During the last week, I had the opportunity to think about fathers and their impact upon others in an entirely different way. We had several men from my college ROTC unit and their wives to dinner, it was our 50th anniversary of our graduation from college last weekend.
We also had some very special guests: the son and daughter of our ROTC instructor, a Major who died in Vietnam, June 9, 1966. During the course of the evening, the son discussed how his father’s death affected him growing up. He said he was often asked “who’s your daddy.” A hard question to answer in a single family home, but he said he wasn’t in a single parent home, his dad was with him as much as his mom.
Then several of my friends spoke about the Major and how he had impacted their lives. One man spoke movingly about learning to fly from our lost instructor. He said, “he took me on my first flight. When I was comfortable, he said you’ve got the stick. And I took the stick and flew — if only briefly — he had given me the confidence and moved me into a new place.” As we went around the others added how the man had been a mentor to them, giving them advice and encouragement when they needed it. Others noted his skills as a leader and role model; still others as a teacher and friend. I reflected on this. Here was a man who fulfilled the function of fathers everywhere: to introduce their children to a sometimes scary world, make it seem less uncomfortable, and build their confidence to deal with it on their own.
I came from a family that had a dad, but he spent most of his life when we were younger working long hours either at the night shift or early in the morning. In either case, I didn’t see much of him. When he left the service after the Korean war he had to take a factory job in order for us to survive. My mom worked also full time, so I became the adult at home early in life taking care of my younger sister. I only saw my dad at meals. We did not do the father and son things that most young men do. He came home from work, watched some TV and then it was time for bed. Yet he taught me the lesson of duty. Sometimes you have to do what you don’t want to do, but you do it anyway. People depend upon you, so you take your responsibilities seriously. It is a lesson I have taken with me my whole life.
Every family is different, it’s a truism. Every father presents a different face to his family. Some are able to play with their children and taking them on trips, interacting in a classic manner. But for many a father is not present in those obvious ways. And that is what I learned last week.
But dads are never gone. As we went around the room sharing our thoughts, it came to me that this man who had been our instructor and friend really lived in every man in the room.
Just as my dad is present in me today.