Saturday, June 19, 2010

Thoughts on Father's Day I

Just a Word or Two

Dad never said much. He wasn’t morose or bitter; he didn’t go off by himself to ignore the world. He just didn’t say much. That often frustrated the people around him. One fine summer day in the early 1960s, I remember Nana sitting at the head of the dining room table reminiscing.

“We always told your father, if he wasn’t going to bring anything into the house, he better not take anything out,” she said.

Years later, after Dad had retired and he and Mom moved to San Antonio, Mom talked about the early years of their marriage. She was the stay-at-home mom of three pre-schoolers, and Dad worked for the Bessemer and Lake Erie by day and went to law school at Duquesne by night. And in the summer, when he wasn’t going to school, he played softball several nights a week.

“He’d leave the house at six-thirty in morning and not get home until almost ten that night,” Mom said. “‘How was your day,’ I’d ask. ‘Fine,’ he’d say. ‘What’s new,’ I’d ask. ‘Nothing much,’ he’d say. That was it.

“ I could go to the store for twenty minutes and talk about it for three hours.”

Despite not having much to say, Dad liked to keep in touch, and he called his kids every week after we went off to college and beyond, although, he still didn’t have much to say. The longest phone conversation I had with him while I was in college was the time I asked him something about a business law class I was taking. He spent the next half-hour explaining the complexities of depreciating railroad cars.

There were times when I felt Dad was snubbing me, and when we got together for Uncle Jim’s retirement party, I discovered my siblings - Barb, Ed and Jimmy - sometimes felt they too were getting the brush off. Dad went to bed early that night, and the rest of us stayed up for a few hours and talked about him. We laughed about the short conversations, but Mom said there were times she wished he’d just stay off the phone.

“Sunday afternoons I’ll be busy making dinner, or maybe just watching TV or reading a book, just relaxing, and your father will pick up the phone and call one of you or your Uncle Jim or some old friend,” she said. “I might not feel like talking, but I know what’s going to happen. He’ll talk for two minutes and then say, ‘Here’s Martha, she knows more than I do,’ and hand the phone to me.”

Because he never said much, most of the lessons he taught us he taught by example. By living his life the way he did, he taught us not to think too much of ourselves or too little of others, a thought he occasionally reinforced by telling us, “self praise stinks.” He never said much, but he was a wonderfully effective teacher of life’s most important lessons.

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