Lessons from my Father
My father ran a barbershop on Main Street for more than forty years, known to many in Piedmont who enjoyed a talk about politics or a good joke while getting a trim. Dad was a man of iron will and integrity who ran his life his way and thought for himself. His sister Louise said, “Like our father he was truly an individualist.” He taught himself how to repair small appliances, watches, radios, and TVs. His opinions were his own, not parroted from someone else.
Dad would never let anyone else win an argument. After college, I went to California where I spent most of my life, often working overseas. I wasn’t a very good son, but I came to love and respect my father greatly in later years. Visits home were especially enjoyable for the subtle humor of my parents, things you would have to think for a second before realizing what it meant. At my father’s funeral, the operator of the funeral home, who knew Dad, had managed to put an expression on Dad’s face that reflected him perfectly. One I used to see often, a sly smile that seemed to say he knew a secret no one else was going to find out. I struggled for many years to find what I believed in. I could have avoided a lot of mistakes had I just listened to my father when I was young, much of what came to be my philosophy of life was the same as his. Sadly, much of what I now would like to tell him, I never did in the “living years.”
I would say the hallmarks of my father’s philosophy were, independent thought, self-reliance, respect for reality, integrity, and respect for others (when deserved).
I used to have a friend in California who seemed to always have an informed opinion about everything. After listening to him carefully, I realized that it was just what he had read in the latest news magazine, even down to the phrasing of the sentences. Not my father! He arrived at his own opinions. If it was difficult to argue with him, it was because he had thought about the issue already, and could back up his arguments. I think he understood if you don’t think for yourself, you are destined to be a slave to someone else.
I think the most abhorrent concept for my parents was to accept a handout, I honestly believe they would have starved rather than live off someone’s charity. They made it through the Depression, and provided for the family by their own labor, on their own terms, despite never having the training or opportunity to have a “safe” job with a big company. My father believed firmly in the value and virtue of hard work and self-reliance, starting me out shining shoes in his shop when I was about 11.
While my mother would often cringe at what she saw on the nightly news, my father knew this was the real world. He had no illusions that one could create a Garden of Eden from a pig farm. He knew some people were cruel, some lazy, some ruthless and not to be trusted. He could spot bull at a distance, and felt free to call it that no matter who the source. He knew if you tried to fake or deny reality, you would get fleeced.
I think one of the finest things about my father was his integrity. What he believed in was a rock from which he operated, and I never saw him waiver from standing on that rock. His values determined how he should act and respond to others, something we should all do. He was not always happy with what people did and he wasn’t always liked for taking a stand, but take a stand he would.
My father was always respectful to people unless they demonstrated to him that they didn’t deserve it. When he sold his mother’s home after her death, he gave the buyer a no-down, no-interest, affordable monthly payment arrangement because he felt the buyer was an honest man. Dad would gladly pay a little more to buy something from someone he knew and trusted, rather that trying to get the best deal at some unknown business. If someone came into the shop that Dad didn’t especially like, he would be courteous but not engage the person much until he left, then Dad would feel free to be bluntly honest.
My dad’s character and values are worthy of consideration by anyone seeking to clarify their own philosophy of life, something sorely lacking by many in my generation. I hope something from him will live on to help us on our way.