eNewsChannels COLUMN: When you keep someone alive in your heart, it can make a difference in the way you act towards others. Looking back at the death of my dad nearly a decade-and-a-half ago helps me maintain my view of him while changing my view of others.
I like to believe that everything good about my father is inside me, but somehow I don’t think I measure up. True, there are things I can do that he would not even attempt, like coping with all the misinformation on the Internet or making noises on a guitar. But these are mundane when compared with my father’s life. He had qualities of humanity that ran deep. Things like decency and dependability were with him in abundance.
His virtues eventually became my aspirations (it’s good to have lofty goals) but this was not the case when I was in high school; back then, the very things that made him a good man seemed uncool to me.
That attitude changed when I entered what adults call real life. The more interaction I had with the bad in the world, the more I needed to consider the good in both my parents.
Sometimes I looked for ways to show my mother and father how I felt about them. Simple stuff, as in buying flowers for my mom or office supplies for my dad. Yup, whenever I went into an office products store, I tried finding something to get him. From a package of pencils to a filing system gizmo, he liked stationery items so much that he seemed to enjoy things for which he may have had little use.
One day, I was moving through the aisles of paper, pens, envelopes, etc., looking for a gift for him. And a strange thing began to happen . . . an oppressive weight gradually built up on my shoulders . . . the air was being sucked out of my lungs . . . and the sonic properties of the room conspired to funnel a rush of static into my ears until I wanted to scream . . . .
The explanation was simple. It was all because earlier in that week, my father had been handed a piece of paper that said he may be able to live just one more year.
That day, I left the store without making a purchase. The way I figured it, he was soon to get all the answers the Infinite has to give, so what could I possibly get him for Christmas?
Love & Its Opposite
Love was the only thing I could come up with. It’s all we’ve really got to give to one another. So I wrote a version of this article and gave it to him. After reading it, he said “I’m not that good.” But he had a very nice smile while he thought about it.
There was a collective mourning at his passing, and that was a fine display of love for a wonderful man. Although he was not considered wonderful by everyone. . .
* Fools didn’t like Fred. Which was fine since he didn’t suffer them gladly.
* Civil servants didn’t like Fred. Which was fine since he believed in doing an honest day’s work.
* Charlatans didn’t like Fred. Which was fine since he had more than a passing acquaintance with the truth.
* Politicians didn’t like Fred. Which was fine since he had more than a passing acquaintance with the truth.
But a lot of people liked my dad. After he died, I heard from several men who told me that my father was responsible for their being hired for jobs that changed their lives. He spoke up for people. He believed in them.
Perception and Reality
I was at the house when he got phone calls from a couple of national magazines, asking him about one of his students who had recently made the news. “No comment,” he said, and hung up the phone. “Dad, one of those was Time magazine,” I said. “Why did you do that?” He smiled and said, “Think about when you saw some news being made. Maybe at a sporting event or a political speech. And then think about how it was reported. The media uses quotes from people to boost ratings or circulation, not to clarify the story. The truth will have to come out later, after some reflection.”
He had inner strength. He had conviction. He had ethics. And more so than many adults, he still had some of the wide-eyed wonder of the six-year-old as well as the cockiness of the eighteen-year-old. Once I was a cameraman on a documentary about a computing project involving my dad and a bunch of university students. I wish we had been filming one brief conversation he had with a student during a break. “Professor, I’ve just got to get a ‘C’ in your class,” the student said. “Please do,” my father replied.
Quirks, Betrayal & Acceptance
Being aware of his own personal quirks, he was tolerant in dealing with ours. In many areas, he could let bygones be bygones, but when confronted with professional chicanery or lapses in morality, he could not forget. Those who crossed that line were always viewed with wary eyes. What often astonished me was his ability to shrug off terrible human behavior if it was something he knew he could not change.
For example, our family was betrayed by a person we had welcomed into our hearts. But he was not thrown into the depths of despair as I was. The wanton acts of cruelty toward us hurt him deeply, yet he bore the pain with quiet dignity. While I am still apt to use the word “evil” in describing the actions of the woman in question, he was content to label it insanity. Which lets her off the hook, in my opinion, but perhaps his way of coping is the better one.
Honoring his Spirit
My dad was what they call a straight-shooter. When he encountered something that was stupid, he was very likely to make a profound statement like, “Hey, that’s stupid.” The guy wrote nearly three dozen books on mathematics and computing, but he could be pretty down-to-earth. And somehow, there was a lot of power in a smart guy making a statement like that. I respect this approach, and we need more of it in the world. I recommend we all “pull a Fred” on people.
When someone says something like “keep government hands off my Medicare” or “corporations are people,” sing out with a hearty, “Hey, that’s stupid!” If anyone gives you any friction over this, just tell them, “I’m sorry if the truth disturbs you, but I am simply honoring the spirit of my dead friend Fred.”
He’d like that for several reasons. Because it would shake things up. Because it would call attention to a twisted status quo. And because it would make the complacent uncomfortable.
In a world that was image, he was substance.
In a time that was expedient, he was principle.
In a place that was now, he was forever.
Which is how long he will live in my heart.
Article and photograph are Copr. © 2011 by John Scott G. All rights reserved. Originally published on eNewsChannels.com.