The only thing ordinary about my dad was his job in the underwriting division of Kemper Insurance. The sprawling company grounds included several lakes, duck ponds, woods and a world-class golf course. When I was 11, my dad took me and two of my brothers fishing on the property–we didn’t go up to his office–we stayed outside. But at 4:30 we went to the main building and stood in a corridor near the main entrance. “Watch this,” my dad said.
It was like an indoor version of the Running of the Bulls. Men and women raced for the parking lot as if their lives depended on it. Although he wasn’t among the runners, I think my dad felt the same way: He couldn’t wait to get out of there.
According to my dad, mothers are the real stars of Father’s Day. “In all the world there is not a single cathedral or university called Notre Pere,” my dad said. “As Christianity made its way to Western Europe, motherhood became embedded in its rituals, which honor Mary the Mother of God, and by extension all mothers and the love and compassion they have for us. Its greatest shrines–Guadeloupe, Fatima, Lourdes–attest memorably to this. St. Joseph, and by extension all fathers, is a lesser figure, with a useful but minor role…God endowed man with more musculature that he might do the grunt jobs: Open jars of olives, clean the gutters, paint the shutters, chase the occasional bear away from the cave and move furniture at the mother’s direction. He is per se unimportant.”
Here are 10 things my dad taught me:
10. Small courtesies make a big difference. My father called us “dear” and he meant it. He never forgot to say please or thank you.
9. Never discuss history with someone who made it. As a high schooler, I dismissed the post-WW II U.S. policy of containment. My father was a WWII, Korean and Atomic Veteran. He begged to differ.
8. You should go ahead and kill a mockingbird rather than wake up a sleeping father.
7. If you DO awaken a sleeping father, remember you have the right to remain silent. If asked “Do you know what time it is?” consider this a rhetorical question. “Time to get up?” is an ill-advised response.
6. An Irish temper is like an avalanche–a spectacular and unpredictable display best witnessed from a safe distance.
5. Change at your own pace. My dad never drove a car. Children used to watch him cut our lawn with a push mower because they had never seen one. (When he drafted my brothers as landscape assistants for our massive yard the boys bought a gas mower with their own money.)
4. Stick with the classics. My dad wore the same haircut and same style of glasses for virtually his entire life.
3. “Glory be to Fall River!” can be an effective substitute for profanity.
2. Be open to new music. Once I saw my father watching VH1. “I like that ‘Piano Man,'” video he said. “That Billy Joel [he pronounced this like “The First Noel”] is very good.'”
1. Weather is exciting. Why bother with Sports Center when the barometer is falling and fronts are moving in?
Happy Father’s Day!