Sunday, June 15, 2014

Not Eric Cantor But Fathers Day And A Man Of Courage

 I was going to write about Eric Cantor but have decided Father's Day is more important.  Actually since last Tuesday anything is more important than Eric Cantor.

First, Happy Fathers Day to all the fathers who have transitioned to the new era of fatherdom and its higher degree of participation.  Lots of diapers and dishes. But lots of hugs too and being able to say, "You're a wonderful kid."  That didn't use to be allowed.

In fact, my dad never once said that he loved me.  But I knew he did.  He told me about the stock market when I was eight and about communism when I was ten:  "It sounds like a great idea on paper but doesn't actually work very well".  That's the best summation of communism I've ever heard. Even though I was a girl, and girls were nothing in those days, he talked to me.  So I knew he loved me.

And he bought me the occasional chocolate popsicle and let me watch him bowl.  In summer we took evening walks along the country roads where we lived in rural Illinois, and in winter he left the house braced to battle the blizzard down to the railroad station  to get to his job in Chicago. Sick or well, he never missed a day's work.  So I knew he loved me.

When we left rural Illinois for the push and shove harshness of post-war Los Angeles and its ugly pavement and my heart was broken with homesickness and my wicked Aunt Georgie was living with us and hated me, he walked me some evenings to the drugstore and bought me a chocolate soda and gave me a nickel to play Hoagie Carmichael singing "Old Buttemilk Sky".  So I knew he loved me because he knew when I was really hurting even though he never could abide "crocodile tears" and I had no tears for my terrible suffering.

My four Watt cousins told me in our middle-age and long after he was dead, how he came out into their backyard and held them all so they could cry when their father had died. "The rest of the family was in the house comforting Ma, and we had been sent outside to be out of the way. But he came to find us."  His mother had died when he was sixteen, leaving him an orphan.  Because he had had the courage then to face and experience his own pain, he was able to sense and console the pain of others.

That's a rare sort of courage in any man in any age.  Most hide from their feelings, frightened of their pain.   But my father was brave.  Brave emotionally and brave physically.  As an orphaned kid and a "newsie" he'd had to fight to hold his corner and sell his newspapers.  Not just fight other kids but the thugs with baseball bats that the rival newspapers sent.  He never spoke of these things.  His sister told us. When he was grown and married, he and my mom had four kids during the Depression.  That too was courage.  And when the war came he tried over and over to enlist but his draft board wouldn't take him because his job was designated "vital to the war effort".

He gave me something better than anything material and something better even then saying "I love you".  He gave me the gift of courage.  I've tried to keep faith with that.  And sometimes it's as if he is standing just behind me saying, "Come on, Dorothy Helen, you can do this."

But he never says, "I love you."  Not even now. 

He doesn't have to.     

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