Growing up, Daddy was not my friend. He was my father.

Originally published on LinkedIn — February 16, 2018

I remember how nervous I felt. I was fixing to do something I had never done: I was about defy my father. Daddy had rules when I was growing up, and I was about to break two of the big ones. Daddy always said I could not smoke, or drink coffee until I was a man, and this morning I intended to do both when I sat down with him at the kitchen table. I was 19 years old.

I started smoking and drinking coffee in Marine Corps Boot Camp. [I quit smoking when I was 30 years old] After boot camp and basic infantry training, I went home for my first leave. I felt like a man now. The Marine Corps seemed to think so, but I had to establish that with my father. His opinion was most important to me.

When I awoke my first morning home, I walked into the kitchen, and Daddy sat there having coffee, and smoking a cigarette. I wished him good morning, and walked over and poured myself a cup of coffee. He was watching me without expression. I then reached into my pocket and pulled out my cigarettes, lit one, and looked him straight in the eyes. An almost imperceptible grin came to the corners of his mouth, but he never said a word. It was at this moment in time that I first, truly, felt like a man. Tacitly, Daddy had tipped his hat to me with his silence, and things would never be the same. At that moment Daddy and I became equals, men, and best friends.

Growing up, Daddy was not my friend. He was my father. He was a loving, gentle man, but strict. He was consistent and fair. He never raised his voice, but spoke firmly. We never wrestled in the floor, acted silly, or played and joked around. He took me hunting and fishing with him, taught me to love the forest creatures, and to know their habits. He taught me the names of the different trees. He taught me marksmanship, and firearm safety. But, he always maintained a “presence” and a certain distance. It seemed that he had some sense that he had this little boy to raise, who would so soon be grown and gone, and he needed to teach me some things. He was my mentor. He was always teaching.

Things He Taught Me

Daddy taught me such things as don’t talk with food in your mouth. Don’t put your elbows on the table. Say’ “Please, and thank you.” Say, “Yes sir and no sir: yes ma’am and no ma’am.” Open the door for ladies, and let them walk in first. Treat everyone with respect. If a lady drops something, pick it up for her. Stand up when a lady enters the room, and offer her your seat. Don’t interrupt adult conversation. Never back down to a bully. Be thankful for work. Be honest in dealing with others. Always tell the truth. Never spend all of your money. Don’t say”bad words” in the presence of ladies. I could go on and on. Being proper, and having good manners was important to him. I always knew exactly where I stood, and there was no confusion. If I behaved properly all was well. There was a certain sense of security, and stability in knowing where I stood, and that how my day would go was within my control.

But, as I have mused about Daddy more than usual these past several days, there is one thing I learned from him that he never once mentioned: authority. Daddy was an authority figure in my young life. His rules were my laws, and their would be consequences for disobedience: his “look” of displeasure, a warning, and, yes, an occasional spanking. This has been a lesson that has served me well as an adult.

When I observe young families today, so often the father seems to try to be a buddy, or friend to their sons. That comes later. As children are growing up they need a FATHER. Trying to be both only creates uncertainty and confusion in the mind of a child.

He was born 100 years ago, 20 February 1918. I lost him in 1990, but he has lived on in my heart and soul each day. Happy Birthday, Daddy. You were a great, old fashioned father. I’m thankful.