My father didn’t look quite right on Facebook, as several long time friends and relatives were quick to note. Imagine my surprise when I opened my Facebook and there was Mr. Potter! Grandpa looks so serious! Yeah, you know most people put pictures of their fathers grilling burgers in the back yard! Ha! My father never did that!
It was Fathers Day, and so many people posted about their fathers. But most of these fathers were in my generation; in fact my husband was one of them. But one friend maybe not more than 15 years younger than I posted a wonderful picture of her father, looking mature and comfortable, and no, not grilling burgers.
And of course he had no acquaintance with the internet at all.
He was a serious man. Those were the days when the men of the families were expected to support the family and leave their wives at home if possible. My mother stayed home. She, incidentally, was a doctor – but continued to make herself useful in the world far beyond just being a stay-at-home mom. (As, I believe, most stay-at-home moms do!) My father got up and went to work every morning, often by train from our suburban house to his downtown office. He would eat a full lunch in a restaurant downtown, go back to work, and after work take the train back home and have a cocktail before dinner with my mother. He worked six days a week and even went to the office for a few hours on Christmas; the Protestant ethic ruled in my family! When occasionally challenged over his work habits, he would mutter about the Great Depression and what you could learn from it.
But he played tennis whenever he had a chance and continued to play against much younger folks even in his sixties and seventies. He belonged to two different amateur theater groups, loved literature, loved acting in plays but loved directing even more. He used to embarrass me to death whenever he drove me and my friends somewhere as he kept up a steady stream of reciting random lines from a play – in the random but appropriate voices. He didnt seem to know that we could all hear him!
Ours was not a home given to child centered conversations over dinner – that was for lunch with just my mother, and sometimes my grandmother as well. But at night he would talk about the law, and what was going on in the office, and who was behaving dishonorably. He would often show a lot of concern about some individual, and when friends of his were sick, he would want to discuss symptoms and outcomes with my mother. He was in awe of doctors, and often said if you must see a doctor, you should definitely do what he/she tells you to do. (My mother the doctor, on the other hand, really didn’t believe in going to the doctor or taking medicine unless absolutely necessary.)
My father loved to go for walks and often wanted me to go with him, and I enjoyed that too except when he would urge me to go up to children I didn’t know and say something friendly to them. (I was a very shy child.) He was always very interested in my education and was pleased that I followed him into Philosophy and Literature. He was interested in my going into the Peace Corps and came to visit me in Zamboanga, and visited two more times after I had moved permanently to the Philippines. He learned a few words of Tagalog and got a kick even in his final illness out of asking the Filipina nurses in the hospital if it was time yet for his merienda. He loved that I was a teacher, and we had a standing agreement in our family that he would always pay for as much education as anyone could hold.
I don’t remember him having much to say about the politics of the day when I was young. He was a Republican though, and I remember having several arguments with him during the Vietnamese War – where he thought the U.S. just didn’t have much choice. (But this was well into the war. The anti war movement of course recognized that there had been a decade of wrong choices that led up to the war.) AS a young man he was in Germany in the late thirties, as Adolf Hitler was gaining strength, and he had brought home records of Hitler speaking. I remember him playing these for my brother and me and telling us if ever we hear such a forceful speaker, we should run like mad the other way!
He retired when he was about 62 and he and my mother moved to Arizona, where he could play tennis everyday, and drive up to Grand Canyon on weekends. He loved the hot, arid weather in Arizona and the wide opened spaces – and the rabbits that cavorted around their backyard, and the birds, especially the quails who frequently stopped traffic by marching their families across the street.
But still the protestant, he was still determined to be useful: he did pro bono tax counseling in one of the banks for a month or so before tax deadlines each year, and he read for the blind under the local Lions Club, sometimes reading Shakespeare and other classical literature to ease the way for blind students taking college courses. And he continued to travel.
He had always loved traveling. He would ask my mother over a drink one night whether she had ever thought about going to Iceland, for instance, and no matter what she said, he would come home a few days later with pamphlets from his travel agent –and within a few months at most, they would be in Iceland.
He was fortunate enough to live well for 20 years after he retired, and to have been traveling and playing tennis a month before he died. Some medical tests he had prior to taking his last trip to Europe revealed some blocked arteries, but he went off on the trip without knowing this. But he knew he didn’t feel well and after hearing from his doctor, he decided to return to the U.S. and undergo the surgery. This at first appeared to be successful, but afterwards the doctors found they were unable to stop the bleeding. He did not regain consciousness after the operation.