You can’t sum up a man’s life in a few hundred words, or even in a hundred years. In fact, you can’t sum up a man’s life at all since a person’s isn’t quite quantifiable. You can list facts, but nothing captures the personality, the passion, or the essence of a unique human being. That’s true for all of us. Duh! Right? But as I continue to reflect on my father’s life, I find that I want to commit more and more of my memories about him to paper (or at least digital paper). My Dad was born 100 years ago last week. He left this world on Jan. 10, 2000.
My children barely knew my father, and I find that unfortunate. Yes, Dad was a quiet man, but that was part of his charm. He wasn’t boisterous or rude or petty. He was a good solid man of Catholic faith and values and with great love for his children and his wife of many years.
One of my favorite and most touching memories of my father was when I asked my wife to marry me. Cathye and I took a walk at Radnor Lake one Saturday morning. I proposed to her when we stopped at the end walking path while sitting on a bench. By the way, saying yes was probably the only dumb decision my wife has ever made. Anyway, afterwards we both drove over to the house to announce our exciting news. I jokingly quipped that Cathye had asked me to marry her on our hike. Cathye got mad at me, and my Dad left the room without saying a word. I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I followed him into the kitchen and found him with his head down and tears in his eyes. Dad was happy for me, but his first thought was that he was losing me. I knew my Dad loved me. I never had any doubts, but his reaction reinforced it many times over.
I would often ask him, “Dad, do you love me?” He would always answer, “Feed my lambs.” I would ask him again, “Dad, do you love me?” He would answer, “Feed my sheep.” Finally, I would ask a third time, “Dad, do you love me?” And he would answer, “Feed my lambs.” Small little ritual act, but I loved it. Dad was a man of faith and a man who cared about and loved his family.
In his older years, he couldn’t turn his garden by himself anymore. He also couldn’t manage the trimming of the hedge that encircled his back yard. The hedge would become a monster if not tamed by my electric shears. I can’t say I ever liked cutting his hedge or digging his garden, but that’s the nature of relationships. But you could say I loved doing it because I loved my Dad. So strange as it may seem, I have very fond memories of sweat and filth and teamwork at those times. Either my kids joined in to help (what little they could at their age) or my wife; and often my Mom and Dad who would drag the branches and other cuttings to the street to be picked up by Metro Public Works. These physical labors of cutting or painting or digging were ways that I showed my affection for my parents. Dad wasn’t a big talker. Mom was much more of a talker, but Dad wasn’t big on sharing feelings or stories. But his presence meant everything t0 me.
Presence – that’s my greatest memory of my Dad. Presence – that’s what he always was to me. He was present in my life, at my ballgames, at Church, at home in the simple chatter of everyday existence. He was present even as we watched television together and through camping trips to Fall Creek Falls or Mammoth Cave, trips to the Chattanooga Choo Choo and the Incline Railway, trips to the beach in Florida or to the Smoky Mountains. Back when no one had a cell phone, someone was always at home to answer our calls for help and assistance, so when I dialed 832-8138 it was always Mom or Dad who answered the phone. Rarely was a call never answered.
Our world has become very busy, and our lives can become quite scattered. We allow money to make too many of our decisions. Mom and Dad sacrificed to send us to Catholic Schools when they only had one income and six kids and my mother worked as a stay at home Mom. They knew it was worth it. And yet they were still always present to us. I fear that’s being lost in our world today, and this is something we must reclaim for the sake of our society’s health and well-being and to safeguard the human family.
I hope that I am present to whomever I encounter, but especially to my family. That’s the legacy that I would always want my father to have successfully left to me.