What is your best Father’s Day Gift – Given or Received?
Please leave a comment about this gift!
My best Father’s Day Gift was when my mother gave a homily for the Salem Presbyterian Church titled A Tribute to Fathers and mentioned me.
It was very moving, and since she called my stepfather and me out specifically, it causes me to cry every time I read it. I offer it here on my blog this year as it reminds me of what she thought a good father should be. I believe I have fallen short at times over the past 18 months or so (the pandemic has had its casualties). Her words certainly reminded me of what I should be striving for and why.
I love you, Mom; you are still teaching me what it means to be a good parent.
Here is what she said in her Tribute to Fathers:
A Tribute to Fathers
Donna S. LaFollette
I have been blessed – blessed by knowing many wonderful fathers. Today I’d like to mention three—actually four—that I’ve had the privilege of knowing.
The first is my own father, Richard Emmons. One of the biggest regrets of my life is that I didn’t get to know my father in my independent adult life; he died when I was 22, shortly after I was graduated from college. However, I still learned much from him. He taught me that I could do whatever I set my mind to, no matter what.
I remember the time that my sister told Dad that she wanted to be a batboy for the Indianapolis Indians. This was in the fifties, but I’m sure Dad tried everything to make that wish happen. But, of course, it didn’t. When he sat my sister down to tell her she couldn’t be a batboy because she was a girl, he looked at her face and cried. We were taught that gender shouldn’t matter.
Dad also taught me the love of reading. When I was little, on Friday evenings, the whole family went out to eat and then to the library, where we all got books to read for the week. On Sunday mornings before church, I’d crawled up on Dad’s lap, and he’d read me the comics. When I got older, Dad let me read what he read even though some parts were beyond my comprehension. We always talked about what we read.
I learned a strong sense of right and wrong from my dad.
One day when we were at my grand Parents’ Cabin on Lake Freeman in northern Indiana, Dad, Papaw, and I were fishing from the pier. I spotted a snake and cursed. I looked at Dad. Then I raced up the 72 steps to the cabin and jumped in bed. I didn’t run up those stairs because I was afraid of the snake or Dad (He didn’t believe in physical discipline.). I ran up those stairs because I had disappointed Dad. I never wanted to disappoint him, even in my rebellious teen years.
Another father I’ve had the privilege to know is my husband, Bill LaFollette. Bill is a loving Parent who basically stays in the background until he is needed. He is always the first to help any of the kids—mine as well as his—in any way he can.
Bill is always ready when one of our kids or grandkids needs him. Often, they don’t have to even ask. They might get some information in the mail or wake up to gas mysteriously pumped into their cars or clean cars or a mowed lawn or money that is needed for unexpected expenses.
When my daughter, Marla, had her surgery in Florida, Bill went out and bought a new van so Marla and I would be safe in our travels. When we drove to Florida, he insisted on driving us down. He went with us to our pre-surgery appointment. Then he flew back to New Albany. He flew to Jacksonville for the surgery, flew back to New Albany, and then back to Florida when it was time to drive home.
Bill is not only a good father to our children; he also helps anyone who needs his fatherly care. He received a Father’s Day card this year from a young man who is incarcerated. Bill has forgiven him his mistakes and writes to him, visits him, and supports him in any way he can. I believe that Bill has made a difference in this young man’s life just as he has made a difference in my life, his children’s and grandchildren’s lives, and my children’s and grandchildren’s lives.
The third father I want to recognize is my son, Michael Ratliff. It has been a privilege to watch Mike’s active, involved parenting. I remember when Emmons was born and there was some worry about complications. Mike in his green hospital scrubs and cap came into the family waiting room calmly and told us of the problems. He never once showed any lack of confidence that his and Penny’s baby would be all right. When I first saw Emmons with all the wires and tubes attached, I hesitated touching him for fear I’d hurt him. Yet, Mike was there gently with his large hands caressing the baby with all the love imaginable. He changed Emmons’s diaper and gave him his first bath under the heat light. Mike was an involved father from the beginning.
After the birth of Elias (He gave us no cares; thank God.). I have watched Mike play with the boys, discipline them, bathe them, dress them, read to them, teach them. He shares in the raising of his children with his wife, Penny.
Mike recently joined the Masons at the lodge where my grandparents were members. Through this Mike has gotten to know from the history of the lodge and from some of the elder members another loving and gentle father, my grandfather, Harry Emmons, who never was afraid to cry to show the emotion he felt for the love of his family.
In closing, with these stories of the fathers in my life, I wish to honor the fathers in all our lives. And to all the fathers here today, an anonymous quote: “The greatest gift I ever had in my life came from God, and I call him Dad.”
In Light of Emmons’ Graduation yesterday, I’d like to publish a journal entry I found of my mother’s. I dearly wish she could have been there.
