The Joys of Fatherhood
The Joys of Fatherhood

Father’s Day. Far as I know I never became one, but I sure had one to remember. 

The pictures I cherish of Pop aren’t ones of forced or phony smiles. He’d seen too much. Been down too many hard roads.  By the time I came along his days of posing  had passed. Instead you caught him as he was, take it or leave it, made no difference to him. If you got a smile or laugh, all the better, but you had to earn it. And though he laughed easily with a contagious wheeze, a glare was all it took to freeze you. 

Neither was he demonstrative in his affections when we were young. Yet never was there any doubt where his heart lie – hell, why else would he have gone off to work every day like clockwork without ever complaining or taking a day off?

One night when I was six or seven I stepped off my upper-deck bunk bed after dreaming that my sister was tickling my feet from below through a hole in my mattress.  When I couldn’t get her to stop, I decided to go tell Mom and Pop.

When he heard the dull thud coming from our room, Pop rushed in to find me unconscious on the floor. He called a doctor who lived up the block to come help. And when the guy refused, because “it’s the middle of the night”, Pop sped me to the hospital all the while devising a plan to kill the SOB.  And he’d killed a few in his time in war.

Maybe that’s the first thing to know about we Baby Boomers and our dads.  We grew up in a decidedly non-child-centric environment. We may have been the last of the “shut up, and sit down” generation, kids who were actually afraid of their parents, and with good cause. These were people who had grown up in a Great Depression, then fought in a World War. They had known hardship and made sacrifices. As such they had little interest in the prattling of a generation for whom much had been given and little asked, love us though they did. 

Whenever any child talent came on one of the variety shows on television, Pop would get up and change the channel. No comment. Five minutes later he would change it back. We got the message  

Though Pop wasn’t a born cynic, life had made one of him.  After the war he worked in the jewelry business, so from his vantage point, “Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, Tone, it’s all just marketing.”

We weren’t ‘friends’ with our parents as kids. I don’t recall Pop attending my sports games, though he did drive me to school when I was in fifth-grade and was first learning to be an altar boy for the nun’s mass at 5:30 a.m.  And we are talking about a Methodist here, not a Catholic. That’s the extra mile. 

Pop golfing in Forest Park
Pop golfing in Forest Park in St. Louis in the 1930s

Friendship would come later in life after we had earned his respect through the accumulation of life experience, learning, and proficiency with a 3-iron. 

I remember calling home one Thanksgiving when Mom and Pop were over at my sister’s place with her brood. By then the grand children were young, unmarried adults. Seems Pop had asked the assembled group to stop calling him ‘grandpa’. 

“Anybody can be grandpa,” he had told them. “And it’s kind of an ugly word. Call me Isham. That’s my name.”

Of course, it immediately entered family lore, and always brought about vivid recollections of a true original. (Had anyone else ever referred to “grandpa” as an ugly word?)

Though he had been forced to drop out of the University of Nebraska when his own father died suddenly of a heart attack in the midst of the Depression, Pop was a lifelong autodidact, and great lover of books and literature, and such were often given and received as presents for birthdays and Christmas or just on a whim. 

“Look for something in the mail, Tone. Thought you might like it.”

And though we three kids always knew he was there for us,  we also knew there wouldn’t be any hand-outs coming our way as both Mom and Pop preached a sermon of self-reliance. How often was I reminded when my grades slipped at school that “we won’t be able to leave you any inheritance, only the wherewithal to take care for yourself.”

“Tone,” he used to say whenever I asked him for money, “when we fly from the nest, we fly alone.”

And if I peppered him for advice on one thing or another, his response was always along the same pithy vein.

“Tone, we must all live our own lives.”  

Yet it was Pop who lent me the funds to start my Runners Digest radio show in the 1970s, asking only that I help someone else out down the line as a means of repayment. 

Making his children better people through example seemed to be his guiding principle. That he did it with style and elegance was just a bonus. 

