My father was born in 1936, at the tail end of the Depression. Like me, he fell between the cracks of the generations; not quite part of the “Greatest generation”, but not a boomer, either. By 1936, things had started to improve, but those improvements hadn’t really trickled to his level yet. Because of that, money was tight and my grandfather would turn his hand to almost anything that would earn a dollar. Eventually, his job with the Railway Express Agency firmed up and became more stable and my grandmother also went to work outside the home. My father, along with his brother and sister, was raised by my great-grandmother, Granny Apple. She was gone before I was born, but he’s told me stories. While she could be sweet and grandmotherly, she also didn’t put up with any crap. Dad has always told me she had the strongest hands of anyone he’s ever known and if she ever got hold of you, it was all over but the shouting.
I’ve seen pictures of my father when he was growing up. As a toddler, he had a head full of blond curls, but you’d never know that today; his hair still has traces of the dark brown I remember mixed in with the gray. My favorite picture is one of him and my aunt playing outside. Like most boys of the time, my father loved cowboys, Indians, bad men and anything to do with the Old West. In the picture I’m talking about, he’s sporting some righteous cowboy gear: ten-gallon hat, a la Tom Mix, chaps, two beautiful cap pistols and the piece de resistance, a lariat. The lariat is the best part because my aunt is sitting on the ground beside her over-turned tricycle and it’s obvious Dad decided to try out his roping skills. My aunt was not amused.
In high school, he was quite the athlete, playing football, basketball and baseball. He was also a member of the Beta Club and several other extra-curricular activities. Somewhere in there, he found time to date my mother. She didn’t like him at first; she thought he was arrogant. The only reason she went out with him the first time was because he asked to a play-off basketball game she really wanted to see and she didn’t want to go by herself. Eventually, he won her over. A few years later, while he was home on leave from the Air Force, they got married. That was in January and my brother was born the following December. They certainly didn’t waste any time.
After the Air Force, my father worked a variety of jobs before taking the U. S. Post Office exam. Before that, job security wasn’t really on the menu. After was a different story; he put in 30+ years there, starting out as a clerk and retiring as a computer routing specialist. Several years of my childhood were spent with him attending community college in the evenings after working all day. I can still remember lying in bed, waiting for the flash of headlights on the wall that meant he was home. Sometimes that was a good thing, sometimes not. I never lassoed anyone, but I definitely inherited the mischievous nature of a certain young cowboy.
Years later, after I was a father in my own right, he and I were putting in a brick sidewalk at his house. The subject of work came up and he said “I don’t understand your generation. Everyone wants a job that makes them happy. When I was coming up, you did what you had to in order to put food on the table.” I asked, “Didn’t you like working at the Post Office?” “Yeah”, he replied, “but it wasn’t my dream job. I just did it because it was a steady paycheck.” I don’t know why, but I never asked him what his dream job would’ve been. What I do know is that he put everything he might have wanted aside to provide for his family.
As a younger man, I used to be terrified of turning into my father. Nowadays, I find, myself hoping I’m a fraction of the man he is. So, Happy Father’s Day, Pop; even if it is a day late.