After all these years, my dad inspires me still. As I write this, the almost 89-year-old fellow is fighting to get back onto his feet as stenosis, bad knees and general old age are wearing him down.
But though his body shows wear and tear, his mind remains as agile as his sense of humor. And as he fights his daily battles he continues to inspire his children. The old saying “actions speak louder than words” applies perfectly to my dad.
He never was much for talking, but he is the biggest action figure I’ve ever known. He worked long, hard hours every day at Bell Telephone and took overtime work almost every holiday I can remember to provide for us the best way he knew how.
He never did much for himself. His greatest indulgences included a weekly case of Pabst Blue Ribbon and keeping a $5 bill in his wallet so he could get hot coffee on cold days.
His actions spoke clearly to his kids: “I’m not a sophisticated man, but I love you with all my heart and I will always take care of you.”
When he spoke actual words, he always began with three: “For Godsakes, Betty …” Betty is his preferred name for my mother, Elizabeth. He met her in high school when he was 16.
He told me again last week he knew immediately he would marry her and they did marry five years later. Now they have six children, 17 grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.
Marriage is hard. Family is hard. Our clan wasn’t spared the challenges, setbacks and disagreements every family faces. But the one constant that got us through is that my father deeply loves my mother. He dotes on her. He’s lost without her.
After more than 70 years together, my dad told me his heart still beats fast when my mother walks into the room — that they still hold hands every single night as they fall asleep.
A child is the last person on Earth to accurately evaluate his parents’ relationship. Theirs is intense and sometimes confusing to us — but, goodness, they love each other. That is one of the best gifts parents can give their kids. My parents gave us a genuine love story — and here I am at 60 and they’re sharing their love story with me still.
And my father is inspiring me still.
He’s in pain every day. The most basic tasks are becoming harder. Sometimes, the frustration gets to him, but most days he displays incredible grace as he jokes, “Getting old ain’t for the weak.”
I share his influence on me because I know how important he has been in shaping me and my sisters into the people we are. I think of all of the kids, particularly boys, who are getting into trouble because they do not have a father whose actions could inspire and guide them to positive outcomes in life.
My sisters and I are not perfect, but we work hard to be good people and good spouses, parents and neighbors. And now, as our parents age, it is our turn to repay them — our turn for our actions to be louder than our words by showing: “We’re not sophisticated people, but we love you with all our heart and we will always take care of you.”