Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Monday, June 21, 2010

Father's Day 2010

This column ought to have been written yesterday, but as I was trying to rest up from my cold before the onslaught of the new workweek, I let it slide.

It’s been many years since I’ve had anyone to say “Happy Father’s Day!” to. My maternal grandfather died in 1985. That’s 25 years, I guess. My father died many years before that.

So I spent yesterday, on the couch, watching a show called “The World’s Strictest Parents,” where misbehaving urban urchins are sent to live with rural families to learn to mind their manners and so forth.

Often from single-family homes, and usually (though not always) only children, these teens learn the penalty for breaking the rules is always noxious and unpleasant. Smoke, swear, or procrastinate on your chores, and you can find yourself digging postholes or cleaning out the chicken coop.

There’s nowhere to run, as these teens find out, being far out in the country and, in one case, out in the cold. One young lady who refuses to clean her bathroom finds herself in a stand-off with her foster father out on the porch one cold, cold night. He, in his down jacket, is prepared for the long-haul. She, in pedal-pushes and a hoodie, is not.

She has a choice – clean out the horse paddock, to fulfill her punishment, and be at last allowed to use the indoor plumbing – or freeze her pedal pushers off and trudge out to the outhouse.

Some teens are more incorrigible than others. Miss Pedal Pusher soon sees the light but the young fellow, unrelated to her, also staying with the family, is immovable in his bad relationship with his mother. The foster father admits there are some teens who are just in need of more professional help.

My brothers and I were indeed fortunate in our choice of fathers. Or I should say, my mother’s choice. He had us rather late in life – he was already in his forties when my older brother was born. He wasn’t a cool or fun dad.

But he was a good man and father. That was never more evident than one hot, steamy summer night in – I guess the year was 1966 or 1967. We were too poor for air-conditioning. We’d been sent to bed but being too warm, I couldn’t sleep.

My window faced the street and I climbed up to look out my window at the neighborhood. Our house was on the crest of a knoll, overlooking all the other houses on the street. The sun had gone down; it was twilight, but the houses were still visible.

From each house, I could hear a distinctive thwack, thwack, thwack, followed by a piteous, infantine weeping. The sound made a circle round the neighborhood. In one house, the thwacking was followed by an audible whump! – something being thrown against a wall.

I shrank down from the window. My own house was quiet. What tumult usually came from my brothers’ shared room, where they held nightly fights. Bing-bang-boff! until my father’s heavy tread was heard in the hall, come to put a stop to the battle.

Our house was a castle in the air, a fortress of relative peace (and this was the suburbs, not some gritty, blue collar city) amidst a sea of chaotic ignorance. My parents never hit us. They yelled, but never struck us. My father taught us to read, taught the boys to be play chess and to be men. He taught us to love our country and play by the rules.

My mother said that any parent who had to hit their child to teach them, who couldn’t outthink a child, was a pathetic excuse for parenthood. My father agreed. We tried them severely, but they never faltered in their duty towards us, teaching us the right way.

We frequently went on vacations to the Adirondack Mountains. In 1969, we were on our way up the New York State Thruway to Saranac Lake. We noticed the traffic heading for Woodstock. My older brother was 13. He wanted to know why we couldn’t go to Woodstock.

My parents were in the front seat. I remember how they sat ramrod straight, not turning to answer him even when they told him we were going to Fairy Tale Forest instead and our family vacation. They kept their eyes straight ahead, focused on the right road ahead of them, as good parents should, and our destination, moaning, sulking, and pleas not withstanding. Not even the merry sight of hippies in a Volkswagen van beside us deviated them.

My mother would later tell me it was a matter of trust. Whom did I trust? A mother and father who had cared for me all my life, or people I didn’t even know who were trying to mislead me into things I knew were wrong? Did I think they would care what happened to me? Or did I trust people who loved me enough to tell me things I didn’t want to hear?

Well, the answer was obvious to me. My father is long since gone, but I’ve upheld his principles as best I can, led on in the fight for freedom he carefully taught me, trusted his wisdom about America. Road to Serfdom, which Glenn Beck has advertised, was one of those books my father had wanted me to read someday along with Atlas Shrugged, though at the time he and my mother mentioned it, he felt I was too young to comprehend it, except to remember that my mother said it was a book people had risked their lives to read.

So I treated myself to the two books for Father’s Day, as a testament to my Dad and his belief in freedom and the values he taught us.

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