Remembering My Father
Today, the 20-year anniversary of my father's death, finds me contemplating that my niece and nephew who will graduate from high school during the upcoming weeks never met their grandfather. My five younger nieces never met him either. How will they remember someone they never met? Only two generations, and his story could be lost... In my dad's honor, I excerpt here a piece that I wrote for my high school alumnae newsletter earlier this year about my second career:
The seed for my Life Stories work was planted in 1996, when I used three vacation days from my job as a reporter for the South Bend Tribune to interview my father about his life. The interviews took place on the rural Jasper farm where I grew up and where my father had lived since moving in with his godparents there as a grade-schooler in the early 1930s.
My father, 75, had been diagnosed with leukemia a couple decades before, and by the time we sat down to talk about his life he also had lung cancer and skin cancer. He was frail. He sat in the recliner in the living room, whence he could look out the south and west windows and see the weathered, century-old barn and red chickenhouse, cropland as well as woodland, and traffic passing on the county road that provided his address. It was his favorite seat in the house. On Day 1, he tolerated my questions. By Day 3, he had opened up more than I had hoped for and I broached the topics of his declining health and his brother’s suicide some 30 years earlier.
With time out for coughing spells, my dad kept up with my questions. During our time together, I especially noticed how it tired him to walk even from the living room to the adjacent kitchen for light meals. When he walked to the bathroom, just one more door farther, he needed to sit down to rest along the way.
I intended to write my father’s life story for our family, and especially for him, to read and enjoy. He and my mom each had only an eighth-grade education and raised nine children with only a farmer’s income. I wanted the written story to help my dad see the many accomplishments that he and so many others like him didn’t think of as anything extraordinary. By 1996 (and even more so in 2016) I knew that his strong work ethic, persistence and loyalty were not to be taken for granted.
Four months after those interviews, my father died. Some of his stories ended up in his eulogy, which I wrote and delivered, long before they were joined into a book with later interviews of my mother.
That’s not the way I had planned it. I should have written his story sooner...
If you have a parent still living, ask him or her TODAY just a few questions about his or her childhood and early adulthood. Write down the answers. You — and your children's children — will be glad you did.