My father was my hero. A strong, amiable and good-looking man who taught me what was most important in life.
He was one of nine kids, placed somewhere near the lower end of the middle. He was raised in a small New England village (as was I, but by that time the village was a suburban town), his father a truck farmer (kind of a middleman between local farmers and the market). He dropped out of high school a few months before graduation to work full-time on a neighboring farm, a decision that truly pissed off Lucian Burns, the high school principal at that time. (Lucian was not to be deterred and an agreement was reached that my father would attend school one day every two weeks and he would be able to graduate. Years later, Lucian became a good friend. He wasn't the only one.)
My father made many friends. You just couldn't dislike him. A full decade after high school, he was still working full-time on the farm and had a wife and three kids. He began a part-time business as a building contractor; six years later it became his full-time occupation. He built custom homes and he built them well. He never signed a contract with a client. Every agreement was sealed with a handshake. The handshake and his word was his bond. In over thirty years of business he had only two clients try to cheat him; he would laugh about those instances, shake his head and shake his head with pity for them. (They were clients who came onto hard times -- payment plans would be worked out and everyone was happy. My father believed in win-win situations.)
Our home seemed always opened to people in need. Neighbors who had lost their husbands would find a sympathetic place to stay while they sorted things out. Often the young men who worked for him and who needed a temporary place to stay found one at our house. In times of tragedy, he would be there with practical advice and support. When a local family's house burned down, he organized neighbors to build a new house. When a local police officer died in a traffic accident, my father was one of those raising money for the widow and children. When one of his employees was recently married and needed a home, my father co-signed the loan. He bought music equipment for one young employee who had a chance to join a band. He donated lumber to the woodworking classed at the local Boy's Club. A friend had a chance at a good job in South Carolina but had no transportation to get there, so my father sold him a car for a dollar. When the young son of a friend was diagnosed with leukemia, my father was the boy's "good buddy." My father was active in social and civic groups. He presented a non-judgemental ear for many friends and acquaintances.. The year he died, our town dedicated its Annual Report to him.
My father taught me honesty, involvement, and concern. His favorite hobby was to sit on a hill and watch people pass by. It always amazed him on how each person was different from the others, each with something unique to appreciate. He was never a reader and he was a staunch Yankee Republican, so how the hell he raised my brother and myself is somewhat of a mystery to me. He was proud of his family; my mother meant the world to him and he would quietly (though not often) brag about his kids. He was tickled pink with his grandchildren. (I still am angry at the universe that he did not lie to see my brother's two girls, nor see the remarkable women they became,)
One person told me that, when he first met my father, all he could think of was a big, friendly bear. And that, I think, is a pretty good epitaph.
Happy Father's Day to all.