Pop later in lifePop lived a long, productive life, dying in 2010 at age 98. When he passed he did so with his tonsils, appendix and wisdom teeth, a pretty impressive trifecta of health. He also had about him his wits, knowing full well what age had extracted from his arsenal.  What would upset him most was the inability to quote Shakespeare from memory as he had once done with ease. 

The Greatest Generation is all but passed now, and we Boomers have been left behind as what passes for elder statesman. Judging by the state of things (and the current choice for President) we have much left to accomplish to come within even spitting distance of those who came before us. 

Yes, our fathers set the bar awfully high. Their times required that they lived a life of service. We can only hope we can honor that service in that which we do in the time we have remaining.

Thanks for it all, Pop. Thanks for my life and my time with you. 

Marek, Pop and I at Duff's celebrating Pop's 98th birthday Oct. 11, 2009
Marek, Pop and I at Duff’s celebrating his 98th birthday Oct. 11, 2009


11 thoughts on “FATHER’S DAY 2016

  1. Great job again, Toni, and adds to my appreciation of my Dad, who had many such traits, too, though my Dad was quick with a laugh, joke, and love of all sports.

  2. I echo everyone else’s opinion above, Toni. Glad you could write such a lovely and moving eulogy for your “Pop” and what he taught you and what he meant to you. Have heard bits and pieces of it before but never in total context like this.

    I may be one of the few readers that live near St. Louis and know what Forest Park golf course is as well as I have eaten at Duff’s, too, and know what a popular place can be.. at least in the Central West End location. As close as I am, I regret never having met your Dad.

    My own father is still alive and living/working on the farm at age 84 and I am grateful that I can still see him… several times as week as I have chosen to base in my hometown during my middle age. My father is a little younger than yours but that doesn’t mean that their “outlook on life” was much different just because my father was Korean War eligible instead of your father’s WW II vintage. Those two generations were fairly similar because both lived through both the Great Depression as well as WW II. Some were old enough to serve in the early ’40’s while others weren’t.

    When I hear that country song about “my father’s hands” it makes me think of my own Dad. He still farms and he taught me a lot about work ethic and getting the job done in any weather… all of which helped make me a better long distance runner in my day. Thanks for sharing the memories, Toni!

    1. Craig,

      Remember well my Christmas time visits across the Mississippi River to Lebanon, Illinois and our runs along the wide, white fields. Remember, too, what gracious hosts your Mom and Dad were. Give him my best regards.


  3. What a great tribute to your Dad. I was proud that he was my Uncle and walked me down the isle when his brother Burton had passed away at 58. He was great and I enjoyed talking with him and learning what he went through. Love the photo at his 98 birthday and see my Dad in him.
    I miss my Dad every year and was fortunate that they adopted me. He was a special part in my life and will never forget him.

      1. Great to hear from you,
        John and I moved from Raleigh, NC and now live in Crozet Virginia and have downsized and own a Townhouse, Big change. We live 20 minutes away from our daughter and son-in-law and were blessed on November 11 to welcome Wyatt Oscar Simpson into the world. Being a grandparent is wonderful and enjoying seeing Wyatt grow, 7 months old and keeping us busy.
        I work for UVA Medical-Transitional Care Hospital a 40 bed long term care acute facility and loving it,
        If you and Toya are ever in the area we would love to see you.
        Keep up the good work. I always enjoy your articles.

  4. Love this Toni.Still have my Dad At 96 with all his “faculties” in tact as he likes to tell people!He is without a doubt a hero in my eyes and his life lessons cannot be measured. I don’t know what I admire more, his service to our great country in WWII or raising five daughters!

  5. Very nice, and from the heart. Being a fellow boomer, this really hits home. I lost my dad to cancer in 1981, when I was only 19, but the sacrifice, service, and life lessons come shining through to this day. I am trying to pass what I leaned onto my daughters. I hope that I am successful.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.