Talk about coincidences, in my journal today I found a column from this date in 1983 headlined, “Dalton’s Dad: A Man In His Own Right.” There was one more coincidence: On this day in 1990 he died.
When a man has a good father, it drives a solid steel stabilizing bar right through the center of his soul. Every time a storm of life almost blows him down, he can hold on to that bar. A stable father can give his child lifetime stability.
My father did that for me. He also let me know that a strong man was also tenderhearted. Mother had a saying, “You can tell how strong a man is by how gentle his ego will allow him to be.” Dad demonstrated that truth.
This came through so strongly to me that I wrote a song about him and it is on my inspirational CD:
He was strong as an oak never bending
When life sent a hard-blowing wind
But he was never too tough to be tender
When we needed comfort from him
He was tough as a piece of old leather
And sometimes a bit hard on me
But never too tough to be tender
When he really needed to be
I learned about strength from my Daddy
I learned about tenderness, too
His voice was gruff, his hands were rough
He always knew what to do
He was never too tough to be tender
When he really needed to be
He was a true jack-of-all trades. I never saw any kind of home repairman in our home during my growing-up years. He could do it all and he never hid his disappointment that I was a ridiculously inept carpenter, plumber, electrician and auto mechanic. Yet, he supported me completely in my commitment to music.
When I was thirteen, I asked him to buy me a guitar and he said he would if I learned to play one. A neighbor had an old Stella with strings set so high you could hardly push them down. I practiced on it until I had blisters, then calluses, and then blisters under my calluses. One day when Dad came home from the hosiery mill where he was a knitter, I was waiting for him on the porch, ready to play the first song I had learned. He set his lunchbox down and took me straight to the music store. I was about to pick out a cheap guitar because I knew how hard he worked, but he asked the clerk, “What is your best guitar?” and the clerk said, “That Martin.” I am sure I stood there with my mouth open when he bought it for me.
The only two times I distinctly recall Dad expressing pride in me with every muscle in his face was the day I played him that first song and the night in 1978 when the people chose me to be county executive.
Bert Reynolds said, “A man is not a man until his father tells him he is.” That is exactly the way it was with me.
It never made sense to me to look down on working men because my father worked at many trades and I respected him more than the president. In that ’83 article he said, “I’ve never thought there was anything degrading about manual labor … I enjoy getting my hands dirty … I am a working man.” Yet he could stand in a pulpit and make the angels sing for you with his oratory. When I first heard John Gardner’s statement, “We must have respect for both our plumbers and our philosophers or neither our pipes nor our theories will hold water,” I thought of my Dad.
He missed mother so much that he lost the will to live 10 months after her passing. I chose to keep him alive in my heart. What would I do without my solid steel stabilizing bar?
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