My father died over 30 years ago. It was an unusual highway accident. About a year before my father-in-law had died in a freak accident. Since then I have believed firmly that accidents happen and there is absolutely no reason; they happen to good people who in no way cause those accidents. Both men died almost instantly. Both men had recently retired and were enjoying a more leisurely life than they had ever had before. Neither were very prosperous but both had sufficient income to feel comfortable with their means since neither lived in any way extravagantly and planned to continue their frugal lives with their wives of many, many years. They died too young, both in their early 60s and both healthy. Their widows were devastated but lived on within a community that supported them. I won't relate the accidents which were in no way their fault and could not have been avoided. Deaths at that age were not unusual, women often had examples in the community for how to cope with widowhood. And they did. Grown children were in the period of building their own careers and families and they did so.
My father had worked hard all his life. He stopped going to school after the 5th grade in order to be of use to his parents. He was the second of seven sons, of which only four lived to maturity and one of them died in his twenties of tuberculosis. He came of age in the Great Depression in a part of the country where being a farmer was a way of live where there was enough to eat. You and your wife had a garden, you had pigs and cows and chickens. Perhaps you did not have much else; but nobody around you had much either. There was no disgrace and, within the rural white Protestant community of the eastern Midwest where a couple of generations past the emigrant experience, not many set their sights on success beyond having a well tended farm and a decent house.
Many years later when I tried to explain to the a son of a European immigrant that my family did not teach me ambition, I was met with incomprehension. I believe my parents were content with what they had achieved; I believe they truly loved one another and their children -- although this particular one they did not understand. As one grows older, the maturation of the seeds of early lessons, especially the lessons of example, are seen in all their importance. My father and mother were honest people, they worked hard and they were content. There was no drama in my family, no alcoholics, no outlaws, no naked ambition, no raw sex, no aextremism of any sort. How very odd such a family seems today -- and what a gift to a child, even a somewhat rebellious child who had other ideas and wanted to leave, wanted to see the world, wanted to achieve a different kind of success. Their example, solidly American WASP, solidly Midwestern, strangely brings me closer to Buddhism than anything else they could have taught me. Ego was not very important and emotions were often repressed as if they were extraneous ... and often they are, it seems to me.
So on this Father's Day I remember my semi-illiterate father visiting me when I lived in a big house and had a big library of books. He chose to read what I remember as (incorrectly I think) J.W. Cash's Mind of the South. A book of literary criticism, a subject of which he knew nothing. I supposed "south" caught his attention. He read with his lips moving. It filled an hour or two of a dull afternoon. Had he had an education, been a different person in a different milieu, who might he have been? It doesn't matter. He was a good, honest man, he worked hard, he loved his wife and children, he died too soon.
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