Blog Post #2
“Till I die I will not remove mine integrity from me.” Job 27:5
My father just celebrated his 91st birthday, which has spurred me to reflect on his remarkable life. Not until recently did it occur to me how truly remarkable many of his life choices were. As a child, I was oblivious to his strong will, drive, and determination. But with each passing year, his focused effort, tenacity, self-initiated learning and dedication to family set an example even a child could not miss.
From humble beginnings, he saw his deficiencies and worked diligently to overcome them. His mother withdrew all of her children from school when her own mother died. Because of this, Daddy became two years behind his grade school classmates, putting him in an awkward position. Because he was older and stronger than the other kids in his grade, he was a defender of the younger kids against bullies and got into scrapes to protect them.
After failing to complete an assignment during the second grade, his teacher made him stay after school to memorize the poem he hadn’t prepared earlier. He not only memorized the poem, but still recites it today:
(I have written it the way he always recites it, which is slightly different from the original.)
That was the beginning of a long and deliberate exercise in committing to memory everything from facts and figures to complicated family pedigrees.
Moving to Italy with his family at age thirteen, he spent three years in Sicily—never attending a day of school during that time. Circumstances bordering on the miraculous made it possible for him to leave Italy prior to WWII, where he was being tracked for entry into the Italian Navy. He was a U.S. citizen and did not want to serve a fascist country. Patriotic to the core, he has always been an advocate for America.
Fast forward to 1942—World War II. Daddy enlisted, and was stationed in Bermuda with the Naval Air Corps, serving in the North Atlantic Theater as a Photographer’s Mate 2nd class, and an aerial gunner.
One of his buddies bet Daddy fifty cents that he would take up smoking before the end of the war. Guess who won the fifty cents! He never took up the habit. The dollar amount was less important than the principle involved. His iron will and the inner drive to win the bet did the trick. He also abstained from swearing and drinking—deliberate choices. It never occurred to me how remarkable this was until I was much older.
Equally astonishing was how he spent his free time. When his navy pals were carousing in bars, you’ll never guess where Daddy was! He was in the library memorizing poetry such as Poe’s Raven. He had quite a repertoire when I was a child. On our outings, he recited poetry and sang opera arias that I also grew to love.
He tells the story of when he was scheduled for a routine air patrol at night. A specified number of hours in the air had to be logged by a deadline each month if he wanted to receive more pay; this particular flight would accomplish that. When the time for the flight arrived, he found his buddy—who was also scheduled for the flight—totally inebriated. Rather than leave his friend for the better pay, he helped him get home, cleaned up, and to bed, only to find out in the morning that all men on the flight they missed were never seen or heard of again.
I have always felt the significance of this story, and the impact on Daddy’s life, and on mine! Now that I’m older, I realize how critical his choices and preparation were to the outcome.
After the war, he set high standards of fidelity, hard work, and dedication to family for which I’ll always be grateful. Earning two college degrees without first having a high school education was a feat of sheer determination. Married to our mother for nearly fifty years before her passing, he was devoted to her and to our family. We knew where he stood because his feet were firmly rooted in living what he believed, and because he shared his convictions with us through word and deed.
My father often qualifies his stories about the war with the fact that he never saw any real “action” during the four years of his service. But in my mind, his “actions” in the navy, in marriage, and in life in general are noteworthy—deserving a medal for strength of character, compassion, faithfulness, generosity, love, and courage. He has always walked a path of individual integrity, and in doing so, has often stood alone.
That makes him a true hero to me.