My father died 28 years ago and my husband’s father died early this spring. They were both part of the “Greatest Generation” and we both feel that is the best description for them. I now wonder if, in generations to come, fathers will be described with such great admiration?
Our fathers both came from humble beginnings. There was no fluff, just hard work. Both were the oldest of their siblings and took on all the duties of the first and oldest child. They were good children.
They worked hard to help their family. My father-in-law ran traps to earn extra money for the family. My father sold papers to earn prizes that he could give as Christmas gifts for his brothers and sisters.
They were good students, yet neither went on to college due to the financial situation of their families. My father-in-law always said, “I graduated from the school of hard knocks.”
My father stayed at home well into his 20s to help his parents support their family. He had seven younger brothers and sisters. His father lost his job during the Great Depression and my father was able to find work to support the family. After working for Olson Rug Co. in Chicago, he talked his way into a job with A.B. Dick and Co. as a machinist and went on to become a tool and die maker. When he met my mother, he decided it was time to get married and move out on his own.
My father-in-law left home shortly after high school and headed for the Detroit area when he felt he could find work. There he met my mother-in-law, a city girl whose father worked for the Hudson Motor Co.
Both of our dads went into the military after they were married.
My father-in-law stayed stateside to train B-17 pilots for the Army Air Corps and survived a few crashes with student pilots. My mother-in-law was able to be with him during his tour of duty and they had their first daughter, who is now 70 years old, while in the military.
My father was drafted into the Navy and left for Pearl Harbor after it was bombed. My mom was on a train to California and going to be with him before he shipped out when she received a telegram that he had already left for Pearl Harbor. She returned home to live with her mom and dad for the next two years while he completed his tour of duty in Hawaii.
Both of our dads had grit. Neither of their families gave them cars, or homes, or farms, or jobs or a cash send-off. They got their well wishes from their families at their weddings and the rest was left up to them.
After serving their military duty, they returned to their hometowns and worked hard to make a living. While they worked more than one job at a time, their wives also worked outside the homes at part-time jobs.
Together with their spouses they were able to buy homes/farms and provide for their families. They never acted like life should be any other way. They were not waiting around for handouts. They exuded personal determination and responsibility.
They were also men of faith. Each had been baptized, confirmed and married in a church. They had a belief in God and the Ten Commandments. Their beliefs continued throughout their lives. They had been raised in families that encouraged participation in a church community.
They were fathers to their children first and foremost. They were not afraid to set rules and expectations — and, at the same time, they showed their love and affection. They knew how to be in charge of their families and make hard choices. They were indeed the “Greatest Generation” of fathers.
As we lose this generation of dads, will we also lose all the values, traditions and integrity they stood for? Will we have these quality male role models for children now and in the future? Whether it be in the role of a father, uncle, teacher, neighbor, mentor, pastor or brother, children need positive male role models.
The events that created the “Greatest Generation,” that period in history, will never occur again. The hereditary factors that came through that generation will be further evolved in each additional generation.
Will our society continue to produce fathers that can be called “great”? I certainly hope so.
— By Janice Beuschel, Tribune community columnist