Monday 12th June, 2006

 
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Salute to my Dad

I need far more than Father’s Day to honour my father, a hardworking, decent man who quietly accomplished the impossible. My father found a way to protect us all from the woes of the world.

Of course like all children, I never realised what a marvellous feat he had accomplished. I thought living on a dairy farm in rural Ohio was drudgery. There were moments when I enjoyed roaming through the hills and picking blackberries; riding my brown and white pinto horse through quiet fields or feeding a baby calf a giant bottle of milk just after it was taken from its mother. I never once realised those simple events were the end of an era.

Today, few if any fathers could accomplish what my father did. It is impossible to protect children even in our own homes. Watching TV, going to the movies, switching on a computer and even listening to the radio can be hazardous to your health.  

When I was a child, my father acted as a deejay, spinning one of those old-fashioned 45 records with Ray Charles moaning, “Take these chains from my heart and set me free...” Elvis Presley snarled his way through Hound Dog and Benny Goodman pierced the night with his mournful clarinet.

During the day while my father planted wheat or milked cows, we switched on the radio and listened to Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and The Beatles. The bad boys of early rock and roll were the Rolling Stones. That’s as bad as it got. We didn’t know enough to translate cryptic messages about LSD in The Beatles’ Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, but we did have a clear understanding that drugs would make you a freak.

We certainly didn’t switch on the radio—as my children now do—and hear marijuana glorified. We didn’t hear deejays cursing and talking nonsense.   Deejays even had proper grammar when they spoke. They knew their music and they knew the history of their music.  Crime was something confined to the television with stories that seemed so remote to us. We were aware that the world was changing: Martin Luther King was marching on Selma, Alabama; Governor George Wallace was a menace to Georgia, and Malcolm X was frightening, but we had arrowheads to gather and a black dog named Rocky to teach how to herd cows.

Our peace was threatened by water moccasins, poisonous snakes invading our yards. The biggest worry we had was rain threatening to mildew the bales of hay laying in the fields.   

We had not yet heard of computers. There was no cyberspace—just astronauts in outer space circling the Earth in space capsules and talking about landing on the moon. When they finally did, my grandmother swore she could see where the astronauts planted the flag.  

When my father locked the door for the night, we felt safe. We didn’t have to worry about predators luring us into cyberspace. There was no danger lurking in our bedrooms. Nothing but chirping crickets and croaking frogs disturbed the peace.

Even television was kind. Kurt Russell acted in a weekly series called Jamie McPheeters, Walt Disney hosted a family show that sometimes featured his animated characters, and Bonanza showed us how close a family of only males could be.

The gun battles were fake and the bad guys usually were the only ones who died. If a good guy died, the bad guy was punished. We could clearly tell right from wrong in the television shows we saw. Dying on TV was hardly a gruesome event. You didn’t see knives and blood. There were gun shots and hands slapped across the heart as bodies stumbled and fell to the ground with a thud.  

The closest we got to nudity in films was Elizabeth Taylor showing her bottom in Cleopatra, a movie that made my paternal grandmother, Flossie Faye Bennett Bowman, gasp loudly in the theatre.  

Those were simpler times. Still, it was an accomplishment for a father to find a way to protect his children so absolutely as my father had done.

We were raised without fear. We were raised to trust and respect adults. I used to sit on a knoll in the yard and look down the dirt road. I was hoping to see a cloud of dust roll my way. This would be the signal that a car was coming up the lonely road. I could go for days without seeing a car until someone opened up a dude ranch about five miles from where I lived.

After that a parade of city slickers got lost in the countryside and wandered my way. I had to give them directions to the Cedar Creek Ranch. My father taught me the directions and I felt very grown-up passing them on to strangers. It never occurred to me to be afraid of kidnappers or predators.

Yes, life was good and simple and my father made it so. I know there are a lot of good fathers out there doing their best to create decent homes for their children. I salute you in your efforts. I know it’s not easy. Times have changed.

This officially ends my trilogy on three men, SuperBlue, my Uncle Glen and my Dad, who had a major impact on my life. It is important to remember and cherish what is good in our lives. I wish that for everyone.

Next week: I have a surprising—if not shocking—announcement to make.

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