Sunday, June 21

Song of My Father

On the Jetty with Dad

Today is Father's Day.  There are lots of sales and promotions and greeting cards and other nonsensical commercial traditions that really miss the point of celebrating fathers.  In my family, Father's Day was a time that Dad could relax.  Mom would make his favorite foods, and we'd show our appreciation for his daily work and care by gifting him with ties, cologne, and as time passed, acts of kindness - how many ties can a Dad have!

A legacy of my Father is his abhorrence of violence.  Although an avid boxing and football sports spectator, senseless killing seemed to disgust him.  When my brothers would wrestle around, often getting out of hand, he'd lecture about avoiding violence. That meant no cop or cowboy shows on TV and no hunting or guns.

Two phrases were repeated daily as I was growing up: "No violence" and "Don't tear it up."

Because life is sometimes hard, people get violent and destructive and situations get out of our control.  We were expected to use our brains and avoid or deflect such confrontations, not an easy thing to do.  

I recall a time at Church in the hot summertime when I couldn't sit still and Dad took me to the vestibule probably for drink or just to keep the noise down.  There was a man, raving and pacing, a very frightening scene for a young child.  

"What's the matter with the man?" I asked.
"Ah, he's drunk poor soul," said Dad.

He took me to the bathroom and asked me to stay there for a minute while he helped the man outside.  Somehow, he was able to talk to him and get him to calm down without further fuss.  When he came back for me, he explained that people who drink too much beer were not themselves and should be avoided or left alone until a grown up can help them.  There was no hatred or disgust in his voice.  He made it clear that it was a problem, though.  He made it clear that compassion and kindness was how to handle people problems.   

Throughout his life, he tried to be an example of compassion and kindness and it was very hard work for him.  My father had a terrible Irish temper and it seemed his job and often his children tried his patience almost every day.  He lost it sometimes and resorted to the violence he hated.  The real lesson I learned from Dad is that an adult with enough humility and self awareness can change.  He worked hard to control his temper all of his life and was successful more often than not.  He found ways to keep his children occupied with positive and productive pursuits:  work, music, sports, the outdoors, travel. He and Mom were a loving team, often exhausted, but always united in providing a comfortable and safe home where people could make mistakes, learn, and develop self confidence and awareness of others.  Luxuries and "extras" were not stressed.  Being helpful, accountable for our actions, and loving were what we were taught to value.

Dad also believed in one other thing:  humor.  All of us kids love to laugh at the world, especially when times are most grim.  Our humor is not the silly, lighthearted kind but a darker and more cynical perspective.  Maybe it's our Irish roots poking through.  Or, maybe it's living in America from one war to the next, or one mass murder to the next.

Today is Father's Day.  May all Fathers know love and peace, and may they teach their children to be loving and peaceful.