Today is Father’s Day 2020. For those whose father is still with them, it is a time to be thankful. For those whose dads have passed, it is time to reflect as we never grow so old as to stop being our father’s sons and daughters.
Being a member of the Baby Boom Generation (1946-1964), I was sired by one who hailed from The Greatest Generation (1901-1927), a name popularized by Tom Brokaw’s 1998 book of the same name.
However, I think the name Greatest Generation oversells it a bit. They weren’t always that great. Instead, I look at them more as The Responsible Generation.
Formed in the years of the Great Depression, then steeled by the fire of World War II, they came into their parenting years with a sense of duty and responsibility imprinted deeply on their psyche.
Freedom may have been the legacy of their nation’s birth and the cause for which they fought in Europe and the Pacific, but it wasn’t fully theirs to enjoy as casually, as cavalierly as did we who were fortunate enough to follow in those fanciful years of America in the mid-20th century. Choices were rarely theirs to make. This was no frivolous cohort, no Me Generation.
When the grandfather I never knew died suddenly in February 1932, his eldest son was in university in Lincoln, Nebraska. But within six weeks, he and his younger brother moved to St. Louis with their mother because she had family there and they didn’t have two dimes to rub together to even pay rent on the house in Omaha, much less to afford college.
When I asked Pop what he would’ve liked to have pursued as a career if he had had the choice, he said perhaps curator at a museum as he studied art in college and maintained a lifelong interest in the arts. But that was never a professional path he had the time or finances to explore. Instead, like so many of his generation, he took work where he could find it.
Fortunately for him, he ended up becoming a gemologist at the old-line jewelry house in St. Louis. As the only gemologist in the metropolitan St. Louis area at the time, he often gave lectures on precious stones, ivory, and jade, at times at local museums.
I don’t recall Pop attending many Father-Son gatherings at school. I learned to play catch with the neighbor up the block, not Pop. What I remember is a man who got up every day to go to work, who paid for us to go to good schools, and remained in the Army reserves for 20+ years after serving in Europe during the war (where he met and married mom). We never felt we missed for his affections, but neither were they displayed openly until much later in life.
Pop passed in May 2010 at the age of 98. He’d seen a lot, experienced a lot, and left a lot, including the lasting love of his three children and many grandchildren.
Historians may look back one day and see a resemblance between today’s GenZ (born 1996-2010) and Alpha Generations (born 2010-2025) and the Greatest Generation born 100 years before them in the early 20th century. All were formed in testing times of national crisis and an uncertain future.
We can only hope they won’t have to go through another world cataclysm to fully match the sense of responsibility and service that attached to their great grandparent predecessors.
Happy Father’s Day to all current and pending dads.
Lie down to rest, dear soldier,
Be at ease for the battle’s been won.
Take pride in your service, well given,
Take measure of the peace that’s begun.
The days of marching are over,
Long nights of planning now through,
From those who remain at your station,
A salute, for our hero, was you.
‘Twas honor we witnessed in your service,
And dignity in the manner it was done,
An example for any to follow,
A legacy passed on to your sons.
Duty was your generation’s calling,
Measured in struggle and strife,
From depression to war, then Fatherhood,
You soldiered on, for such was your life.
Books were the pleasure that filled you,
Art, music, and poetry, too.
For hours you’d sit in your respite,
Reciting the sonnets anew.
Whether Shakespeare, Tennyson, or Kipling,
Coleridge, Browning, or Scott,
The language of the English high masters,
Haunted your reverie and brought,
Peace and serenity in abundance,
Their verse whether elliptical or sure,
Captured your deepest attention,
And like a prison they held you secure.
And when others took note and were willing,
Inspired to listen or read,
You shared your interest, the true mentor,
And widened our horizons, indeed.
It’s that spirit of giving that reminds us,
As we look back to salute you anew,
How any could’ve asked for another,
As supportive and elegant as you?
And we who loved you most dearly,
We who now stand in your stead,
Accept your legacy well knowing,
Soon our turn to pass it ahead.
But if rewards are apportioned in that spirit,
And judgment remains constant and true,
Then yours is now at full measure,
While ours still remains to accrue.
So lie down to rest, dear soldier,
In our hearts, there will always remain,
Duty to family and country,
As your loving, everlasting refrain.