts on Fathers Day: Raised by Heroes

June 17, 2011

I make no claims to parental Hall of Fame status myself
Ring Lardner exemplified my own style, at least some days, in a line of The Young Immigrants.

Are you lost daddy I arsked tenderly.
Shut up he explained.

But hey, I had good days too. Regardless, got lucky, the kids came out pretty darned good.

My dad was the “go-to” guy for a lotta folks
He was always helping because he knew how, and people knew he knew. If he begrudged it he never mentioned it. It was typical to find he’d been at someone’s house and spontaneously repaired their pool filter or carburetor, almost always while wearing his best clothes. He just rolled up his sleeves in whatever he had on and did what needed to be done. Getting paid for his expertise wasn’t a real priority, he helped because he could.

“Popper is a fixer”
Dad’s role in life was best summed up by a toddler in an incident when we were headed over to his house with the kids. As we exited the car I kicked out a coffee cup (which I always carefully store on the floorboard of my vehicle) into the street and it busted. Sensing my frustration, Kelly, who was fairly new to speaking in full sentences at the time, said “You can take it in to Popper. Popper is a fixer.” She was right, that’s pretty much what he was, a fixer. Kids catch on quick.

Dad was part of what’s become known as “the greatest generation”… the guys that fought and won WW2, then jump started the boom of the 1950’s from an economy that’d been in a depression when they left… while spawning “the baby boom” in the process.

Archive photo of Mom and Dad plotting the baby boom at Ft Worth Botanical Gardens.

They were a self-sufficient bunch
The last in our country that predominantly grew up “on the farm”. They had that farm work ethic, you got up early and worked from “Can til Can’t”, and they knew how to do things. They knew everything from engines to firearms to long division. I consider myself a good shot, but still recall in awe seeing him take a target off a telephone line, offhanded, from a moving car, with iron sights. [Hey, long drive, we were bored, way out in the sticks.] And lest I be impressed I managed a Finance degree before PCs… hand drawing spreadsheets aided by a calculator… he got a Mathematics degree armed with a slide-rule. He wins.

The guy never bought anything he could fabricate
And having been a machinist in the Navy and an engineer by trade, there wasnt much he couldn’t fabricate. Drove me nuts. He’d spend two hours creating a part I could’ve picked up at the store for $2, but the guys raised in the depression didn’t go “store bought” if they could do it themself. McGuyver could have taken lessons from the man.

I owe a huge debt not just to my dad, but to many of that generation
They were the fraternity that raised us. Some that come to mind…

Joe Dunham – My RA leader (think Baptist Boy Scouts)
Joe never begrudged us his time. He took us camping, took us fishing, taught us the ropes (literally), and a lot about ethics, duty, brotherhood, and self-reliance. Sometimes intentionally, more often by example.

When I was in first grade we were on the old SilverLake Fishing Barge pulling an overnighter, I was whimpering about having to use this gross-to-the-extreme bathroom. [Lol, kids whine about anything.] He gave me a comparison about the hand dug latrines they’d lived with in the war. To this day I’m not positive if he was in WW2 or Korea, and I kick myself for being too young to think to ask.

Thinking of this brings memories of snipe hunts (our initiation for the new members on a campout), belt-lines (we learned our actions had consequences), slithering on my belly thru the grass in late night capture the flag games, and wandering dry creekbeds at a weeklong camp in the summer. It’d drive today’s lawsuit-scared leaders to death. Joe knew kids weren’t real breakable.

He lived in a well kept modest home with his wife and kids, and sold insurance. I was a teenager before I realized he had a job besides teaching kids that were only his responsibility because he chose, letting us know when to use a bowline knot and when to use a sheetbend.

Another that comes to mind: Joe Taylor
Joe was also one of my RA leaders for a while, but also taught our age group “Sunday School” for many years. His son was my best friend in elementary school, and I went camping and fishing with Joe and his boys.

Joe taught me to use a plastic worm to fish, adding a new weapon to my repertoire (my dad was solidly in the “live-bait” group). Caught my first catfish on a fake worm at a stockpond while camping with him. I recall those campouts when I see the 3-inch scar down my arm where his kid and I used a board over a saw-horse as a makeshift teter-totter. Accidents happen, skin heals, memories are worth a few scars.

We learned a lot from him, and at some point I recall him mentioning he’d been a POW in Germany. Again, I didn’t grasp the gravity.

All we knew about POW camps we learned watching Hogan’s Heroes. For all I knew he’d had a great time with a lovable but klutzy guard who said “I know NOTHINK!” a lot. We had no idea we were in the company of quiet heroes all around us, men who had sacrificed much, men who pretty much saved the world, and they never mentioned it.

My uncles and pretty much most of the guys I knew as a kid
…all served in the wars that immediately preceded my birth. My dad, one of the youngsters of his family, got old enough to  join the Navy right as the war was closing. He did a tour in the South Pacific while there were still pockets of die-hard Nippons that didn’t know the war was over. Who knew these guys could critique movies like “Battle of the Bulge” and “Midway” better than the rest of us cause they’d seen the play?

What I did know was things like fishing for flat-head with my dad on the Pontchartrain levee in 4th grade after he’d worked all day. At no point did it occur he might be exhausted from work, nor how lucky I was he’d spend the time many parents don’t do today. Just wondered how he could snack on those awful sardines we were using for bait.

And though this has stretched long, here’s the point. None of the guys above, nor others that contributed similarly… were as far as I’m aware a huge financial “success” by standards of today, nor appeared interested in it. Normal houses, no expensive toys. Just not self-centered. They lived productive lives, raised their family, did their job, and helped in their community. Their values did not involve a dollar sign.

In my 30’s… Success was measured in dollars
When Dad died I reassessed. I looked at wealthy but useless guys living like sharks that cant stop moving or they’ll die. Then looked at those who shaped my life. Dollar signs are an inadequate tool to measure by. Don’t get me wrong, money’s fun, BUT devoting your entire existence to becoming the richest corpse in the cemetery is a wasted life even if you accomplish it.

As penned by Robert Louis Stevenson, here’s a better model to measure by:

That man is a success who has lived well,
Laughed often and loved much;
Who has gained the respect of intelligent men and the love of children;
Who has filled his niche and accomplished his task;
Who leaves the world better than he found it,
Whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem or a rescued soul,
Who never lacked appreciation of earth’s beauty or failed to express it;
Who looked for the best in others and gave the best he had.

I'm Rob Jones... and I approve this message.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 17, 2011 2:01 pm

    Dammit, Rob! Every time I think you just penned your best post ever, you come out with another one, better than the last!

    Here’s to all those Dads… some of ’em were our own, some of ’em were just borrowed for a few hours at a time, but ALL of ’em contributed, in one way or another.

    By the way, buddy… Happy Father’s Day! You’ve made more than a few contributions, yourself!

    Like

  2. deepsand permalink
    June 17, 2011 6:58 pm

    Different names, different faces; but, I’ve known each and every one of those fellows.

    Sadly, they seem to be a dying breed, found only in isolated pockets where they’re the only ones that can survive.

    Like

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