I’m as big a sucker for “feel-good” movies as any person around. Unlike most tough guys, I can watch a “chick flick” with Amy. In fact, one of the best movies I’ve seen is “The Notebook.” There’s something about it that speaks to all of us who’ve been married for most of our lives.
Just the other day, I watched “October Sky” for the third of fourth time. Maybe I was in one of those moods that comes along every so often, but whatever the reason, I found myself wrapped up in the scene where the father talks about a famous scientist being the son’s hero. The boy counters that his dad is his real hero.
Bang! Just like that, I’m flooded with emotion. It’s one of those lines that all dads want to hear their kids utter. I know I have. Of course, many of us who are fathers make too many mistakes to ever see ourselves as heroes.
I choose to believe that most dads do the best the can…or the best they know how to do. That’s what was true for me. My dad died when he was 53 and I was 13. Even in that short time, he grew to hero status in my eyes. The man was a stern, no-nonsense individual that did not suffer fools or silly sons well. He played ball with us one time, and I saw him in a bathing suit once for just a few minutes. The rest of the time he stayed in our rented cottage on the beach and swept the sand out the door.
His hero status grew more after his death and during my maturation. I realized how much he sacrificed for our family. Without an education, he slaved at a paper mill from the time he returned from the army where he served as a cook. Rotating shift work in a place that would today be declared a hazardous site sapped his strength and health. Still, he provided for us.
My dad was short on education but long on intelligence. He sat at the kitchen table with a green mug filled with motor-oil thick coffee, a pack of Winston cigarettes, and a small pad. There he figured out the budget for our family and how to stretch too little money over too much month.
He was wise too. Daddy rarely uttered negative comments about others. He stressed education and demanded that we boys perform well in school. Most of all, this man expected us to behave at all times. My dad often told us that we might not be able to do well in all subjects, but we always could behave. A bad conduct grade was worse than a poor academic grade and brought about a strong lecture, a pronouncement of disappointment, or even a “tanning of a behind.”
|My dad, Dallas Rector|
Even as he faced the last months of life, Dal Rector showed his heroism. He had scraped enough money together to hide in places, and he would give instructions to our mother as to what drawer she was to look to find cash and toward what bill it should go. He left us with a small insurance policy that made life just a bit easier for Mother as she faced bringing up three boys on her own.
I tried to emulate my dad in some ways. Like him, I demanded that my children behave at all times, and when they didn’t, swats across their bottoms came with swiftness. I pushed and prodded them about school and am proud to say that both earned college degrees.
Unlike him, I played with my kids. I pushed them to play baseball for one year and later continued to push them to participate in that game, soccer, and band. Yes, I was overbearing on many occasions, and yes, at times my kids resented me and that pushiness. I only hope that they understand as I came to understand my dad’s demands.
In the end, every dad would like to be his child’s hero. Such an honor makes the tough times easier to bear. If not that, just being told that these men have done a good job is welcome news. Dads are proud of their children; they can only hope the feeling is mutual with the own children.