ShareThis Page
Tom Purcell

Grateful for an old-school dad

| Saturday, June 17, 2017, 5:54 p.m.

My father made me wear hand-me-downs — even though I was our family's only boy, with five sisters.

It wasn't too bad most of the year, but Easter Sunday was a bear. You know how hard it is to outrun the neighborhood bully with your panty hose bunching up and your bonnet flopping in the wind?

My father was born during the Depression, in 1933, when life was a lot tougher. When he was only 3, his father, who had a good job working for the Mellon family, died at age 34.

My father and his sister and mother moved from a nice home into a cramped apartment in the city. Without a father to nurture him, and with his mother at work all day, he had to fend for himself.

Bigger kids bullied him — until he fought back. Money was tight, so he scrimped and saved and set some aside for rainy days. Unsavory people tried to cheat him, so he developed the street smarts that guide him still.

He longed for a family of his own and, more than 50 years ago, at age 23, he married my mother. They never gave my sisters and me material wealth, but we had an abundance of other riches. So strong was their love, devotion and stability, optimism came naturally to all of us.

Oddly, my optimistic childhood proved to be a source of worry for my father. He feared I was not being fully prepared for the hardships of adulthood.

I did little to dissuade him of his concerns.

I failed early at self-defense. Whereas he learned how to fight off bullies on his own, my sisters taught me how to fight. While being harassed, I looked a neighborhood tough dead in the eye and said, “You are so immature!”

I failed at common sense. Once, when I was 11, I flushed an apple core down a toilet. It produced a massive clog that took my father hours to unplug. He still calls to ask me why I did that.

I failed at money management. He watched me squander all of the money from my first lawn-mowing jobs on baseball cards and ice cream sandwiches — rather than put half in the bank. He struggled for years to teach me how to plan ahead for rainy days.

I didn't take care of my things. I beat the heck out of the first couple of bikes he got me and, when I began driving, I beat the heck out of his cars.

I chose an impractical college major. He begged me to at least minor in something job-worthy. I'm the only person to graduate from Penn State with a major in English and a minor in air conditioning and heating.

For years, my father saw it as his duty to polish me, a lousy lump of coal, into a diamond. For years, his old-school methods were a constant source of agitation.

Until I began experiencing the unforgiving realities of adulthood.

Everything he warned me about proved to be true. I didn't begin to succeed as an adult until I embraced his many lessons.

To borrow from Mark Twain, when I was a young man of 20, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 28, I was astonished by how much he'd learned the prior eight years.

My father is 83 now. With every passing year, I admire and respect him more for the sacrifices he made for my sisters and me.

He taught us the meaning of love, honesty, kindness and sacrifice — without talking about them.

That's why I'm grateful for my old-school dad.

Tom Purcell, a freelance writer, lives in Library. His books include “Misadventures of a 1970s Childhood” and “Wicked Is the Whiskey,” a Sean McClanahan mystery. Visit him on the web at TomPurcell.com. Email him at: Tom@TomPurcell.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me