Guest Column: Father's Day

This past father’s Day marked yet one more year that I could not break bread, share a laugh, or have a beer with my dad. Many have lost parents over the years, and everyone reacts to those losses in different ways. My reactions and emotions continue to come forth even though he has been gone more than nine years.

My father was a volunteer in the Army Air Corps in World War II. Although he was not an Ace fighter pilot or anything dramatic like that, he did serve his country from August of 1942 through December of 1945 at an airbase at Ipswich, England. He spent some of his prime years working around the clock faithfully carrying out his service to his country.

He returned home and worked extraordinarily hard and eventually married and had children. He was always a good provider, and despite his lack of a college education, he was always in demand in the business world. He had a short-lived retirement, but at the time of his death, he had crossed the million-dollar mark ensuring that my mother would be set for the rest of her life.

As kids, we had fond memories of watching old movies together as a family. One of those films was the classic Gary Cooper film: The Pride of the Yankees. Cooper played Yankees’ slugger Lou Gehrig, the “Iron Man” of baseball. Gehrig is the person for whom “Lou Gehrig’s” disease, or ALS, was named. A scene in the movie depicts Gehrig’s realization that something was wrong when he attempts to tie his necktie but is unable to because of the debilitating effect the disease has on muscles and coordination. My father experienced that scene in his own life.

For our “Iron Man” dad, one of the most active individuals any of us had ever known, this disease, ALS, struck hard both physically and emotionally. Unlike the couple of hours spent watching movies, we experienced all of the unglamorous and heart-wrenching months of the wasting away of a man who lived a full life and would give the shirt off his back to help someone who wanted or needed help.

We watched our dad die in his own home, the one that he had visited every day during the construction and was so proud of. I come from a long line of first-born sons, and as such I had about five minutes to cry like a baby, by myself, in the bathroom. Then I had to go about the business of burying my hero; my father. We had the Irish priest, the bagpipes, and the Irish wake.

At the real wake, my father’s friends and co-workers and two United States congressmen paid their respects. I was amazed to find that many of the workers whom my father had yelled at or dressed down had actually shown up. To a person, they all said that my father had in some way straightened them out and that he had been one of the fairest bosses they ever had.

On the day of the funeral, I spent the evening talking to the Irish priest and drinking Guinness. I thought about my father’s life and the values of his father and generations before that were now in the hands of my brothers and me. Life is about dealing with the good and bad and hoping that the good will outweigh the bad. In my father’s life, the good outweighed the bad. I had these same thoughts this past Father’s Day, and I hope I have them for many more Father’s Days to come.

Jim Thacker is a political consultant and columnist.

From the June 29-July 5, 2005, issue

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