From generation to generation, the decisions a father makes set a trajectory for his family’s future. In some cases, those choices may beckon showers of blessing upon his progeny. In others, rather less-savory substances may drizzle down as the verdict on judgment found wanting.
My Grandpa Summers was born to a farm family as the last of eight children, and from what I’ve been given to understand, Great-Granddaddy was pretty hard on the lot of them. When Grandpa left the house, he followed in his father’s line of work, eking out a living on the crop-bearing potential of questionable plots of land, or chasing after other suspect whispers of opportunity. There was a lot of moving from here to there, taking his family from Kansas to Idaho and back. My grandpa also favored his father’s methods in the treatment of his family – quick to yell, quick to punish and slow to praise. Stress, availability and disposition led him to take up smoking and drinking (thankfully those impulses were checked in short order when he learned that Grandma wasn’t for punching).
By the time I first remember him, the alcohol had mercifully dried up, but he was still putting chimneys to shame. Our earliest memories of Grandpa were not especially fond. He remained largely aloof from us kids, unless he took a fancy to yell at us for being kids, which of course afforded him plenty of opportunity. In retrospect, I look at it as simply a misguided effort to show us affection. It was only when we became teenagers that I remember him beginning to interact with us as people, and not as pests. He shared with us stories from his youth and boyhood, and we got a sense of the life-tracks laid in the wet mud of his early life, which he just never seemed able to redirect. I suspect he had a lot of regrets toward the end, but I never remember him speaking of them.
Somehow though, between the time my grandfather ruled his roost and my dad oversaw his, something changed in our family’s dynamics, and I didn’t adequately appreciate it until after I’d grown up. My brother and I simply took for granted that we enjoyed the stability of one home over the entire course of our lives; that my dad provided for all of us with a decent job as an electrical engineer, and that the culture of our family did not include any trace of Grandad’s vices whatsoever. And while Dad was perhaps not as fawning and affectionate as some fathers, he resisted the temptation to treat us as his father had treated him. He was approachable, concerned about our challenges in life, and willing to help us face them. This represented a distinct shift from the trajectory of his father’s rearing.
All of this stems from the crucial decision he made in his youth that he would not follow in his father’s footsteps; scratching out a bare subsistence on the plains of Kansas, and succumbing to the stress-relieving addictions at a poor farmer’s disposal. Instead, he would take advantage of opportunities afforded him to chart a completely different course for his life and that of his future family. So he joined the Navy to pay for his college, got an engineering degree, established himself financially, married my mother at 28, and had his first son at age thirty; older than had his father, but on a straight and firmly laid track.
My dad was far from perfect – a bit like his sons in that regard – but he single-handedly altered the trajectory of his lineage by taking the hard road to a path different from the one trodden by my grandfather’s poor choices. Yes, we’re all responsible for the decisions we make in life, but it’s a lot easier to choose right when you’re raised with the right example.
Thank you, Dad, for your example. Happy Father’s Day.
Love, your first-born son,