A few days before Father's Day, my sister Margaret and I visited the cemetery in Olympia where my father and mother are buried side by side. We were remembering Father's Day, my mother's 100 year anniversary of life, her death day, and Margaret's husband Jack's birthday all in the month of June. Jack's ashes are also placed in the same cemetery in a memorial wall looking in the direction of the parents' graves.
We spread a blanket and sat for a chat about the parents and Jack. I read two poems I'd written, one about my mother and the other my father. I didn't get one for Jack that week so I had nothing to offer him. But, I often feel the hard road of the father, in family life with all he does to keep food on the table and often doing a job he doesn't like and cannot quit. Today, of course, there are plenty of single women acting as breadwinner and plenty of families where both parents work and are caught in work that doesn't enliven them. I'm thinking more about how it was and still may be in many families when there is just one breadwinner and of the sacrifices that are made to keep food on the table.
Who knows what it means to bury your life in a coal mine or a subway to keep life and limb together? But, this is what we do. This is what it takes to stay alive. I remember my father as he went out in the rain early on mornings without fail to walk through Brooklyn to read meters. His life, his breath given to reading meters, a bunch of meters that do nothing but track people's gas and electric. His life, his waking days reading meters so his children could eat. No car in our family, no big house, 2 1/2 bedrooms for 5 children and 2 adults. That's how we survived. Day after day out there, rain or shine, his ulcers cut into the flesh of his stomach as he walked the streets, bringing home the 100 bucks a week so we could have piano lessons and ballet, apples for dunking at Halloween, a telescope to survey the stars, white dresses for communion, stacked-heeled shoes when we reached 13, lipsticks, nylons, new coats, jeans, movies on Saturday afternoons, the small and the big things it took to get what makes kids think they are alive, make them believe they belong.
This he gave his breath for. It was something greater than all those pennies and dollars that went for nothing. It was about a heroism so quiet no one would have noticed. A heroism that only comes out of selfless love. Something that arrives when the whole soul lifts up out of itself and doesn't try to be something more than itself, just gives itself for what is, to the ones who are there waiting to shine.
I'm thinking too of all the parents today who have lost those unenviable jobs and feel so inadequate and forgotten and are desperate to know how they will survive. May we all be generous and kind to one another.