The truth is that I am thankful to my father for many things not the least of which is the fact that he provided food, shelter, and clothing for his family through some of the worst of times. When other families suffered during the years following the Great Depression, he always found work. It wasn't the best of work – coal mining, prize fighting, stevedoring, cab driving, barroom bouncing – it still earned money and he provided. Sure, there were many meatless meals, but there were meals, and there were clothes though not the best, and there was a roof over the family's head even if it was often-patched.
He never backed down from a fight. Our mother told us of a time when she and our father were dating, and they came upon two cars parked along the country road between there home and Sheppton, Pennsylvania where they had gone to the movie show. Four young men from one car had dragged the driver from the other and were beating up on him merely because of their ethnic difference. My father, being of neither ethnicity, didn't like the odds and he took on the four all by himself, and beat the snot out of all four of them.
My father escaped with his fists from the company owned Pennsylvania coal town where he had been born and raised. He left his young bride and their first child to move to Philadelphia where he became a professional prize fighter. He won his first four bouts and appeared headed for fame, but was dissuaded by his boyhood friend who had gone with him and was beaten severely and became addled.
The experience drove him south to Baltimore where he joined a fight club just long enough to find better employment as a cab driver and then as an auto mechanic. One day he spotted a sign at the Lever Brothers plant advertising for a maintenance machinist. Although he had no discernible qualifications he applied and won the position by fixing a piece of plant equipment to demonstrate his ability to do the job.
Over the years, he became a qualified pipe fitter and welder as well as a union-rated machinist. He could fabricate almost any part from simple plate and bar stock metal. Indeed, I saw him fabricate complex replacement parts for machines at home using little more than simple hand tools.
After leading our community in a fight against zoning violations, my father was encouraged by friends and neighbors to return to school. He got his high school diploma, a college degree, and a Bachelor of Laws, all at night. With his new credentials, he was able to obtain employment as a high ranking bureaucrat in the federal government and ultimately built a fine home on a ridge above Worthington Valley north of Baltimore.
I imagine by now you understand why he was admired by almost everyone outside the family. Where's the “rub” you may well ask. Well, the “rub” was that there were two of him, one facing the world and the other facing us.
Years later, speaking with my adult cousins, I discovered that they had all shared similar experiences. No, none of my father's siblings attained the level of success as he had. However, they were of the same disposition. One told me that her family referred to their father, my uncle, as “the street angel and a house devil.” He too was greatly admired in the community while abusing and often neglecting his own family.
Multiple personalities seems to have been endemic among Eastern Europeans. My father's parents were Slovaks. They had emigrated to the United States from an area in the Carpathian Mountains then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Although most Slovaks were traditionally Catholics, many joined the German Lutheran church in hopes of escaping the servility of their lot in life. It suited my father's purposes well inasmuch as he liked to claim that he was German. He was ashamed of his roots.
Interestingly, National Geographic published an article about the state of Slovakia shortly before it was separated from the Czech Republic. The author, a woman, and the photographer, her husband, had taken their toddler with them on the assignment and remarked at how warm and caring the Slovakians were towards their child. It made me laugh to read their account. They might have written the same thing visiting our household. This left me to wonder what was going on behind all those closed doors that didn't make it into their article.
At this point, you may be wondering just how I honor my father. Well, the simple truth is that I honor him with my life. I have been a sober and contributing member of my community and my nation. I have cared for my family and given them every ounce of love I could muster. At times I have stumbled in my duties as a father. Lacking in any good example of how to proceed, I have done my best. Surely people have considered me and thought that I must have been properly raised. How else can I honor my father? I suppose it is best that I now shut up and not belabor the rest. That is the greatest honor I can bestow upon his memory.