Friday, March 10, 2017

A Family Story and A Lesson Learned

Yesterday's post highlighted a Family Recipe and its ingredients that might trigger family stories that could be written. I mentioned a few of the ones I had written that fit well with several of the ingredients. One was Loyalty which brought to mind a personal essay I had published some years ago about my dad and me. You can read it below. This picture of my dad was taken only weeks after I was born.
Driving With Dad
By Nancy Julien Kopp

     During my growing-up years, my dad drove a 1936 Plymouth, moved on to a 40’s model Buick and then a 50’s era Chrysler that was his pride and joy. Every one of those vehicles was a used car, but Dad burst with pride over each one. He kept them washed and waxed, made sure the engine hummed, and brushed and vacuumed the upholstered seats regularly.
I learned many life lessons during conversations in those cars, usually when Dad and I drove somewhere without my mother and brothers. Both of us sitting in the front seat of the car, we bumped along the brick street in front of our apartment building, our words quaking as we passed over each new brick the tires hit. Finally, we’d come to a paved street, and our voices resounded normally again. An innocent remark from me as we rode along brought forth long orations from Dad on more than one occasion.

My dad was a short, skinny guy, but his inner strength and street smarts created a powerful person. He steered with one hand and gestured to me with the other, citing one example after another to prove a point.
In my childhood years, I considered his words as nothing but lectures. Never content to say a little about a subject, he’d begin with the important part of the lesson and continue on and on until I effectively tuned him out. My own silent rebellion. I must have had a mental file folder in which I saved those little lectures, for bits and pieces float through my mind even now, over sixty years later. They’ve helped to make me the strong person I am today.
Dad grew up in the Depression years. He lost his father at the age of fourteen and dropped out of high school to search for work. He supported his mother and himself with one scrounged-up job after another, finally settling in permanently at International Harvester Co. when he turned eighteen. They hired him as a truck driver, and Dad moved on through the ranks of the parts department in a distribution center and finally to the General Office in downtown Chicago where he worked with men who, unlike himself, held college degrees. He supervised a department of men and women until his retirement, and never was a man more loyal to an employer than he.
As an adult, my dad’s words revisited me when I attended college, taught school, married, and became a mother. One of the things we often talked about in those old cars was loyalty. “Loyalty,” Dad told me, “will reap benefits beyond your wildest dreams.”  He repeatedly instructed me and my brothers to be loyal to our family, to our employer, and to our friends. Mixed within the admonition to show loyalty was respect and integrity as well as fidelity, subheadings for his favorite topic.
As a child and especially in my teen years, I resented Dad’s lectures and did my best to ignore them. In my young adult years, Dad often grasped an opportunity to repeat those lectures. The same stories, the same words, the same lesson, and I’d think ‘oh no, not again.’ How many times could I listen to what International Harvester Co. did for him? That his loyalty to them was returned a thousand-fold over the years. And didn’t I already know that his loyalty to his best friend resulted in a lifelong friendship?
Dad died over twenty years ago, but the lessons he taught through words and example live on. The words I naively thought I had tuned out so long ago come back to me at the strangest moments. When I see evidence of others’ loyalty, Dad’s words drift through my mind, and I wish I might thank him now for what he taught me all those years. I tried to be loyal to my employer, my family, and my friends exactly as he’d said while we drove all around Chicago in his treasured cars. And he was so right. I’ve reaped the benefits in the form of good working relationships, a wonderful family life, and the joy of many warm friendships.
He didn’t have a college degree, but he knew the values to instill in his children and he worked hard to ensure we learned the meaning of loyalty. The little lectures in the car and sometimes at the dining room table were re-enforced by the way he led his own life. I listened and observed, quite often subconsciously, and applied what I learned throughout my own life. Thanks a million, Dad.

No comments:

Post a Comment