This I Believe

Robert - Lawrenceville, New Jersey
Entered on June 10, 2007
Age Group: 50 - 65
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Tribute to a Great Man

Several years ago, the passing of Johnny Carson gave me pause. He touched many people, and the outpouring of affection from fans and friends was incredible, but it’s a shame that he wasn’t around to receive it. It made me realize that we often say great things about great people when it’s too late for them to hear it, and that’s what is really sad. It also made me realize that I have a chance to say great things about a great man who’s still very much alive, my dad.

My dad is a man of humble beginnings, a man whose own father died at a young age. Born in Tennessee, he moved north to New Jersey as a teenager. Even after sixty-some years, he still has a tinge of a Tennessee twang. When World War II struck, he was drafted into the army during his high school junior year. He never went back. His army service did, however, give him an opportunity to either go to college or learn a trade, and he chose the latter.

My dad was a small residential building contractor as I was growing up. I remember going to work with him, helping when I could, but mostly just watching. My older brother got to help with the more complex stuff, like operating power tools and doing trim work. I was the guy with the shovel or the broom most of the time, but when we were installing subfloors or sheathing, my dad entrusted me with a hammer and nails. More than once, I heard him say, “Bob, you hammer like lightnin’ – never strike twice in the same place!”

As I was growing up, my dad spoke with some disdain about engineers. Since he was a bright guy with a lot of practical experience, most engineers couldn’t match his pragmatism and simplicity. So, of course, when I decided to go to college, I went into engineering. It wasn’t until well after I graduated that I realized that he was proud of my achievement, and that he really didn’t think that engineers were useless.

I recall in high school and college, thinking about how different my dad and I were. That was then, this is now. Now I realize how similar we really are. Some of it is genetic, but some is from the example he set, and the many things he taught and I learned with neither of us realizing it. He taught me responsibility and independence, integrity and tenacity. And he taught me the building trades.

My dad taught me loyalty and humility, and showed me that while they don’t always produce the best results, they always matter. He’s hit a few bumps along the way, but he’s always taken the high road, where the bumps are there to give you a better view.

Over the past few years, my dad has had more than his share of medical problems. He’s scored a hat trick against cancer, surviving skin, prostate and lung cancers. After the first two encounters, he still had enough gumption to, almost singlehandedly, reroof the house he built almost 50 years ago. The house was a great home to all of us growing up, and surely it will be his home for the rest of his life.

Nowadays, with all he’s been through, he feels that he’s not half the man he used to be. Oddly enough, he’s still twice the man I am.