The steadfast love and care of one’s parents throughout life is a luxurious consolation.
I have learned from many people over the years to add the disclaimer “luxurious” because I have known many who were not fortunate enough to see one parent don salt and pepper strands of hair.
Two such people are very near and dear to my heart: my grandfathers.
Before both men entered adolescence, they found themselves in households without their fathers (lost to illness). I never heard either of them speak of their fathers. Never heard one of the mundane references I so casually throw around to my nephews about “my father.” I saw one picture of Granddaddy’s father and I’ve never seen a photo of Pop’s father. I remember, as a child, I thought childishly (Pop would tell me to correct that to “unknowingly”) that both grandfathers were probably too sad to talk about their fathers.
As an adult, I see things differently. I think both men were not only sad, but profoundly so. The only way to eradicate that sadness was to be fathers. To be strong, consistent fathers.
In 1919 and 1921, respectively, Rowe Jackson Ayres and Horace “Hap” Vaughan were born into truly exceptional circumstances and times. By no means, were the Vaughans of Virginia nor the Ayres’ of Hutchins so-called “elite,” and both households struggled through the Great Depression and the looming fear and ultimate reality of WWII without their paternal leader. More lovers than fighters, it has always been difficult for me to imagine the terror they felt when the news of Pearl Harbor reached them. I would imagine, it would be a nice consolation to discuss that with one’s father. They did not have the luxury.
The years between 1929 and 1945/or so without a father, it’s really something. Without the guidance of a father to say, “Son, glad you’re back from the War in one piece, I’ll call Jimmy to help get you a job” or “Son, I’m proud of you for being at Pearl Harbor” or “Son, stop drinking so much Coca Cola, you’re getting fat and you’ll shame the family.” (That was an inside joke with my Musical Grandfather.) They had brothers and strong mothers (they had to be strong), uncles, friends that were like family. All that. But, no “father”s.
Oddly enough, one would think this might lead to a lifetime of alcoholism or inconsistent career paths or failed marriages or something truly debaucherous. All of which, they could happily blame on their “dead fathers” and “horrible lot in life.”
Nope. Both men spent their lives in constant, life-long devotion to their children, wives, and the companies they served. Even at their ends, both men did not want to die because they did not want to leave their children.
They were also steadfast servants to their country. The Greatest Generation did not need to talk about being great, they just were.
I see, however, the effect their fatherless childhoods and adulthoods had on them. Ultimately, it produced two of the finest fathers this world has ever known. A small part of me has to ask – was part of that the lack of a father’s presence? The knowledge of how profound and pivotal that lack was? Both Pop and Granddaddy knew, “I will be there every step of the way for my son/daughters” as a result?
Because they were.
Even my childhood felt like a childhood with a father and 2 bonus fathers because they were there for me, the granddaughter, every step of the way.
I think this “hands on” fathering had a serious effect on my brother and I hope that continues through to the Ayres Little Men. If it had to begin from little RJ and little Hap losing their own fathers, well, I would prefer it had not been so. I wish I could change that for them. But, then again, there is literally not one thing I would have changed about my grandfathers.
My mother has just told me a rather interesting story (via Skype) about my maternal grandfather and my father. Apparently, one day at our family home at 21 Robledo Dr., the kitchen sink was clogged. Granddaddy came over (my father was not the engineer that the grandfathers were) to fix it. Instead of merely fixing it, Granddaddy showed my father how to fix it. For me? Perfect example of how Granddaddy was already adept at being a father figure. I love this story.