Saturday, May 19, 2007

Happy Birthday, Dad

Today is my father's 81st birthday.

I write about my father occasionally. He has Alzheimer's and things have been hard the last few months. Thankfully, we have found sitters to look in on him several times a week now, which gives him new people to interact with and bond with, as well as easing the burden I was dealing with in caring for him.

One of the hard things about Alzheimer's is recognizing how the person changes from someone you know to someone you don't.

My father was born 81 years ago in a coal mining camp in West Virginia. He is the only surviving son (he had a brother who died in infancy) and had to endure being raised with five sisters.

He spent 21 years in the military, going to places many people would like to go (England) and to places they might not (Berlin during the Cold War). While overseas, he met and married my mother.

Dad was one of the only people I've ever met to have served in three wars (WWII, Korea, and Vietnam). His courage under stress was enormous.

After three children, three wars, and 21 years in the military, Dad decided to retire. He settled his family in the town we still live in. He bought a small wood-frame house and raised his children there.

Dad held a variety of jobs after he left the service. He worked on heating and air conditioning units, did assembly work at a local helicopter plant, and did some other odd jobs before becoming a feed line operator at a local animal feed mill. For the rest of my childhood, my father worked second shift at a feed mill, coming home late, dirty and covered in feed dust.

He worked hard and always took overtime when it was offered. He didn't complain, regardless of how cold the mill was in the winter or how hot it was in the summer when it could be 110 outside.

For me, however, he was never just an honorable veteran or a hard worker. My dad was the Boss. He raised us with the sort of discipline one would expect from a military veteran, teaching us the pride of doing one's duty and behaving honorably.

I often marvel at the way things have changed in my father's lifetime. He's lived through some of the harshest times and some of the best. His life is the result of hard work and determination. He fought in three wars, was married for 38 years, raised three children, watched two of them graduate from college (one with a doctorate), and has eight grandchildren. It's not a bad legacy for a coal miner's son from West Virginia.