I wanted to phone my father from Southern Utah. When recently we drove through the national park everyone calls “Arches,” its red rocks carved by millions of erosive years into magnificent sculpture, I almost reached for the phone.
It was the kind of natural scene he liked to hear about.
Fathers are thought about more than they know. Mothers get the roses, fathers the good intentions. They are the citadels of life, or at least my daddy was. The recent D-Day anniversary, Father’s Day on its heels — reminders that a phone call is no longer possible.
I’m not so sure of the sobriquet “greatest generation.” Every generation has its great and its weak, its dutiful and its shirkers. My father shrugged off obstacles without ever whining, which certainly made for a great example.
We didn’t agree about everything politically, yet our life philosophies were pretty much the same. We agreed on old “Bonanza” reruns and baseball, music and lawn mowers, the truly important stuff. He also loved the ocean and worried about the Gulf of Mexico after Katrina and the BP oil spill. We agreed the working man too often got the shaft.
My father believed a country should take care of its weakest citizens, the elderly and poor and, of course, its wounded veterans. A veteran of World War II and the Pacific campaign himself, the first and only benefit he accepted for his service was the bronze plaque at the foot of his grave. But the wounded, that’s different.
He watched the weather in four directions — Colorado, Kentucky, Georgia and Mississippi — checking with his four children if a cloud appeared on their respective horizon.
He spared us his own concerns — weather, health, financial — as long as he possibly could. We would find out about a hospital visit after the fact, or a tornado when the cleanup was done.
Fathers seem different now, but not necessarily diminished. It is good, I think, that more men watch their babies being born and take more of a role in rearing them. It gladdens my heart to see fathers at elementary-school plays and concerts, ballparks and ice-cream parlors.
My father worked on the road and missed a lot of the frills and busywork of our childhoods. It was my mother who made the glee club concerts and piano recitals and PTA cupcakes. He prioritized, I guess you’d say, and keeping a good job and a roof over our heads came before chaperoning a choir tour or coaching little league.
You could count on my daddy, however, when the issue was major, when cars stalled in the night or dogs died or money ran short. When you had to report a divorce or a death or a D in biology, he was the man to call.
Those emergency calls mounted up over the years. I wonder now if he dreaded hearing the phone ring. “Daddy, I need to tell you something.” A child with another problem.
But I always knew for certain he’d be there, on the other end of the line, dispensing advice from the high hill of his old age, wisdom earned the hard way at war and work for nearly nine decades.
What I would give to call him up right now.
To find out more about Rheta Grimsley Johnson and her books, visit www.rhetagrimsleyjohnsonbooks.com.