This is a post I repeat almost every Father's Day, with some edits.
It is July of 1914. The world is on the brink of World War I, going through a
series of crises, but no one knows how close to war the world is yet.
My father is too young to know. He certainly doesn't know that the life
expectancy for a male born in 1914 is only 52 years. Or that the
leading causes of death in 1914 included tuberculosis, influenza, and
diarrhea. Or that his one daughter would use something called the
"Internet" one day to blog, and to pay tribute to him.
My father was born and grew up in Brooklyn, in a neighborhood called
Brownsville. My grandfather owned a candy store, which he ran with the
help of his wife, my grandmother, and their six children.
In the 1930's, my father's mother died, from complications of high blood
pressure, an illness so easily treated today. My father ended up
quitting high school after two years.
He doesn't have
too much of an Internet presence, my father, but there
are a couple of things I can find. I looked at his record in the 1940
census, still living at home with his father and several siblings.
1942, his enlistment record in the United States Army, where his term of
enlistment was for the duration of World War II "plus six months", show
him as "single with dependents". I suspect one of the dependents was
his younger brother, the only sibling still alive today. He and two of
his sisters helped to raise my uncle after my grandmother died.
The military experience shaped his life. For the first time, he was out
of Brooklyn. He saw the South. He saw India. He would sometimes tell
me stories about his time in India as bedtime stories.
My father didn't make it to the end of the war. He suffered a head
injury and was flown back to the States. He was given an honorable
discharge but suffered the aftereffects of that injury for the rest of
After the war, my father married. Today, in fact, would have been their wedding anniversary.
When I was 12, my mother died, and my
father raised me to adulthood as a single father in his Bronx apartment
in a city housing project.
When his last sister died, in the mid 2000's, the funeral procession
didn't go directly to the cemetery. It wound through Brooklyn, going
through some neighborhoods before it got on the highway. I wondered
where we were going and why. It didn't occur to me at the time that we
were going near to where where she, and my father, had grown up (which is now in a slum). One
final tribute. My father had died almost twenty years before. I found that out afterwards.
I owe a lot to my father and the simple, everyday lessons he taught me.
He did what he could the best he knew how. He ended his life in
Brooklyn, in the same facility where his own father spent his last days.
My love of history, which love I share with my late father, got me to thinking how much our world has changed in
the 104 years since my father was born.
And, how much the world has stayed the same.
Happy Father's Day, wherever you are, Dad.