This is the first in what will be a recurring series called “A Real Man”. The role models for young men today are, in my opinion, a sad excuse for a what a man is and does and I want to present an alternative view. The inaugural entry in the series focuses on my father, Tom Rieves, who left us one year ago tomorrow. I can think of no more fitting tribute to the man who influenced me more than any other than to say “As a younger man, I was terrified of turning into my father. Nowadays, I find, myself hoping I’m a fraction of the man he was.”
My father was born in 1936, at the tail end of the Great Depression. Like me, he fell between the cracks of the generations; not really part of the “Greatest generation”, but not a baby boomer, either. By 1936, the economy had started to improve, but those improvements hadn’t really trickled down 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 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.
He wasn’t a religious man, but he was deeply spiritual. He once told me he considered most preachers on a par with politicians and used car salesmen and I’m not sure he ever needed the formal trappings of high church worship. The only sanctuary he required was his beloved home in the Virginia mountains and, while he loved sharing it with his friends and family, the only person he needed with him was my mother. Though I never heard him use the term “spiritual, but not religious”, I’d say it was a good description. While he never put it this way, he did his best to be as Christlike as possible. If you needed something and he had it, it was yours without condition; he never put material things before people. If someone was struggling, he put aside whatever he was doing and helped them. Once, as we were coming home from the hardware store, we saw a woman stranded on the roadside with a flat tire. He said, “We need to help” and pulled over. He, myself and my brother all got out and changed it for her. When she tried to say she’d handle it, my dad replied “Ma’am, this is the south. We don’t let ladies change tires”. After we were done, she offered money for our trouble, but he wouldn’t take it. He simply said, “If my wife was stuck, I hope someone would do the same for her.” That was classic Daddy and it was just one instance. I fill a book with stories of the lives he touched.
He married his high school sweetheart in 1956 and for the next 56 years never so much as looked at another woman. In fact, the only woman I ever heard him even say was attractive was country singer Connie Smith. In a very real way, he laid the groundwork for every good thing that ever happened to me.
After the Air Force, my father worked a variety of jobs before taking the U. S. Post Office exam. Before that, job security was fleeting at best. After was a different story; he put in 30+ years there, starting out as a clerk and retiring as a computer routing specialist. Years later, we were working on something at the house when the subject of work came up. 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. Because that’s what a real man does.