Ninety years ago today a young sharecropping couple celebrated a birth and named the baby Ferrell but would call him Gene. He grew up with Texas dirt literally between his barefoot toes in the sandhills of East Texas near Athens. A dream grew up with him — to be a wealthy cattleman like his maternal grandfather.
But life takes an interesting course. Gene dropped out of high school to take a job in Dallas, finished school at night, served in the Army in the Pacific as World War II wound down, returned to Dallas to work and take a bride, fathered a daughter and son, bought a small place near his hometown, took a promotion to a white-collar job, farmed and fished on Saturday, went to church on Sunday, and retired at 55 to become the full-time cattleman he had always dreamed of.
Gene, my dad, never fulfilled his dream of becoming wealthy. We lived in a small frame house while Dianne and I grew away, then he and Mom lived in a nice brick house that pegged them as among the better off folks in their small town but which would not have been acceptable in nice neighborhoods in Dallas. Dad didn’t feel wealthy, but thanks to hard work and the habit of saving, he and Mom have done very well for themselves — never missing meals or going without things they need and a number of things they want, but they don’t want much.
The main thing Dad wanted was cows, and for more than 30 years he had a bunch of ’em, and he kept them fat and happy. We had to sell all of Dad’s cows a couple of years ago. He simply couldn’t care for them any longer. It still makes him mad, but reality can be a hard pill to swallow.
Here are some of the things my dad has taught me during my 61 years as his son:
— Church is important. He and Mom had us in church virtually every Sunday of my childhood and teen years. The mear habit of attending church communicates more to children about faith that most of us ever realize.
— Family is important. Dad is Scots Irish, and true to group, he’s loyal to family, and he defines family with a broad circle that includes distant, very distant, cousins. But the most important family included Mom, Dianne, him, and me.
— Work is important. Dad seldom missed a day of work. We never saw him at work, but we knew of his commitment. He turned a night school degree and blue-collar hard work into a white-collar job at a large corporation. He helped build the radio equipment through which Americans heard their astronauts, including the famous words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
— Women are to be respected. My dad never hit my mother or yelled at her. (Forty years ago, I wouldn’t have thought to even say this because I didn’t know any men used their physical strength against women.) My dad never spoke in my hearing about the beauty or ugliness of women. In my dad’s world, men open doors for women, men never ever hit women, men do not make crude remarks about women, and men work hard away from the house so women can work at home. Yes, my dad’s high respect for women has come with traditional notions of women’s roles in home and society.
My dad is not a perfect man, but on his 90th birthday I want to let the world celebrate with his family the great good he has done for his circle of influence during life. Because of his upbringing, he had a hard time saying, “I love you,” for years, but he learned. Other dads, I think, say, “I love you,” but seldom show it. I wish my dad had both said it and shown it, but in the final analysis I think it’s probably best to show love consistently, especially during a day when the word “love” has lost so much of its meaning about self-giving.
Thank you, Dad, for showing me that you love Mom, Dianne, me, and many others.
(This post originally appeared on the Texas Baptists website.)