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.

Richard Emmons and Eddie Emmons, The girl is a family dispute whether it’s Donna or Darlene.

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 and Donna with Grand Children
Bill and Donna with Grand Children

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.

 

Donna and Bill creating a blended family, December 31, 1987.

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.

Harry Emmons
Donna’s Grand Father

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.”

 

Boiler Up! Elias!

Next week my youngest son, Elias, is doing his first campus visit as a high school student researching which college to attend. He recently watched his older brother make a prosaic and apathetic college search, only to acquiesce to their mother’s choice of colleges.  Don’t get me wrong, Emmons will have an amazing and fruitful education at Texas A&M. His mother chose well. But, Emmons’s decision to attend A&M, and he will tell you so himself, was purely utilitarian, without any passion or emotion, “It’s just the next step in what I have to do.” I have wanted him to show even an inkling of excitement, but no.  He even gets upset when I emote joy at becoming an “Aggie Dad.” It’s been a little disappointing and anti-climatic for me.  Alas, I think Elias is more inspired as he begins his search for the perfect collegiate experience.

In 5th grade, Elias had a class assignment to design and build a Rube Goldberg machine.  As all good elementary students do nowadays, he Googled “rube goldbureg machine” to research the assignment.  He kept showing me videos he found of the astonishing elaborate machines competing in the annual National Rube Goldberg Machine Contest. As a certain university founded this competition in 1949, made it national in 1987, and generally dominates the competition each year, the videos tended to be teams from that certain university.  Consequently, without knowing my alma mater, Elias said, “I want to go to that college,” pointing at a team with an awesome Rube Goldberg machine trimmed in black and gold paint. I smiled, didn’t say anything, and my heart started pounding out the opening stanza beats to “Hail Purdue!”

Elias is my independent thinking offspring; he’s not going to submit to his mother’s or my college choices for him.  He has announced he will make his own choice and research the best fit for him.  So, we are readying for his first campus visit, which happens to be my alma mater.  He has plenty of time for other campus visits; he is just now finishing up his sophomore year.  I’m expecting a flood of nostalgia and reminiscing on my end of his Purdue Campus visit.  I haven’t been back on campus since my first date with their mother back in 1998 (I saw ol’ Drew Brees win that day, and now the dude is retired from the NFL).  Also, I hope I don’t unduly influence Elias’ collegiate choice with my love for my old school.

Should I let him know he would be a triple legacy with his grandmother and aunt receiving a Boilermaker education? Probably not; I think that can wait. 

Campus Visit for him,
Homecoming for Me!

Awe, Purdue! I was Purdue Class of 1991, but that stretched to the Purdue Class of 1992, then again into Purdue Class of 1993, and finally I joined the Purdue Class of 1994.

This Purdue Campus Visit will remind me that I did the Purdue four years on the seven-year plan. There was just too much to do; Boiler football games (the Fred Akers years – Ugh), fraternity parties (ΔΧ), four different majors (Philosophy, Psychology, something I forgot, and Leisure Studies), touring on bikes (rode home to Salem, Indiana one Fall Break – 180 miles mostly using Indiana State Road 135 South), dozens of campus organizations (College {insert a major political party’s name here} Club), more fraternity parties, a mid-degree Gap Year (not by choice), becoming a Lafayette Towny, learning to kite with a quad string stunt kite (full-size sewing patterns drawn on some university CAD/CAM & CNC thingy), backpacking the Smokies during breaks (800 miles total with university gear), coffee shops (anyone remember the Blue Café), hustling chess games for coffee money (Blue Café again), concerts (Sting & Gate Mouth Brown on campus and the Dead & James Taylor at Deer Creek), seeking university co-eds’ attention, taking ANTH 105 — Cultural Anthropology three times, taking five Spanish classes to get my required three courses of a foreign language, getting rejected by those university Co-eds’, bar-tending, completing the Around the World in 80 Beers challenge at the Knickerbocker (the most expensive damn T-shirt ever), street magic and mime (Red Brick Mime Troupe), some fun oddball classes (Etymology 105 – Insect Friend or Foe), some serious courses, a recreation class sitting next to Glenn Robinson, earning semester honors twice, and all kinds of other wild and collegiate things. I finished in the last class of the Leisure Studies -Therapeutic Recreation Concentration and a double major in Psychology. I had a hell of a time, and it lasted about as long as the third sentence in this paragraph (oh, now I remember, I was a creative writing major for a semester).

I hope I don’t bore him with my reminiscing during his Purdue Campus visit; I’ll do my best to contain it.

PS. I think I just wet myself… just a little bit.  Uh… Boiler Up!

My first air travel experience took place in December 1988. I was on winter break of my sophomore year at Purdue University feeling pretty mature with a bushy mullet, preppy sweaters, sockless boat shoes, and a wool topcoat.  My whole family (newly blended because of mom’s remarriage to Bill LaFollette the year before) was headed to San Francisco from Louisville to celebrate their first anniversary. Now! Who in their right mind would take two teens daughters and a self-absorbed vicenarian son on their first wedding anniversary?  The fact everyone sported wild 80s hair is also a clue to this newly wedded coupled judgment. 

After changing planes to a shiny new Boeing 747 in Dallas/Fort Worth, The novelty of flight quickly left me, and I managed some sleep. Still, at some point, I heard my sister, Marla Ratliff (also experiencing her first jet travel), scream from several rows back and along with the window row. She was pretty flighty back then (pun intended), so I ignored her, rolled my eyes, allowing my new step-father to see my brotherly-contempt-of-younger-sibling-histrionics, and resumed my nap; Sleeping on a Jet Plane!.

The next thing I remember, the sounds of a loud thud followed by air screaming over ailerons roused me from my slumbers. Then I hear all the passengers of the 747 applaud loudly. From my middle seat in the middle aisle, I could see blue and red lights shining through the windows and dancing on the plane’s top bulkhead as I rubbed the sleep from my eyes, but I interpreted it as some hypnopompic hallucination. When I finally got a glimpse out a window, groggy enough to still think I was dreaming, I saw Dallas/Fort Worth airport full of fire engines and other emergency vehicles, not the San Francisco skyline I had expected.

 

I later learned one of the new plane’s engines caught fire about 10 minutes into the flight, and my sister, with a window seat overlooking the wing, watched it all unfold. The plane had to circle the city while dumping fuel, turn around, and have an emergency landing. I slept through the whole thing, but my mother had deep indentations in her forearm for the next several weeks where Marla’s fingernails had held on for dear life.

Sleeping on a Jet Plane!

That was my first experience with air travel; completely different from my sisters sitting 4 rows back.