It has been 27 years since he passed away, and not a day goes by that I don’t miss him terribly, especially on Father’s Day.
I wish I had told my dad how much he meant to me while he was here to listen, but I probably would not have done so because it would have embarrassed him.
He was a man of limited formal education — only made it through seventh grade — but the wisest man I ever knew. He also was the hardest-working.
For 49 years and four months, he toiled for the Railway Express Agency. Most of that time was spent working outside, including his last day on the job. In all those years, he missed three weeks of work. That was because of an emergency appendectomy in a time when hospital stays were a lot longer than they are today.
His childhood was not a particularly happy one, although he rarely talked about it. His mother died when he was 4. His father was a bit of a bully, and his stepmother clearly was partial to her own children and not to the ones she gained through marriage.
I have heard horror stories about parents treating their children as they were treated. Not in our house. He loved his family more than anything else. Some of that is due to the fact that he worshipped my mother and she loved him equally.
But don’t imagine for a moment that he was touchy-feely. He was a disciplinarian. He never raised a hand or his voice to my brother or me, but he didn’t have to. Neither of us dared challenge him.
Today’s psychologists would flunk him because secretly his children feared him. He never was our pal. He was our father and the rules were his. We avoided a lot of potential trouble because we were afraid of the consequences and we loved him too much to disappoint him. That is a rare combination. He was a rare man.
As he and I grew older, we also grew closer. Our kids worshipped him — and still do — and a trip to the grandparents’ house on Saturday evening for a cookout is a treasured memory.
My father and I would sit outside in the backyard and feel no need to engage in a lot of idle conversation. We just enjoyed being in each other’s company. In our case, silence was golden.
There was not much gray area in his world. It was right or it was wrong. Period. That included his maddening habit of obeying the speed limit. If 35 mph was the posted limit, then it was 35 mph. Not 40. Not 36. He basked in the fact that he never had gotten a ticket. (When he died, his record was intact. No parking tickets. No speeding tickets.)
He was not a wealthy man. He and my mother had a modest home in East Point, a small life-insurance policy and not much more. But this simple man with a simple view of the world left me with valuable lessons that I still try to apply today.
I learned to work hard and to be a man of my word. I learned that rationalizing something meant that it probably was a bad idea that I was trying to make a good one.
I learned never to miss a vote, no matter how inconsequential it seemed to be. I learned the importance of loyalty in all things — loyalty to my country, loyalty to the organization that paid me, loyalty to my friends.
I learned a lot about love from him, too, although I never heard him say "I love you." He didn’t have to say it. He just did it. I remember the look on his face when one of his boys did something to make him proud. I saw the devastation on his face when my mother was in the hospital. He knew how to love.
I tried to emulate his example in my own role as a father, but he was a tough act to follow. Try as hard as I may, I will never be the man my father was. And I am proud of that fact. God bless his memory and happy Father’s Day.
You can reach Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Ga., 31139.