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Sunday, June 19, 2005

Four Fathers

J. T

My late father-in-law, probably about 11 years ago

Since my name is on this blog, I named my father, but, as his name isn't, I won't name my father-in-law.

My father was a quiet man, usually. He was a city boy, but spent his honeymoon in northern Wisconsin, far enough from towns of any size that, when I was born, my mother didn't go to a hospital, but to a midwife. My parents never returned from their honeymoon. As they said, they couldn't afford to go back. So they stayed, and raised us. They worked hard. My father built a log cabin for us to live in. He went off to work in the shipyard at Superior, and on the Alcan highway, during World War II, as his service. I suppose he was too old, and had too many sons, to be drafted. We boys, and mother, stayed behind.

He learned to farm. I suppose he was never great at it, but the land we tried to work wouldn't have let anyone be. He was good (with my mother) at being a dedicated churchman, at imparting a love for music, and a love for books.

My parents gave land for a church, and my father helped move an old schoolhouse to the location. It's still there, about 50 years later, and still used as a church. He taught Sunday School, and sung, and gave, and worked, and prayed. He wasn't showy at any of this--he just did it.

My father played the violin. I don't know if he did it well, but we thought so. He didn't have much time to play, with parenting and farming. We often fell asleep hearing him play, and Mom accompanying on the piano, with the sound coming up the stairs. He and my mother played for church, my mother often, he occasionally. One of my brothers has been a professional musician. The other two, and I, have been involved in church music in various ways, and one of us has been involved in quite a bit of music in other ways, too. Some of the grandchildren could have been professional musicians, but, so far, none has. None of us has really taken to the violin, but to music, yes.

He also listened to the radio, sometimes to classical music, I believe, while we were milking the cows.

Another thing he did while milking was to read pulp fantastic magazines. He'd place the magazine carefully on one leg, sitting holding the milk bucket between both legs, and milk. I suppose it wasn't too efficient, because he had to stop every few minutes to turn the page and fold the old page under, but some of his offspring still read fantastic literature, and none of us milk. (He did other kinds of reading, too.)

He encouraged us to be what we wanted to be, whether it was high school athletics or career. He and mother came to visit us, in one case even in Venezuala, after we left home.

We loved him, and he loved us. Thank you, God, for a good father.

I didn't know my father-in-law for as long as I knew my father, and I wasn't around him during my formative years. I did get to know him well. He, like my father, loved his children, and his grandchildren. He would have loved each of the three great-grandsons he has now.

My father-in-law had hard times when he was growing up. His family did some share-cropping. He probably wasn't able to spend a lot of time in school, because of work. He may have had a head injury which interfered with some of his ability. He never really learned to read, but he had a love of learning. He would browse the newspaper, and usually had a fairly good idea of what was in it, from the pictures, and the occasional word he knew. His own father died when he was about seven. His mother wasn't well for much of her life. The family moved from the farms of north Georgia to the mill villages of upstate South Carolina, and he worked in textile mills for many years. He and my mother-in-law took care of their three children, and also of her parents in their last years, without much money or room to do it. I doubt if they complained.

My father-in-law was good to me. He was a friend. He was funny--often on purpose, but sometimes not. Probably because he felt self-conscious about not having much formal education, he compensated by acting as if he knew everything. It didn't matter what anyone asked him, he would come out with an answer. Many of them were correct, of course, but some were ludicrous. He could also say some things that were exaggerations, sometimes big ones. I honestly think that, most of the time, at least, he thought he was telling the truth, even if we knew that he wasn't.

He was very reluctant to commit himself. My wife says that, if she or her siblings asked him anything, they expected a "No." I heard one of my brothers-in-law, his son, ask him if he would be best man at his wedding. His response was, "well, if I don't have anything scheduled." We all knew that he had retired, and had only one thing scheduled in his life at the time, namely his death, and there wasn't any sign that that was imminent. We all also knew good and well that he wouldn't have missed this opportunity unless roped, tied, and hospitalized. But he wouldn't commit himself. He did it, of course.

He could figure out how to fix stuff, and how to make stuff. My wife still misses his abilities in fixing and making. I don't have them.

If it troubled him that I had a Ph. D., it didn't show, and I don't think it did. It didn't trouble me that he couldn't read. We got along well.

The most important thing he did for me, I guess, was to show how to die. He, let's face it, was sometimes cranky. He'd fuss over the way food was cooked, or over various things that didn't seem important to some of the rest of us. When he was diagnosed with cancer, we all worried that we were in for a difficult time. We really weren't. Oh, it was hard enough, and none of us would want to go through it again, but it wasn't because of my father-in-law's attitude. He was living evidence of God's grace. He was patient, and kind, and grateful, more than he had been before. He was really no trouble. God was good to him, and to us, in his decline and passing. I hope any survivors I have can say the same of me.

I have two son-in-laws, but only one of them is a father, at least so far. He's a good one. He is good to our daughter, and to our grandson. Beginning today, he will be taking care of his son, not yet nine months old, and teething, by himself (except for some daycare) for a week, while our daughter fulfills a military obligation. He works hard, and loves our daughter and his son, and is good to us and the rest of the family. He gives of himself for others, in time, in effort, and in money. He has thrown himself into the life of the churches they have attended. He is good at his work. Like my father-in-law, he is good at figuring things out.

I thank God for my Heavenly Father, and for these three good fathers (and others, too, including my brothers and brothers-in-law, and more). There are some terrible fathers out there. I haven't really known such a one in my life, and I hope I haven't been one. Being a father is the most important thing I've done. My wife, and my daughters, have made it easy. I've made some mistakes, of course, but God can cover up for those, and has.

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