This story begins in the deep south in the 1920’s, on a family farm where sunrise meant toil, and that often past when the the sun retired for the day. There is a small home on this land with no luxuries attached. The typical day is spent in fields either planting, tending to, or reaping that which sustains this humble life. It is a hard and simple life, but it is well-defined, and free of modern entanglements like psychiatrists, life coaches, grief counselors, and Oprah. Work is the order of the day, and there is no time for such silly novelties.
Into this home is born fourteen children, one who is given the name of his father, Frank. From the time he can stand aright, he joins the family crew and learns a work ethic which is as inbred into him as any cell of DNA. Life is predictable enough until years later, when his nation calls my father, takes him from the farm, and sends him to Europe.
After the war, he comes home, meets his beloved wife Mary, and builds their lives with the tools he has always used: hard work, and industriousness. They build their home, and eventually, my father starts his own business, an auto repair shop which he opens in 1962, the year after my birth. He applies the work ethic (and ethics) he gained from the farm into his business for over 30 years, until he closes the door, but does not retire. He took with him his reputation, ever intact: as honest and hard working a man as ever walked this globe, and left behind a successful legacy, built with buckets of sweat from his brow.
My mother and father gave life to me, and two brothers, Ken and Danny. For that alone, a child should remain ever grateful. As I rapidly approach my 50th year, what I have to give my dear father is little. But the life-long memories linger. Perhaps memories make the best gifts.
My first memory of my father is being draped over his shoulder as he carries me into an emergency room at Kennestone Hospital. I remember the comfort and security I felt that late night or early morning.
Or the funeral we are attending of a deceased loved one. We file in procession at service’s end to pay our last respects, my small hand in my father’s. At the worst possible time, I declare, loudly, “I can’t see him!”
And the nights where at bedtime, he would pause, go to his knees beside his bed, and pray the Lord’s Prayer, ever acknowledging our gracious Creator.
The usual Sunday routine is a visit to Grandmother’s. Some Sundays, Dad would treat us to a drive up Kennesaw Mountain, where we could look across the city of Marietta to the Atlanta skyline, or north to the mountains, which seemed the end of the Earth.
The Saturdays we’d spend on Coldwater Creek, Dad with his reliable Stihl chain saw, taking down trees, loading them in an old flatbed truck to take back home. It was on those old roads of Elbert County that he would let me take the wheel of an old gray Chevy pickup, and teach me how to drive.
I can still hear him in his home office. It is hot summer Wednesday night, and he is at his adding machine, working on the payroll. To one side is a mound of invoices, and a yellow legal pad. To the other is a large jar of ice water, and an old AM radio which is playing a station he found somewhere far away.
He is up before the sun, ready to meet the day. He checks on his large garden in the back of our home, where he labored after leaving his shop the previous evening. He produces the bounty, giving the credit to ‘The Good Master”, and his wife fills our home with the scents, and the goodness, and the canning – Lord, the canning. They are sights, and smells I will never forget, but at the time, didn’t appreciate.
He keeps my mother in a Cadillac, his sons in nice clothes, and none of us are deprived any necessity of life. He does all this having never used a credit card.
My father, now that I consider it…..would have made a great president. His inaugural speech: “Let’s go to work.”
With the loss of his beloved Mary, our mother, many things changed forever. Still, since that sad August day in 1989, there have been some sweet moments scattered amidst a sea of tears.
No one gets to select their parents. I often think about how naive I was, and how fortunate I am to have the parents I did.
And if I could ever be half the man my father was, and is…I will think I did well.
My father was never famous, never an artist, statesman, inventor. What he had is to be valued above all such temporal things, and is captured in the pages of Holy Scripture.
A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold. A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of one’s birth.
A good name forged by a good man.
A good son. A good American. A good husband.
My good father.