Remembering my own father on Father’s Day

Published 12:28 am Sunday, June 21, 2009

It was first dark when she heard the whistle, its lilting notes floating through the quiet street to where she sat on the front porch, in the old oak rocker that had been her mother’s place.

The whistler drew nearer, walking slowly in the heat that clung like a damp blanket to the lengthening day, and his jaunty little tune, now clearly heard, was familiar.

“When Irish eyes are smiling, sure ‘tis like a morn in spring…” And for the pace of a heartbeat her father was there.

Email newsletter signup

He always came home whistling, a habit that never changed although from time to time the tune did. Usually it was a strain from the Irish folk songs he sang in the clear tenor voice that carried the lead in local barbershop quartets when he was a young man about town.

He liked to sing even more than he liked to whistle and he couldn’t resist humming along with a familiar melody, no matter where he heard it or when. Sometimes, when the Presbyterian Church choir was presenting its Sunday anthem he’d accompany them, but softly to placate his wife who always nudged him into silence.

His three daughters grew up with music, “Sweet Music” their father called it as he twisted the dial of the Magic Eye Philco radio to tune out a jitterbug beat and tune in a melody more to his liking, maybe “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” or “The Bells of St. Mary’s.”

He liked Broadway Musicals, especially “Oklahoma!” and he could sing dozens of World War I and II songs without missing a note or a word. Christmas carols were a favorite with him — he never lost his childlike joy in the season or his sentimentality about its celebration.

After his middle daughter became an accomplished musician on the piano he bought during the Great Depression years — his wife never failed to deplore the timing of the purchase — he enjoyed gathering the family and any friends present around the spinet keyboard for the songfests in which he delighted.

He taught his daughters to dance, patiently counting out the box step – “One and two and three and four; front and side and back and side.” When they preferred the Big Apple and Truckin’ and the Jitterbug, he was tolerant.

His eldest daughter inherited his vocal talent and he never missed her solo parts in the choir of the First Presbyterian, where he’d sit on the edge of his pew, too nervous to relax until she finished singing. Then he’d wink at her and smile and she knew he was proud.

Books were as necessary to his life as music; he hungered for them. A week never passed without his visit to the Carnegie Library and Miss Bettie Keith to check out new books and well-loved familiar ones. As his daughters grew older and more observant they often saw a few well-worn dollar bills find their way across the checkout desk and into the shabby box that held the library’s meager funds.

He retained his Book-of-the-Month Club membership throughout his life, making a game of “Who gets to read the new monthly first?” with his family, who inherited his love of the printed word. “Any book you can understand you are old enough to read” was his yardstick of censorship.

Family responsibilities had denied him the luxury of a complete college education but few men were as well read and well informed as he, whose interests were catholic and whose discipline was a thirst for knowledge.

This, too, he passed on to his three daughters, along with a consuming interest in politics and awareness of their obligation to vote. He was patriotic but not blind to the faults of his country, liberal in belief and generous of spirit when these were virtues not greatly admired. A veteran of World War I he was active in the American Legion and during World War II began he commanded the local State Guard when the National Guard was called to active duty.

Our father was a man without prejudice, a man who cared deeply about those less fortunate than we and a man who always put his family first. His daughters grew to young womanhood, secure in the knowledge that we were loved and ever aware of the blessing of being our father’s girls. His greatest legacy to us was love.