Wow! What a day! Emmons flew in from Oregon today as an unaccompanied minor. My
head told me he would be fine – but my heart wouldn’t let me relax. I felt all day like I had forgotten something – some reservation, some technicality something.
I went to yoga this morning and that relieved some tension, but I got 2 phone calls from Mike during class. I normally turn my phone off during class, but today I placed it right beside my mat.
For the rest of the day, I basically, I watched the clock and tried to will it to move faster. Emmons did call from Dallas/Fw and sounded good and happy.
After my shower and another phone call from Mike, we finally went to the airport. Smooth as glass at the airport. Went to security – easy. Sat at the gate. Emmons was the last off the plane and all smiles. The attendant told me he was a “cutie” (like I didn’t know) and that they all had a ball with him.
We ate at kingfish in Indiana and sat outside. Emmons of course got shrimp. The a chocolate mint cone at Zesto’s.“ Then home at last.
“Oh, am I sick! I just can’t keep this up. I think I’m going to puke,” I thought, as my second hour juniors passed forward their essays on Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience.” Finally, the bell rang to end class, and I dashed from my second floor room to the restroom on the first floor. “I can’t keep racing down here,” I moaned, as I watched the remains of my chili lunch swirl away from me. “I’m going home!”
After I reported to the office, I grabbed my London Fog raincoat, jotted down some hurried notes on a Post-It for the sub, and trudged to my yellow Volkswagen bug. The thought — Yellow Bug — brought burning bile bubbling into my throat.
When I finally got home, I pulled into the gravel driveway, parked the car, opened the door, and dragged myself toward the front door of my house. Then I froze. There in my path coiled a slimy, green snake. To me it looked as big as a boa basking in the warm April sun. But, worst of all, it barred my way to the house. What could I do? Repulsion shivered over my body like a prickly, cold rain, but I had to slay the evil enemy that lay in my way. I raced to the barn to get a sharp hoe but stopped. I couldn’t do that: raise the hoe high in the air, swing it down, and chop through its green slithery neck sending its red blood everywhere. Bile again seared my throat.
Back to the car I dashed. I revved the engine and sped through the yard toward the snake. I’d run it down! Ignoring the deep ruts in the damp earth, I made several passes at my reptilian foe. Suddenly, realized I didn’t know if the snake was dead or not. It could be lurking right outside my car door. What was I to do? Would I step on it if I got out of the car? With a flash of genius, I drove right up to the front stoop of the house, opened the car door, leaped out, and darted inside. Safe at last!
Much later, when my husband arrived home, he spied the furrows in the yard and the Volkswagen with its door ajar. He ran to move the car, but when he cranked the key that I had left in the ignition, the engine ground and barely turned over. Then, just a click. I hadn’t slaughtered the monster snake, but I had butchered the battery.
When the boyz returned home from visiting their mom’s for Christmas, Emmons carried in a large plastic storage box. I looked in the box. It had over a thousand photos from my childhood right up through our divorce. I didn’t know they still existed.
One of the images was a photo probally 20 years old. I took it after my Mother and Aunt told a story about how they would walked to elemtery school together.
These sisters would walk together to their elementary school somewhere on the south side of Indianapolis. I don’t think they had moved to Southport yet. They lived not so far south but still south of Prospect Street and Fountain Square. The school had a number for a name, something like PS-31 or 41 (my aunt corrected me – Eleanor Skillen School #34). It is over 123 years old. As only siblings can do, they sometimes tortured each other on these walks.
The story goes, Aunt Darlene would walk behind, hanging her arms over my mom’s shoulders, and resting her chin on top of Mom’s head, just like the photo. Except she would weigh down Mom (Donna Emmons LaFollette) so that Mom would practically carry Darlene.
The crux of this anecdote peculiarly notes, mom submitted to this sisterhood shenanigans several times, at least more than once. Finally, my mother realized the physics of the situation, squatted down, then sprang up, ramming her head into her sister’s chin. I’m not sure if an injury occurred or blood flowed, as they’d always started laughing and bantering at that point in the narrative, forgetting to finish.
I took that photo in the front yard of my cousins’ house. Their pose illustrated the event.
I wonder if my failing recollection describes the incident anywhere close to how they told it or if I’m overusing dramatic license? If the latter, I hope Aunt Darlene doesn’t out my nostalgic sentimentality.
Mom talked about walking to her grandparents, finding the Schomburg’s door unlocked, walking through the house, and finding no one was home. So she headed straight out the backdoor to walk to Prospect Masonic Lodge on Prospect Street. She would find my great-grandparents cooking in the kitchen!
That’s over 10 Blocks, closer to 15!
Donna Emmons LaFollette grew up on a different day.
Mom and Aunt Dart’s elementary school, back in their day.
My writing got called “smarmy”
A good friend of mine, who often suffers my little pieces of prose at my request, called my writing “Smarmy.”