Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father's Day Revisited

Last year, I made a poor attempt at describing what Father's Day meant to me. And predictably like always, my mind drifts back to a more gentle, uncomplicated time.

You may ask, what are the fathers like in Smock? They are quiet. Reserved. Reluctant to accept any accolades bestowed upon them on this or any other day. And if you walked up to most of them saying "Happy Father's Day", you might get a smile or a wink and that's about it.

Most of the fathers in Smock on a day like today pause to remember their fathers. Those guys who left an entire country and along with it, relatives, friends and a way of life. They came here, many would say, to make a better life for their own sons and daughters. Boy, did they ever. And how.

But they don't expect to have a whole day set aside for making such a big sacrifice. I think that the only thing that they do expect is that we, their kids and grandkids, just do well. Just be happy. And they don't even expect a simple thank you. The thanks is in the doing, just like it was for many of them.

Our fathers came from places and towns that we had to practice to correctly pronounce. They had brothers and sisters that they will never again see this side of heaven. And mothers and fathers who broke their backs to save up enough for a one-way fare on a steamship to America.

And so what did they do when they arrived in places like Smock? They had little crib sheets that had small phonetic phrases such as "Hi boss, you have verk for me?" The boss was usually either a pit boss in the coal mines or a labor gang supervisor at the steel mill in Clairton. And their future bosses would respond favorably and send them out to do some of the most back breaking, lung destroying, ear shattering work, all for about a dollar and change per day.

They managed to save money from that meager wage to buy half a house with a paper thin wall so that you could sit up at night and hear what gossip is going on or who is getting their young buttocks fanned for not behaving well in church that morning.

The term "wait until your father gets home" took on a frightening and all too real meaning back in Smock. We feared Dad in a certain manner, but we respected him. And when, after a few Iron City beers, he would begin telling stories of the "old country", we sat there and were riveted to hear this same guy who was usually quiet create vivid images of friends, family and even fun in this foreign land where class and status meant nothing. A place where butchering a chicken or a pig would have made the front page.

Our fathers were like icebergs; you only saw the 10% that was above the water line. But their upbringing, values and faith ran deep. And for most, those admirable values fortunately trickled down.

So for Andy and John and Fred and Teddy and Joe and Mike and Ed and Tom, Happy Father's Day and thanks for being just who you are.

Since words on Father's Day don't come easy from a Smock kid, just remember that we owe you more than you will ever know.

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