Father’s Day Reflections – RedState


I have on my desk two photos. The first is of my parents, taken in a photo booth in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in the fall of 1946, about six months before they were married. The second, also of my parents, was taken on their 70th anniversary. What’s interesting is that the pose in both photos is very similar, and what is plain from both photos is the love they shared.

Father and Mother
Seventy years of life and love. (Credit: Ward Clark)

On May 4th, 2018, my Dad passed away. He was 94. A few weeks prior, he came down with an acute gall bladder blockage and infection; they operated, removed his gall bladder and some stones, but the surgery weakened him badly.  Pneumonia followed and on that Iowa spring day, at 4:30 AM, he faded peacefully away in his sleep. When Dad passed, it was like a light went out in Mom. Missing her husband of 71 years, and being over 90 herself, she didn’t have much reason to keep going. That fall she told my sister that she would die in January, so as not to ruin the family’s holidays, and she did exactly that. It’s not surprising, I suppose, how often very elderly couples do that.

I have not and never will mourn my Dad. He wouldn’t have wanted that. In fact, he would have hated it. He would have wanted our family to remember the man he was, to remember all the lessons he passed on to his kids, his grandkids, and his great-grandkids. He would have wanted us all to move ahead, to look to our futures, to our work, to our families. He would have wanted us to remember how lucky we were to have shared our lives with him for so long.

So, this morning, on Father’s Day, I’ll tell you what kind of man he was, because he is the reason I am the man I am.

In summary: Dad was the finest man I’ve ever known.

A Father’s Life

Dad was born in Cedar Rapids in 1923. He grew up on a small farm near Walker, Iowa until he was 16, when my Grandpa took a job as a Ford mechanic in Cedar Rapids. He met my Mom when he was 13 and she was 8, at the wedding of Dad’s older brother to Mom’s older sister. Mom and Dad were happily married for 71 years.

Like most of his generation, Dad served in World War 2, a veteran of the U.S. Army Air Corps, a navigator in B-25s before making the transition to B-29s, a transition he was still making at war’s end. His father had served in World War I and I served in the late Cold War years, including in the first Gulf War; Dad was very proud of our three generations of service.

When Dad came home from the war, he took up a small farm near Independence, Iowa, and not being able to afford a tractor, worked the fields with a team of horses. He and Mom were married in March of 1947 and started a family that was to include my three sisters, my brother, and myself. They farmed near Independence for only a few years before moving to a larger farm near Fairbank, where they stayed until 1964. At that time, Dad was climbing the ladder at the John Deere works in Waterloo and couldn’t see the logic in trying to keep a big farm going on top of a full-time job, so they moved to a house in Cedar Falls.

Living in town appealed to neither of my parents, so after a few years, they bought 60 acres of timber in Allamakee County and built what I have always considered my childhood home there. One of the Bear Creek homestead’s primary appeals was also its weakness, that being Bear Creek itself, a beautiful trout stream that ran only steps from the front door. After the floods of 2007 and 2008, Dad was 85 and determined that he could no longer rebuild after such damage, so they moved again to a house in Cedar Falls, where Dad spent the rest of his life.

Dad was a farmer, a quality engineer for a major manufacturer, and an artist of some renown who for years had his own space in the Iowa State Capitol where one of his paintings always was on display. More important, he was a good husband, a wonderful father and grandfather, an old-fashioned country gentleman, one of the finest wing shots I’ve ever seen, a self-educated man conversant in subjects from particle physics to paleoanthropology to the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. He was a wise man, a fine man.

A Father’s Wisdom

That’s the what. But more important is the who, and I’ll tell you about that by passing on some of the bits of wisdom he gifted to me over the years, things that even now when I read, I hear his voice:

Work comes first.

Anything worth doing is worth doing well.

A man takes care of his family first.

There are no lousy jobs, just lousy people.

Think first. Then think again. Then speak.

Don’t believe everything you read or hear. Find out for yourself what the facts are.

There’s one more:

You never stop being a parent.

Dad rarely gave unsolicited advice to anyone outside the family, but even when I was in my fifties, he was never averse to giving me a damned good talking-to if he thought I needed it. Even in his nineties, he was always adamantly our father and the head of the family.

My wife and I have four daughters, ranging now in age from late twenties to early forties. They still come to us for advice, on everything from financial and career issues to cooking and cleaning. They are all strong, capable women, but when they need advice, the first place they turn to is their parents. And my wife and I are always ready to answer, to support them in any way necessary, because, as Dad said, you never stop being a parent.

Dad taught me how to find my way in the woods, how to fish, how to shoot, how to work a chainsaw and an arc welder, how to do so many things I couldn’t possibly list them all. More important, he taught me how to be a man, a husband, a father, and a grandfather. One day I hope I’ll be as good at those things as he was. And in the fifty-six years I shared my life with him, he never once told me he loved me; he was the product of an age when men didn’t say that kind of thing to their sons, although I always knew he did. He told me something better, something that meant much more – he told me that he was proud of me. Nothing he could have said would ever have meant more to me than that.

A Father’s Legacy

Now Dad’s gone, but his family, in accordance with his wishes, picked up and moved on. We all look to our futures, thinking ahead, not back, as he would have wanted. We all miss him, but we will all feel gifted, knowing we are better people because of him.

Life is water, not stone.

It’s been some years now, and I find I’m still getting used to the empty place in my life where a giant once strode. I will spend the rest of my life trying to live up to him. I must – because now, I’m the Old Man. That’s a wheel that never stops turning.

Happy Father’s Day, to all you Dads out there. Happy Father’s Day in particular to my friend and colleague Brandon Morse, who is today observing his first Father’s Day as a Dad. Being a father is the most important thing a man can do in his life.  Fathers are in a position to make a huge difference in the world. Make the most of it.

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