Editor’s Note: This column originated in 2007. It ran again essentially the same in 2015, and it is still requested on occasion. Many of us have lost our fathers since the two previous versions have been published. We focused on mothers last month, so it seems like a good time to revisit with only minor changes.
Reflecting on life as we near Father’s Day, I count myself blessed to have had my father around until Father’s Day weekend of 2017. He was an active and immensely important part of my life throughout. He was always a dedicated family man, even though I know my siblings and I would have made a lesser man head for the hills. I also know that I have taken that blessing for granted.
Dad has always been the rock who could answer most any question. No matter what threatened or what happened, dad was there. He was insulation from the scary forces of the world; even the boogieman couldn’t get us.
Riding on dad’s strong shoulders made me the tallest person in the world – a height that was incomprehensible for a kid.
Bouncing on a strong knee and taking big steps on dad’s shoes as a youngster are memories for many of us. Dad perfected a piercing whistle that echoed through the evening air, signaling the end to the day’s recreation and effectively breaking-up any neighborhood game of kick-the-can. He made it to every school and sporting event - and many practices. I may not have seen him there, but I knew that familiar whistle of approval. That meant more to me than he knew.
Dad took care of the finances. He also sacrificed personal and professional gain for his children. After rebuilding a struggling local plant into profitability as GM, corporate restructuring left him with an option of being out or accepting a significant promotion - one that would have required a move to Chicago. He chose to lean on his other skills and kept his young family in the Shoals.
When times were tense or financially tight, the kids didn’t really know. We had what we needed. Dad absorbed the majority of the stress. He was very smart in that we only spent what he could pay for in full when the credit card bill came. There were no monthly payments dragging us down. My brother, sister, and I knew little economic adversity.
Dad was also a firm but fair disciplinarian when he needed to be. There are more than a handful of situations still fresh in my mind where the belt came out followed by the phrase, “This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.” My young person’s interpretation still has him wrong every time on that. However, his methods seemed to work. Once the belt corrected a matter, that issue rarely had to be “discussed” again.
Ironically, as a current advocate of corporal punishment, the penalty I remember most was being grounded in the seventh grade... for three months.
With $3 in my pocket, I made the mistake of taking a friend’s dare one Saturday to steal a 20¢ beef jerky from a convenience store about a mile from home. The cashier busted me at the register and gave me two unappealing options. He could call the police or call my father. Either way, dad was going to find out. He would much rather hear of my stupidity from an 18-year-old clerk at the Com-Pac than from City Hall. Nevertheless, that was a long ride home on my 5-speed Sears Spider.
Dad was working in the garage and he was amazingly calm when I got home. Just as I started to relax, he said, “Let’s go. Get in the car.” “Where are we going?” I asked. “We’re going to get a haircut.” My confident response, “I just got one last week.” Dad’s response, which clearly set the tone for what was to follow.... “You’re getting another one.”
Groundings at my house were simple: Straight to school-straight home, no TV, no sports (unless school related), no friends over, no leaving the yard.
He did tell me I could do some extra work around the house this one time, and he would consider knocking some time off the grounding. Years later he told me that neighbors marveled at how impressive our property looked over those next few months. There wasn’t a weed in the yard, a blade of grass out of place, or a smudge on any window. For my efforts, I got a week taken off the back-end of the sentence and I learned a life lesson.
Every child needs and deserves responsible and loving parents (a mother and a father) in the household. That is the arrangement God planned. Not coincidentally, this plan allows children the greatest chance of “being kids” and growing up healthy and happy with a strong foundation.
I am certainly not claiming better results than anyone else. I certainly pushed the envelope for many years. However, I count myself blessed that my parents were always around, they had us in church, my father took on the leadership role of disciplinarian, I knew right from wrong, and my traditional family unit remained intact.