I don’t think we “celebrated” Father’s Day in 1957. There were no television ads suggesting we buy golf balls, Penguin sweaters or Camel cigarettes for that “special Dad” on our list. Of course, if there had been, we wouldn’t have seen it out at the end of Stonewall Street. We didn’t get a TV until Eisenhower was near ’bout out of office.
If buying a present meant going to town and spending money Daddy was out of luck. We didn’t do much of that either. I don’t remember any billboards or newspaper ads promoting fatherhood back in those days.
It was just as well; Daddy wasn’t much on pomp and circumstance. He was more into hard work and doing right. And I’m talking here of MY hard work and MY doing right! He thought the ball games were fine…..as long as all the chores were done. He thought you ought to ride your bikes anywhere you wanted to…..as long as the yard was mowed and clean. He figured you could date any girl your little heart desired…..if we had firewood cut and the corn and okra seeds were nestled in their beds.
I’m not sure Daddy taught by example. He certainly didn’t lecture anything into us. He “expected” us to be proper, well behaved young men. Let me amend that a little; he demanded that we “be on our best behavior” at all times!
He did it the old fashion way. If we messed up, he whipped us. It was a guideline that was clear, distinct and non-negotiable. I grumbled and complained silently. I hid my anger behind the tears. I tried to blame my fate on something or someone else. I petitioned God for some help down here!
But let me tell you something, I never once doubted my Father’s love for me or his sincerity for my wellbeing. I knew he was right before he unloosened that belt! Don’t let me being a little kid fool you. I understood right and wrong more than you might realize. I didn’t like the punishment…..but I knew the crime full well even as I stepped headlong into it.
Guess how many times my Father whipped me unjustly?
And I wasn’t even the wayward son. Leon could do things that just defied logic! He was always in trouble. Daddy didn’t cut him any slack. Leon was the oldest and was expected to share a bigger portion of the load and to be an example for his younger brothers. I thought Dad could be a little hard on him at times. But then, Leon would take my bicycle and ride off to Jackie Burns’ house for the whole afternoon and I’d go crying to Daddy.
I never considered the complexities of being a father. I had no clue of the sleepless nights; the prayers offered up; the doubts and fears eating at a heart; or the hopes and dreams one so desperately wished upon a growing child.
I knew my Father would lay down his life in a heartbeat for mine. That was obvious from birth.
’Course, he had a strange way of showing it at times. He’d send us over to Mr. Brooks’ place to pick cotton. I’m not sure if it was some kind of teaching lesson or punishment. That stinging sun and those sharp prickles on the end of the bolls piercing up under your fingernails would make you suspect the latter! I’d pick all day and earn maybe forty cents. It didn’t seem worth it. Daddy wouldn’t even mention the hot sun, the bleeding fingers or my bent over back. He asked what I was going to do with my “hard earned” money. It did make me feel a little proud. It was like he was treating me as a grown up.
When I got ready to go off to college he came into the bedroom where I was finishing up packing and stood around for a minute without saying anything. I figured Mom had sent him in to give me some going away words. “Son,” he paused as if searching for words when it is a hard time for words, “be good” another pause, “and do right.” He turned and hurried out.
To this day it is the single best piece of advice I’ve ever heard anyone utter.
Daddy died in 1979. Leon was caring for him and with him to the very end, still setting an example for his younger brothers.
Not a day goes by that I don’t think of Dad. Something he said or did. I remember the quiet whisper of instruction, the back yard games of hide and go seek. I remember meeting him with a ball and two gloves in my hand as he stepped out of his truck. I remember most vividly each and every one of the bangings on the backside when I strayed from the path.
Mostly I remember being good and doing right are things that never go out of style.
I loved my Father beyond all others. I respected him more than any other person I have ever met. I appreciated then, and even more now, the clear and unmistakable guidelines he established and rendered unto me. I will never, never forget his love and dedication to our family. I have lived my life trying to be the man he so desperately desired me to be.
And those, dear hearts, are “gifts” Dad would have cherished way above Brooks Brothers ties and J. C. Higgins shotguns.
Happy Father’s Day,