Sixty-six years ago, in 1946, my father celebrated his first Father’s Day as a new
dad. My brother had been born in February that year, and both my parents were elated. At that time, Father’s Day was more of a national institution rather than a national holiday, tied to the war effort and a way to honor the troops. It wasn’t
until 1972, during a re-election campaign that President Richard Nixon made the
day officially a federal holiday, proclaiming the third Sunday in June each
year as Father’s Day.
At the time he first became a father, my dad was 26 years old, and had just finished his military service during World War II as a Staff Sergeant in the Army Air Corps. He and my mom, a newly-discharged Private in the Women’s Army Corps, had been married just ten months when my brother, Michael, was born. Two more children arrived at two year intervals, my brother John in 1948 and my sister Jane in 1950. Four years later, I was introduced to the family, and my baby sister, Barbara, completed the brood in 1960.
My parents, similarly to most Depression-era parents, were frugal, hardworking, and grateful for every day that wasn’t a struggle. Just as they were coming out of the Depression, these young adults signed on for service in World War II by the millions – 6,332,000 or 38% of the armed forces. Tom Brokaw described them as “The Greatest Generation” and I believe he may have been right.
My dad probably wasn’t seen as a hero to anyone else. Like so many Depression-era kids, he had left high school prior to graduation to go to work and help support his family. For as long as I can remember, he struggled to provide adequately for the five of us, working as many as five jobs to ensure we had basic necessities. I can remember him working nights at the Post Office where he was a clerk only to arrive home around 7am, grab some coffee and breakfast and head out to drive a bread delivery truck until noon. After a few hours sleep, in the early evenings, he would head to Oletha’s Beauty Salon to clean – what we would call janitorial services today. We – the entire family – were also our church
custodians and we performed most of our duties on Saturdays. And last, but not least, on weekend mornings, we would sell newspapers from a milk wagon on a corner in the middle of town, from 4am until we sold out. So at least two of Dad’s ventures were “family” businesses, and from those experiences each of us children learned the value of hard work, a job well done, and a strongly
developed ethic regarding suiting up, cooperative effort and doing the best we
could, regardless of our age.
Somehow, despite this grueling schedule, Dad still found time to work fun, education, and culture into our lives. Fun usually consisted of family picnics at local state parks or fishing or camping. Occasionally, there was enough money to
attend a minor-league baseball game or a first-run movie at the theater,
although packing all of us in the station wagon with blankets and pillows to go
to the drive-in was more frequent. I can remember Dad taking me to the library and the local art museum and historical society in an effort to broaden me educationally and culturally. Books were a favorite gift from Dad because I could learn something from a book. I remember being very frustrated as a young girl because I would ask Dad how to spell a word and he would always reply “Don’t we have a dictionary? Look it up!” Readers Digest was one of his favorite magazines and he would delight in asking us the meanings of the random words the magazine chose to highlight each month. He was the most delighted when we got the answers right. Deprived of higher education by circumstance, Dad was a voracious reader and one would have never known he lacked formal education unless specifically asked about it. He was determined that we, his children, would complete high school at the minimum. Whenever we vacationed, usually staying at the homes of other extended family members in far-away places, museums were at the top of the list for “things to do while on vacation.” If an Armed Services band came to town, we got to hear classical music and Sousa marches. However culture could be worked in, it was, and we were all the more enlightened for it.
Dad also encouraged civic duty, and each of us was encouraged in Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, church participation and the like. When I won a Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) essay contest in fifth grade, I thought he’d pop every button on his shirt. It was the same with all of us – as each child excelled in any given area, his pride was boundless in our achievements. We were never allowed to rest on our laurels, no, not with Dad. We were pushed and prodded to go on to the next goal, reach for it and achieve it. It wasn’t that he was a tyrant; my father knew that no one could find today’s satisfaction in yesterday’s
accomplishments. Each day was to bring its own challenges, and we were to meet them and, more importantly, exceed whatever was expected to do so.
If my father had a great heartache in life, I think it might have been the realization that in order to pursue their goals, all five of his children would scatter from the family homestead to different parts of the United States. While he wanted us to thrive rather than just survive, I know he has missed being physically and geographically close to us, especially with respect to his grandchildren. We all visited as often as we could, and frequently at least two or
three of us might get together with him at the family home, but that’s not the
same as having Dad/Grandpa down the street or just a few minutes away. Now, at age 92, he even has three great-grandchildren, none of whom he has had the pleasure to meet. Physically, his limitations are such that having toddlers around would be a great strain, and geographically they are 1000 miles away, but we do shower him with photographs of this next generation in an effort to honor his legacy.
This week, I baked cookies and purchased locally made jams from Farmers Markets to send to Daddy for Father’s Day and I mailed his package from the Lebanon Post Office today, knowing it will arrive in time for Sunday’s celebration. As I wrote the note to enclose in his card, I came to a realization that this may be our last Father’s Day celebration. My final paragraph to him was this:
Now that I’m a parent of grown children (dare I call them adults?), and as I struggle to share what I’ve learned (and watch them look at me as though I’m a Martian with two heads), I’m reminded once again that we so rarely appreciate what we have in our lives until we’re close to losing it. How you managed to keep
patience with me, I’ll never know. Your unwavering love and support, your forgiveness of my many mistakes, and your encouragement have meant the world to me. You probably don’t realize it, but you’re still my hero, and you always will be. I love you, Daddy.
As I said earlier, my dad probably wasn’t seen as a hero to anyone else. He
was and is to me. In the spirit of Father’s Day, that’s probably all that matters to him. Happy Father’s Day to all the dads, but most of all, Happy Father’s Day to John V. Daube – my dad, my hero.