Sunday, June 18, 2017

Thanks, Dad

Dad enjoying his first cigarette after spending 2 and one-half hours in a church watching me get hitched.  I think it was consumed in one very long puff.

His family, my family, has been in this country since before it was a country.  We are older than the Declaration of Independence; older than the mass migration of the 18th century.  We are as old as the soil that fills the land from the Appalachian Plateau to the Till Plain.

My father was born in the middle of central Ohio farmland, growing up rarely wearing shoes and working a variety of jobs, aiding his family as a dutiful eldest child of his generation would, even helping to raise his sister and brother.

He was a spectacular student, the first of the family to attend college, as equally adept at mathematics, his favorite subject, as he was in grammar and usage.  [He was the proofreader for my dissertation.]

He served as a sergeant in the US Army during the Korean War, then became a teacher.

He always made sure to take his kids with him those summers he worked on his graduate degree and when he was consulting for various scientific bodies, even to the extent of hauling me out of elementary school for six weeks so that I could travel to Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and Manhattan, where we lived for two weeks in the Americana Hotel.  I walked all over mid-town and even learned how to flag down a cab.  I was nine-years-old and it was a great adventure.

My grandfather, a carpenter, once told me how proud he was that his son was addressed at work as "Mr. Clements".

He showed a combination of remarkable patience and fortitude with his son, even during that obstreperous son's years of wildness.  When the son told him he wanted to be a teacher, he smiled. When the son told him he wanted to be a priest, he smiled some more.

He prayed with more sincerity than anyone I have ever known.  I think he read a book a day.  I have served four schools, a college, and a university, and I can objectively state that he was the best math teacher that I've ever seen.  His favorite hymn was #412, I think mainly because of this verse:

Classrooms and labs, loud boiling test tubes,
sing to the Lord a new song! 
Athlete and band, loud cheering people, 
sing to the Lord a new song!

We sang it at his funeral and that was the moment that I truly missed him.

While I didn't inherit his facility with equations, I did receive his sense of humor.  In times easy and hard, that's made all of the difference.