Times were hard. The Depression had left its mark. There were few jobs for women, and most of the men were miners or workers in the plant connected with the mines.
Fathers or uncles or grandfathers with good health and time on their hands were hard to come by. School was considered a luxury, not a necessity. And there were no psychiatrists and no shrinks to help folks work through grief or financial burdens.
They had their faith and their kin. But it was their life, and they managed. As the children grew up, married, and had families, they proved the value of a dedicated work ethic.
The girls were good mothers, having grown up with a mother who worked hard, disciplined harder and loved beyond measure. The boys became good fathers, although the younger ones had few, if any, memories of their own father.
They say we are given a portion of parenting sense as nature takes its course, but we also have lots to learn by experience. We make mistakes.
I often think of my grandmother’s creed about discipline. She taught me, “You have to conquer children. They have to be made to understand that you are in charge.” And she did that with physical punishment. She would be in jail today.
We’ve come a long way in that regard. In fact, the very word “parenting” did not enter our language until 1958. (Coincidentally, our children were born in 1955,’56 and ’57.) Before that time, what were we doing?
But I digress. Because the MOTH grew up in a heavily populated, noisy household, he was all too familiar with crying babies and quarreling siblings. He easily took “parenting” in stride once he was one himself. Since neither of us knew a father in our formative pre-teens and later, we had to take one day at a time with our own children.
Thankfully, I was blessed with a grandfather who was also an integral part of our lives early in our marriage and all of my life until then.
On every Father’s Day, I honor him. And on every Father’s Day, I honor the father of my children, who will tell you that he is the best. And he’s turning into the best grandpa and great-grandpa ever as well. That means he is a role model himself.
My own father did not figure at all in my day-to-day life as a child. After his death in 1961, we discovered that he had two children from an earlier marriage we never knew about.
I’ve come to believe that in me, his child born almost 20 years after his other children, he was trying to atone for the fact that he had abandoned them. In notes and letters that he wrote to me (as a 3-year-old and later as a wife and mother), it seems he wanted not to make that mistake again.
He desperately wanted to be a “real” family this second time around. Although my mother (whose own mother was illiterate) did not credit him with any influence, it is somewhat noteworthy that she always told me that she wanted me to go to Agnes Scott after high school, and she insisted I learn piano and take Latin and read, read, read.
She did tell me about seeing Verdi’s “Aida” with my father. (He sent a picture postcard once showing the Municipal Auditorium in Denver, where I was born. Around the edge he wrote, “Your Mamma and I were here once. You were there also. Those were happy days.”)
I have seldom acknowledged him on Father’s Day in years past, but the more I learn about him, the more I have come to understand his actions. He and his brother grew up without a mother or step-mother, leaving his father to parent alone. When she died, my father was 6 years old, and his brother was 1 year old. Men in that situation, including our son-in-law John, must be the cream of the dad crop.
As my research continues, I hope to discover more about my father and in doing so, more about myself. And this year, I plan to remember him in some tangible way, freely acknowledging my gratitude for whatever he may have contributed to my life.
And to that other guy, The MOTH, Happy Father’s Day. You have some really great kids.
Juanita Hughes is retired head of the Woodstock Library.