Reflections For Father’s Day 2020

Remembering my dad after his death 50 years ago

Photo by Juliane Liebermann on Unsplash

My father died in 1968, sitting in his recliner, popping M & M candy, and watching TV. These days I am doing pretty much the same thing he was at the end, except my sugar of choice is Famous Amos cookies.

He and I also share a similar disability. Our legs gave out on us.

It was never clear to his doctors what was wrong. He gradually lost mobility in his forties and, although they diagnosed him at an advanced medical center, the only answer was “nerve deterioration in his lower spinal cord.”

In my case, it is clearer, probably because research, imagery, and surgery have improved dramatically over these past decades. Spinal stenosis, where arthritis has squeezed the nerves so much that there is pain, loss of sensation, and muscle atrophy in the legs.

Dad used a walker to get around, dragging his legs along. I’m able to walk without an assistive device, but my gait is wobbly and my back pain makes the trip miserable. Once again, I have the significant advantage of medical discoveries; back surgery has given me many more possibilities.


My father passed down a few witty, if not profound, sayings I think of often.

“All good things must come to an end” is one of my favorites. It wasn’t always clear to what he referred, but I guess his demise illustrated its wisdom.

He also liked to say, “Eat to live; don’t live to eat.” To back this up, when we worked early mornings, at a restaurant he ordered the same breakfast every time: One egg over easy with dry toast.

One piece of advice, which I am not sure I understood at first, was “Treat girls like you would like to have your sisters treated.” Maybe it was a very compact version of the ‘birds and bees’ thing, but it wasn’t full of information.


One of the deeper conversations I had with him was by old-fashioned letter writing. After my father’s first heart attack, three years before his death, I starting writing him regular letters. Most of these typed pages with erasures and backspace corrections were typical. “How’s the weather?” “The car had a flat.” “Lake Michigan is frozen.” “Did you watch Bonanza on Sunday evening?”

Once, in contrast, I started a thread, more revealing for both of us. Having finished seminary and struggling with what it meant to have a calling, I said I felt that he had pressured me to enter the ministry. His response shook me: “On the contrary, I wanted you to go into business with me.”

Realistically, it was far too late. His disability had long past shut down Turner Distributing; the little refrigerated truck gone, the hot dog steamers sold, and the customers now had other vendors.

Like so many points in life, one turned me toward another future. When I succumbed to the merciless lure of the southern Methodist Church and became a pre-ministerial student, selling hot dogs on Jacksonville Beach boardwalk fell by the wayside.

As they say in 12-Step groups,looking back on “shoulda, woulda, coulda” makes no sense. Yet it still intrigues me, this Father’s Day, to think of many more driving all over Jacksonville with my Dad


Are you like me or is your father still around? If so and you can, at least chat with him and find out where you might have had past misunderstandings. It will enrich both of you.

My father was a working man

IAM

I am proud that my father was Grand Lodge Representative of the IAofM. He became a member of the union in the 1940’s when he worked as a machinist at Consolidated Vultee, building the PBY Catalina, one of the most widely used seaplanes of World War II.  After the war he was hired by the Union as a negotiator and faced several harrowing situations, spending much of his time traveling.

I guess he had had enough* by the time I was in the 4th or 5th grade because we moved to our final home way out in the boondocks (at that time) and he got a job delivering meat products for Herman Sausage Company. I began working with him summers, as he liked to say, learning what not to do and, more importantly, becoming a hot dog gourmand(!)

He died early, at age 56, after I had left Jacksonville and received my MDiv for the Methodist ministry from Garrett Theological Seminary. He had a heart attack a couple years previously and, trying to keep the connection, I wrote regular letters. I hope they were meaningful during his last days.

As all we who have lost fathers do, I wish there had been many more days we could have corresponded or talked in person. The fact of life is that there never are. The trick is, if they were warm and kind, to let our fathers live on in us. If they were mean and harmful maybe it is like my working on the meat truck, let our fathers teach us what not to do.

There is no magic to Father’s Day but we can take pasue and remember. We can give thanks for their lives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Recently I did a bit of googling about the IAofM and discovered that it, like other large unions, has a history of corruption, which may even exist today. A positive a slant on my father’s quitting his job might be that he was not willing to work in those conditions.  Or that we did not want to get arrested