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Father's Day - A Commentary

By Stephen Whitley, KERA 90.1 Commentator

Dallas, TX – My father has to be the most difficult man in the world to buy a gift for. He doesn't have any hobbies like hunting or fishing. To his credit, he has never played golf or tennis. He no longer rides horses or ropes calves, so he rarely needs a new pair of cowboy boots or a hat. Mostly, my dad just wants his four children to come home for Father's Day and visit him. Today, I don't have a problem driving to Winnsboro to spend some time with my dad, who loves to take us out in the pickup to count the cows. I realize as he gets older how important it is to make the most of my time with him. But there was a time when I was not very willing to spend time with my dad.

I grew up on a farm, and a boy on the farm is usually a good source of free labor. When I got old enough to carry fence posts, or to throw hay to cattle off the back of a moving truck in the pasture, my dad wanted me to go everywhere with him. I hated every minute of working on the farm. I couldn't stand getting dirty, and I was always either extremely hot or cold. The last thing I wanted to do was get on a tractor and rake hay or to "work cows," where my task was to hold a cow's nose with these tongs that kept their heads still while my dad would give them worm medicine and shots for whatever ailments cows in Texas get. I couldn't wait to graduate from high school and get as far away from cows and horses and hay as I could. I certainly didn't want to be a farmer when I grew up. But my dad loved this type of stuff, and I think the only place he was really happy was on a horse riding around his land, looking at his cattle, deciding which cow would calve next, or walking fence rows to see where repairs were needed.

I used to think he only had the farm to torment me, to make my life miserable. Now I realize this farm was his second job, and the small amount of money he made off the farm sent my sister and me to college, bought my first car, paid for my parents' house, and provided me with a huge, safe playground. My dad would leave for his primary job at 7 a.m. every morning, work all day, then at 4:30 would come home and work two, three, and in the summer, sometimes even five hours more on the farm. I used to resent my dad and the way I felt he treated me when I was growing up, like a servant or a hired hand.

I remember the day I started seeing my dad in a different light. I realized one day a couple of years ago that when my dad was my age, he was raising two children from his first marriage by himself; he worked hard all day, then had to come home and work to keep his farm and family going. While every cent I made was mine to do with as I pleased, Dad always had to think of someone else and rarely bought himself anything he wanted just for the sake of having it. If I had that kind of pressure on me, I would probably be in a bad mood every now and then, too. I found a new level of respect for my dad and what he has accomplished in his life, from a poor boy living in the Big Woods of East Texas who carried his lunch to school in a syrup bucket, to a young kid who went to the South Pacific during World War II to serve his country without complaining, to a man who sent his kids to college and provided his family with stability and security and love beyond anything he knew growing up. While he wasn't the dad I always thought he should have been, I'm not exactly the son he expected, either, so we're probably pretty even.

The word "hero" is thrown around in a lot of ways to describe a lot of people. My idea of a hero is the man who worked for 50-plus years to give his family a better life and more opportunities than he had growing up. My definition of a hero is the man who always thought of what his kids wanted before he thought of what he might have needed. In my mind, that's a pretty good example of what to be when I grow up.