A Father’s Day Tribute
dedicated to my father
Over the years I’ve written many poems about my father, but this Father’s Day post, won’t be a replay of old poetry. I just feel the need to share with the world a little about the man who helped me become the woman I am today.
My father was a real life war hero, recipient of a bronze star with oak leaf cluster and the purple heart, but that’s a very minor part of why he was a hero to me. In his own mind, he was an average guy who didn’t think a whole lot of himself, and in fact, told me on more than one occasion that he thought he was a failure. Nothing could be further from the truth.
He was born the youngest of twelve children in Bremen, Germany. He was a “change of life” baby, his mother being 42 years old when he was born, his father 48. His oldest sister was 21 years his senior, and only six of the twelve survived to adulthood. He was very close to his father, but unlike his older siblings, the connection was more a meeting of the minds than a father kicking a ball around to his son. History, geography, and politics became lifelong passions, forged from early conversations with his father, and he became someone who would always speak up for what he believed was right. As a teenager, rather than join the Hitler Youth, he gave up his favorite pastimes of soccer and swimming. He and a friend were badly beaten when he refused to salute the Nazi flag in a passing parade.
My grandfather passed away when my father was 16; it was his dying wish that my father leave Germany before he could be snatched up by the army. So, at 17 years of age, alone and speaking no English, my father left home and family to come to America, never again to set foot on German soil. Sponsored by his older brother, Gene, who was already in the States, he took any job he could get. He taught himself to read and write English from the comics in the newspaper.
When the United States joined the war, my father went into the army to fight for his new country. He attained his US citizenship while he was in boot camp in May of 1943, and was sent to fight in the European front. He and his brother, Gene, were both fighting for the Allies, while two of his other brothers were in the German army. I can only imagine how awful it must be to think that at any time you could be shooting at your own brother. My father told me many times that he would never have let himself be captured by the Germans, because he knew what they would do to him, being a “traitor” to their cause, and the effects would filter back to his mother and other family still living in Bremen.
Life wasn’t easy for my father after the war; he’d seen so much horror, things that plagued his dreams for the rest of his life. While he understood there was a time for war, his experiences made him a pacifist. He said in his experience anyone who talked a lot about their war experiences probably hadn’t seen much action, and believed anyone who’d been in a war, wouldn’t ever want to see another.
My father was a shy man, yet he asked my mother to marry him on their first date. She made him wait a while, but she eventually said yes. She used to say he needed someone to watch out for him because he was too easygoing and people took advantage of him. Their life wasn’t easy, but my father loved my mother and was over the moon when he found out he was going to be a father. They lived in New York, my mother’s parents living with them or in the next apartment. He worked two jobs to support his family, and helped my mother with the housework at a time when men didn’t generally do that. When my aging grandfather, who was the superintendent in one of the apartments, could no longer shovel the coal or bring up the heavy garbage cans on his own, my father took on that task too, so my grandparents could keep their apartment rent free. He loved my mother with all his heart and would do anything for her. When we went out as a family (which we did often), they would hold hands, and even when they fought, they never went to bed angry. In later years, when my mother fell victim to illness and Alzheimer’s disease, he took care of her. They were married for 53 years when she passed, and he never stopped grieving for her until the day he died.
My father was the best father in the world. Many people say that about their father, but my father really was. He was my Daddy–he always had time for my sister and me, even after a long day at work. He never hit us or even yelled much. He’d play games with us and let us win (unlike my mother who always played to win, no matter how old you were). He’d make up stories about how different towns got their names when we took the train, or sit on the bed next to us, making galloping noises and pretending we were on a sleigh ride. He was always bringing home things for us. A simple hole puncher instigated playing train conductor with a line of kitchen chairs dragged into the living room. There was a coloring book and crayons the time I had pink eye, and he gave me my first Beatle record. When I became a full-blown Beatlemaniac, he’d make fun of them and say it was “garbage music,” but whenever there was any mention of them in the news, he’d bring home the paper and say, “There’s something in there about your stinking Beatles,” because he knew I saved everything in a scrapbook. After he’d heard a few Beatle tunes played by an orchestra, he changed his tune, and later became a fan of John Lennon and his peace efforts. My sister recently found that scrapbook as she was cleaning out the last of my father’s things, and as wonderful as it was to turn the yellowed pages and relive old memories, it was bittersweet too. I can’t help thinking that my father saved it for 50 years because those memories were important to him, because they had been important to me.
As I got older, he became more than just my Daddy; we were friends. We’d have long talks about everything and anything or go to the movies together. He was always proud of me, even when the choices I made weren’t the ones he would’ve preferred, and I always knew he was always on my side. Even as an adult, he was there to protect me from bugs and rodents or someone who hurt my feelings. He set the standard for what a husband and father should be, and I knew I wouldn’t settle for less when I made my own choice of life partner.
And all those things he did with me and my sister, he continued to do for his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Once they were out of the infant stage and could hold their head up safely, he had no problem babysitting or changing dirty diapers. He sang German nursery rhymes to them, played games, jumped rope, went for walks, planted trees, and made magic for them. Each of his grandchildren believes they were his favorite–quite a legacy to be able to convince so many that you love them best, but he did it effortlessly, just by being himself.
He was a simple man. He loved his family, his country, baseball and soccer. He was proud to share his birthday with his adopted country. He liked to laugh and have a good time. He liked to sing–though his voice was so bad a teacher once told him to sit down because he was throwing everyone else off-key. He liked to dance–though his dancing wasn’t much better than his singing. Everyone who knew him liked him. He was that kind of guy. I’m sure looking down, he was shocked by how many people took off work to come to his funeral and memorial. I almost could hear him saying, “I didn’t expect this.”
And that’s why he was, and always will be, my hero. Happy Father’s Day, Daddy.
Wishing a very Happy Father’s Day to all the Dad’s out there!