Sunday, September 21, 2008

What is A Father

Kathleen Parker Talks about Her Father

September 21st, 2008 by Glenn Sacks

"Each day after school, I joined [my father] at his law office where I did my homework until he finished up. Once home, we convened in the kitchen where he cooked while I perched on a wooden stool peeling potatoes. We talked.

"In that ritualized communion, I learned many useful lessons about the opposite sex. I learned that men like to talk while doing something else...I learned that fathers adore their children and will sacrifice anything to help them succeed.

"I learned that fathers will lay their lives down for their children. I learned that men are capable of honor, valor, compassion and courage and that they are essential to instilling those virtues in their sons and daughters."--Kathleen Parker, on her father, Hal Connor.

Syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker, author of Save the Males, was raised by a single father after her mother died when she was an infant. Twelve years ago Parker wrote a heart-wrenching column about her father's death--it is reprinted below.

Will our sons and daughters remember us so fondly?

I Have My Father's Hands
By Kathleen Parker
October, 1996

I have my father's hands.

I've always known that, of course, in the way that people always know they have their aunt's eyes or their great-grandmother's auburn hair.

Yet I'm startled to see his hands moving across the keyboard as I write. If I were not my father's daughter, I might weep. He would frown upon such self-indulgence, peering askance over the rim of his half-moon glasses, and say something to make me laugh instead.

He was not one to feel sorry for himself or to abide self-pity in others. He never wavered from that position, even as he spent the last two weeks of his life enduring the unendurable, fighting the inescapable in an intensive care unit in a hospital far from home.

My dad, J. Hal Connor, whom I unembarrassedly confess I called "Popsie," died a few days ago. He had been in the North Carolina mountains, breathing the Fall air he so loved, when things suddenly went bad. The local hospital, ill-equipped to handle his condition, sent him by ambulance to Emory University's Crawford Long Hospital in Atlanta.

It turns out the heart medicine he'd been taking for years had destroyed his liver. Suffice to say, the liver is a mean master. There's no easy way out, no quick exit. So I held my father's hands those two weeks, toughing it out with him as he would have for me. He knew me when I arrived, but became confused as the days passed.

One day he thought I was his mother, another his sister. One day when the doctor asked who I was, he shrugged and said, "I have no idea; some human."

I took his hand and said, "I don't care who you say I am just so long as you pick people you like."

Toward the end, he rarely opened his eyes and seemed to be in some faraway place. Then unexpectedly, he'd give a sign he was still paying attention. Once I told my sister and stepmother we probably should leave his room for a while so he wouldn't feel compelled to entertain us. I said he was probably thinking to himself, "I wish these people would bug off." He smiled.

Not once did he complain. Not once did he voluntarily express pain or annoyance, though his face sometimes betrayed the hurt inside. As I said, there was no easy out for this man, no quick fix. I don't know that he would have had it otherwise. He was above all a fighter.

My father was not a modern man. He was a World War II pilot for whom God and country were not a cliche nor a late-night punch line. He raised a flag every morning and lamented the lack of patriotic and prayerful beginnings to the public school day. He was an old-school lawyer who cussed and spat when attorneys started advertising. That was not his way.

He cussed and spat a lot in his latter years as we, in his words, began sending this great nation down the drain. The world of Oprah and Phil was neither of nor for him. Stoic both in his upbringing and his parenting, he didn't tolerate whimpering or whining.

His motto: "Keep your chin up and your eye on the ball."

You did what you had to do in life with aplomb and dignity, whether it was fighting for your country or defending your values and beliefs. His were non-negotiable. He was fair to all and looked down on no one. He demanded honor, loyalty and honesty from his constituents- always. Honor and loyalty to family were the same as honor and loyalty to country. You betrayed neither, and died for both if you had to.

His favorite saying, by Theodore Roosevelt, sums up my father's life and his legacy: "It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again ... and who, at the worst, if he fails at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."

I kissed my father's hands one final time as the hospital chaplain administered his last rites. It was the hardest thing I've ever done. As is this: Goodbye, Popsie. I'm glad I have your hands.

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