I never really knew him; born in 1902 and divorced by my mother when I was barely 2, he haunted my childhood while remaining completely absent from my life. When he died at age 56, my mother had just remarried the previous year and I was nine. My only memory of him, aside from a few family stories and a handful of photos, is of his casket being undraped of its flag and lowered into the ground at a Veterans National Cemetery. Due to a curious arrangement my mother imposed upon her new husband, my step father never took any authority or parental role in my and my brother's upbringing. My mother never even sought his opinions nor cared if he had any about parental matters. So, while there was this guy around part of the time when I was growing up, I never really experienced having a father.
My father joined the U.S. Navy at age 18, just after World War I, rising to Seaman 2nd Class before receiving a medical discharge less than two years later, when they discovered that he suffered serious heart disease. Perhaps the receipt of such a diagnosis at age 20 had something to do with the devil may care life he led for the rest of his life.
I owe most of what I have and much of what I am to this fry cook whom I never really knew thanks to the New Deal and an Eisenhower era GI Bill. I wonder if he ever noticed or knew, but upon his untimely death, succumbing finally to his troublesome heart problem, my father's death immediately qualified my brother and I for Social Security survivor benefits as well as a monthly payment from the VA under the War Orphans Assistance Act of 1956.
Those benefits, plus educational benefits from my own service later, during Viet Nam, made it possible for me to go to college and law school. Those benefits enabled a life that would otherwise never have been. My mother and her new husband never graduated from high school. He worked on a factory assembly line manufacturing light fixtures and Mom worked on her feet all day running a beauty shop in part of the building we lived in on a commercial street. Mothers Day is past, but Mom gets high marks for conserving those benefits while she could have spent much of the money raising her sons. Instead, she squirreled it away for us to go to college. She used that stuff as a club, too, being always quick to threaten to spend the money if I was screwing up in school.
Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney and their ilk would probably decry programs like those that boosted my life from the working to the professional class as unnecessary and counterproductive welfare programs. Mitt in particular ought to know better, investment genius that he claims to be. My country made an investment in me that the taxes on my enormously improved income capacity continue to repay many times over.
Thus I reflect on fatherhood on this day of observance.