My father worked hard to support six children — to send us to private school, contribute to our college costs and pay for all five of his daughters’ weddings.
I wouldn’t know it for many years, but our neighbor worked three jobs much of his adult life; he wouldn’t buy his first new car until he retired.
The model for moms and dads was simple then — a difficult, rigid model in many ways.
Most moms stayed home and ran households, families and neighborhoods. They had limited career opportunities outside the home. Some worked part-time as nurses or administrative assistants, but, for the most part, the income was generated by dads.
Thus, the financial burdens of providing for large families fell squarely on dads. One neighbor of ours, a father of five, was so stressed by his accounting job that he sometimes vomited, first thing Monday morning, before heading to work.
Many fathers suffered such stress, including my father. When he was in his late 40s, he suffered chest pains at work. A co-worker got him home, but the pains worsened.
I was 16 and driving up the road toward our house as my father was being loaded into an ambulance. I recall the shock that overcame me as I raced behind the ambulance in our car.
If any word defines what it was like to grow up in my home and neighborhood, you see, it is “order.” My childhood was marked by a total lack of chaos.
As a child, I didn’t understand how lucky I was to know such order and security.
I didn’t know my happiness was a result of two people who devoted themselves to their children and each other.
So we were greatly relieved when my father’s medical tests came back negative. It was stress — nothing more — that caused his chest pains.
It is popular in some circles to criticize old-school dads. They weren’t affectionate enough. They didn’t do enough cooking and cleaning. They held rigid views on the roles of men and women.
It is true that modern dads have made improvements in these areas.
But what is also true is this: My father worked hard, yet never allotted himself more than $5 a week to buy some fresh coffee.
He never complained when he was called to work in the middle of the night.
He taught us the meaning of love, dignity, honesty, kindness and sacrifice — without talking about them.
On those rare Saturdays when he was able to relax, Pabst Blue Ribbon was his beer of choice. When I brought him and our neighbor a couple of bottles, he always let me have a sip.
That was a long time ago, but Pabst is my favorite beer now.
When I taste it, I am filled again with the security and happiness I knew so long ago, because my father was putting my needs first.
©2011 Tom Purcell. Tom Purcell, a freelance writer is also a humor columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and is nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley at 800 696 7561 or email [email protected] Email Tom at [email protected]