My brother's fondest memories of my dad are mine as well. Pop was always able to know what we kids would like. So he would do things like pick us up from school and drive to the zoo, so we could eat hot dogs while watching the seals being fed.
Mom was always interested in teaching my brother and I how to live and think. So she took us to church, to the art museum, to cultural events. But we learned things from Pop, too, mostly by observing and imitating him.
From him we learned to work hard. Pop had a lot of jobs, often two at a time. I can't remember when he was unemployed. If he lost a job, he found another quite quickly. And so we learned that working hard at what you do was a virtue and having a job was important, even if it wasn't always the perfect job.
And because he usually worked nights, he, unlike many men of his generation, was much more involved in raising his children. He may not always have taken us out to lunch but he always made sure we had a hot meal, even if he just heated up something he had picked up from a restaurant or deli. When my Aunt Marge, who would watch us when Mom was at work, was hospitalized, Pop would come over and watch us, even though he and my mother were divorced. Later my parents remarried, primarily for the sake of my brother and I. And we knew that was the reason because after we were raised and out of the house, they announced that they were getting divorced again. Which taught us that your duty to your family comes before your personal comfort.
Pop was always looked after his appearance with an almost cat-like neatness. This extended to us. Dan and I could not leave the house without being properly dressed and our hair combed within an inch of our life. When I started to go bald, I worried that I would have grooves in my head from Pop's comb. But this taught us that, as unfair as it sometimes seems, in this world, appearance counts, and you can do a lot to look neat and respectable.
Pop's most famous exploit in the Second World War was when, during the campaign on Bougainville Island, a Japanese sniper fired on him. One bullet was stopped by a can of beans in his pack and one got lodged in his helmet. Pop ran up under the tree from which the shots came and took out the sniper's nest with a tommy gun. His fellow soldiers kept saying Pop should take off his helmet and look at the bullet. My father wasn't going to until it was dark and he was sure he wouldn't need the protection of his charmed headgear. Had that bullet gone all the way through, we would not be here. This taught us how precarious life is and how you nevertheless had to be courageous.
While Pop got ready for work, he would listen to what was then KMOX radio. And I got hooked on listening to the news. Today I listen to NPR. And when we talked over the phone or when I spent time with him, we would discuss all manner of current and historical issues, and Pop was always well-informed and even knew all sides of the issue in question. He taught me to take an interest in the world and know what you are talking about.
My father was from the South and taught us to say “Please” and “Thank you.” We learned to treat other people with courtesy. And because he was in the service industry most of his career, he taught us that this extended to the people who waited tables and served us. They were not inferiors and they too deserved respect.
None of us are perfect and that includes my father. But he also taught me that even a flawed person could be a good person and a decent person. He taught us to put our children first and do your job and take care of your appearance and remember the fragility of life and be courageous anyway and keep informed and treat others courteously, even the so-called little people. We learned that everyone has strengths and everyone has weaknesses and the presence of one does not negate the existence of the other. I know that no hero is flawless and no one is without some good qualities.
When you lose a parent, your world changes. They were there before you existed and for most of us, they are there for a good portion of our life. And suddenly they are not. And things are different. My father is part of the reason I am who I am. I'm glad he was my dad. He was always there for me. And I will miss him always.