It will be Dada’s birthday this week. His 128th if my math can be trusted. and while he is not here in the flesh, he is here in spirit, surviving in the hearts of his four children – Bill, Elizabeth, Peter and I.
Men like Dada don’t die, and though he was an old soldier – always a soldier – he didn’t fade away, either.
He fought in World War I – yes, the first one. As a machine gun corporal – and later sergeant – in the British Army, he marched through Jordan, across the desert, through Egypt to Italy. He didn’t talk about those days much. He wasn’t a talker.
His contribution to many an argument was simply:
I never thought of it that way myself, but I suppose you could say that.
One of the few stories he shared with me was how he swam across the Suez Canal. He kept the grim experiences of that brutal war mostly to himself.
But he always saw himself as a soldier, and he made me remember that I was a soldier’s son.
Soldiers – and their sons – don’t cry. They don’t whimper. They don’t make excuses. They take their medicine like a man. It’s part of the code they live by.
You probably don’t want to know the intricacies of that code. It has to do with honor and dignity and dealing from the top of the deck. Dada didn’t spell it out; he lived it. And he expected me to do no less.
He taught me to shoot a rifle and ride a horse. Later I learned to use his double-barrel 12 gauge shotgun – made by the Fox Gun Company in Philadelphia. We went bird shooting, and we rode together. Yes, those were the days!
If you know me, you know I am not the man my father was. I was never able to live up to that Spartan code of his. I cried, I complained. I made excuses. I still do. Sorry, Dada. You tried.
And I tried, too. But I wasn’t made of stern enough stuff (there I go making excuses again).
Still, his code survives with me. I admire men – and women – who have the temperament to live by it. I believe Elizabeth and Peter would agree with me that Bill is the one among us who has come closest to being that kind of man.
But I am consoled by the enduring conviction that despite my shortcomings, my father never loved me less. He loved us all – unconditionally. And his love did more for us than any code, however noble.