I’ve been thinking about my Dad. His name was Alexander. “Alexander the Great,” he used to joke. Dad was humble, open, brash and honest. Dad would have been the last person to say anything he did was ‘great’, he just did what he did and enjoyed having fun along the way. He had a great laugh. He loved people. His honesty sometimes got him in trouble but he told things as they were, upfront.
For example, Dad hated wranglings going on in God’s house. He believed church wasn’t a Sunday club or a place to put certain people on pedestals, or other people down. He believed it was a reverent place, where people were to honour and respect the messenger (pastor) and to be prepared to hear God speak.
Dad also believed life wasn’t a ‘free ride’. He gave it his all. I was reminded of him when I watched an old classic 1977 film, ‘Why Shoot the Teacher?’ a raw, humourous, sometimes painful yet heartwarming story about the challenges faced by a young teacher from Eastern Canada, while working at a rural Saskatchewan school house on the prairies in the early 1950s. I heard echoes in the film of my father’s own personal journey as a young man…the meagre wages, community challenges, the rugged one-room classrooms that were poorly heated in winter and hot as Hades in summer. The dreams he aspired to and the sometimes dismal, lonely hours he must have faced.
In my Dad’s day, he appreciated the ‘honour’ of gaining education and finding a rewarding job. Work was his lifeline to a better life, and it was about service. His work didn’t come with pay and benefits, but he could keep a roof over his head and feed his family. And I didn’t know the half of it, for example, how for a mere $1,400/year he had to wait at times to get his pay cheque, when it would be withheld for no reason but stubbornness by a school board head who somehow didn’t quite deem my Dad a worker worthy of his hire, although Dad had more than put in his time and had a wife and kids counting on him to provide. Dad would go to the man’s place of business and wait for his $100/month cheque. The board representative complained and gossiped to others how he didn’t like my Dad standing there waiting for his pay. My dad was all about fairness and justice and stood his ground. I only learned of the miserly withholding of his pay cheques years later, long after he was gone. Dad never shared his work troubles with anyone but my mom. We kids grew up feeling well provided for and happy.
Dad taught us kids early on in life how to value and appreciate life’s opportunities, great and small, and never to take anything for granted. There was no ‘entitlement’ thinking in our household. And perhaps it was my father’s early teaching days and his experiences in life’s school of hard knocks that ended up helping to set a standard for our home, because Dad’s word always meant business. We didn’t necessarily like it when he ‘put down the law’, but as my parents both used to say, “One day, you just might thank us…” They were right. I did. It took awhile. I was something of an upstart, but, I am grateful for the truths and things my father taught me.
I thank God for the heritage and solid values my parents worked so hard to instill in our lives. This past summer (2011) while attending a hometown and school reunion where my Dad had taught when I was a kid, I was amazed by the litany of ‘thank yous’ many of his former students shared with my mother. They spoke about the truths my Dad had taught that had helped them in their lives, they still applauded how he’d stood up and got them a year book he thought they ought to have, and a sports team, and he also taught them to fight for improvements. My dad instilled the importance of investing in a higher education, in an honest way — no cheating for marks or just to get ahead in life.
Yes, Dad was always big on honesty as a best policy. Some might say he was even honest ‘to a fault’. He instilled ethical boundaries including a belief that rewards should be based on merit…and hard work…not on ‘entitlement’. That could be a ‘hard sell’ today.
We could use a few more guys like my Dad today. Lots of people talk about making the world a better place. My Dad didn’t talk. He just got out there and did it.