A Tribute to My Father on Father’s Day
June 21, 2009
Fathers and Daughters: My dad and I. My son and his daughter.
I grew up on a farm in Southern Indiana , the oldest of four children. My father was from a family of 10 children. Of the 8 who lived to adulthood, he and one brother were the only ones who did not get a college education. He stayed at home to help his father on the family’s small vegetable farm. A high value was put on education in our home and my sister, one brother, and I have college educations. My youngest brother chose to stay home and operate the farm.
My father always stressed that we should do our best and that whatever profession we chose, we were to strive to be successful. We attended the little EUB country church every Sunday. We did not have a full-time minister so the church members did all of the tasks to keep it running and conducted the services. There was usually a minister who came twice a month or so to deliver a sermon. Other Sundays we just had "Sunday School." Everyone met together to sing some songs, read some scripture, and say a prayer and then we divided into age groups for the lessons of the week. My father seemed to be more like the business manager. I don’t recall ever hearing him pray publicly. He may have been delegated to read some scripture at times but I don’t remember him doing much of that either. However, he seemed to be the first in the community to be called to help out when others had problems or when someone in the community was sick or died."
In some ways, he started me on my road to religious skepticism, though I would be pretty certain he was a believer himself. He never talked about it. However, he was not a blind follower of what was said from the pulpit. For one thing, he was a smoker, which probably contributed to his dying at age 73 of heart problems. My mother was always trying to persuade him to quit smoking and I recall more than once that on the way home from church my mother said, "Now, Lester, you know what the preacher said. You need to quit smoking." And my father saying, "I don’t care what the preacher said. I’ll smoke if I want to." So—what effect does that have on a kid sitting in the back seat? So much for the infallibility of what the preacher says from the pulpit!
Then one evening on the way home from church I overheard my dad say, "People will believe anything if you call it religion." Well, I have no idea what had happened or been said that prompted this remark but it inoculated me against "believing anything just because it was called religion."
My dad died on April 1, 1986 on the operating table during open heart surgery. I had spent the most time with him the last few days before he died that I had in years. We visited my mother in a nursing home on Easter Sunday morning and he asked that I go on to the car so that he could have some time alone with her. I had no idea this was the last time they would see each other. When he came back to the car, he said that he had told Mom that he was going to have some surgery and then he would come home and they would get well together.
So, I drove him to Indianapolis and we had Easter dinner with my in-laws. That evening we played euchre and he got more "loners" than I had seen anyone get in one evening. It was his lucky night. On Monday, I took him to St. Vincent’s Hospital where I spent all day with him while he got all of the preparations for his surgery the next day. My dad was the type of person who never met a stranger and he talked to everyone he met there. He talked mostly about his work in soil and water conservation and about the trip he and my mother had taken to South America a few years earlier with the People to People program where they met farmers from several countries. He had once been named "Man of the Year" by the conservation division of the Indiana state government for his work in that area.
The next day my sister, one brother, and my son were at the hospital before they took him to surgery. My son rode in the elevator with him and was the last family member to see him alive.
So, on this Father’s Day, I would like to pay tribute to my dad who was a role model for my work ethic, social conscience, and independence of thought.