Happy Birthday Dad.
It has been awhile. Have not stopped out to your beautiful park in more than a year. Strange how, when I stopped the last time, your name had become almost impossible to read where Cindy’s was still the same and she has been there for 51 years. I expect it is probably a combination of two things; the “Greatest Generation” is coming home more frequently and markers are made in China!! I would say something, but It does not matter to me. I know it is you.
Mom said her final “hello” to you, physically, a few years ago. She is good with her memories and has the picture with the wreath standing between you and Cindy from a few Christmas’ ago. You would be proud of Mom. She has lived well, Dad. She has kept that pixy spirit that you fell in love with back at Grinnell! She has been there, as you always were, in her indomitable way, for any and all. The Pebble to your Rock she has maintained.
The Rock. Gregg spoke of this monocure produced from your consistent flow of tough but thoughtful will. I can still see you placing your elbow on the table, fist clenched, posed as a decompressed “Thinker.” You said it first, but then we all took it as the name that formulated your essence and therefore stood with it in such a way that comfort could not but be found. You are our Rock, our steady helmsman in life; lives no different than others in relationship to the fact that we all have experiences that unsettle or perplex us. We just “know” that you are with us, no matter where we were, that your strength of character provided our platform to soldier on, or better yet, “pilot” on. You absolutely, sometimes to our irritation, maintained a discipline of absolutes that has secured a foundation that we fall back on time and time again. Dad, you are such a backstop, a chainlink fence of titanium that has always protected. But how could such strength be so supple? Such character forged from within and expressed outwardly is rare.
You went to war, becoming an aviator for many reasons but the one that stays with me to this day, Dad, is that if you were to “get it” you did not want to come back maimed or in any way a hindrance to anyone; that you chose that which would give you death as the greater possibility. I still cannot fathom the thought process you entertained then. But I so love it.
And it was in war that you proved your companionship, your “salt” not only as a flyer but as one that could be trusted. It is why you were so desired as a wingman. And you never gave up. Three flying crosses later, two of them for being there for your fellow aviators in trouble speaks highly of what a man you are. I always held that close to me when I would sit at the nursing home with you. I know I did not stay long, but just coming to see you, making the drive, was something that filled me. You never left me Dad. I know you were “gone,” but never in my eyes. The letter to Mom from one of your last flying “partners” merits reflection, when he said you were the one who would volunteer to fly cover in the worst conditions so others would not have to. He said you were the best.
Your dedication to your company, thirty plus years, and then they threw you under the bus. Yet, you never complained nor said a mailaced word. You found a home with United Way and when you tried to clean some of the slop there they asked you to leave. So you did. I don’t think you looked over your shoulder either! Your secretary of many years said that she never met a more nice, accountable and hard working man. I know it was hard to leave Mom with the five of us( six for a few years) but you did what you needed to do. You always came home.
You were never Pops to me. Father once in a while but always Dad. You had such respect from so many people. Did I ever say how much I respected you Dad??! I know I have told many people that I had one hero growing up, and that was my Dad. Funny how, looking back 63 years, how true that is. You are a hero to me.
The greatest poem I have ever read was the one you wrote the day after Cindy died. I have never read something so simple yet so deep in its love. But what cornered me most was, hidden in the texture of the verses, the gratitude for which you were thankful you had her for her six years. And they were hard years!!
I only saw you cry once; when the U.S. won the hockey gold medal at the 1980 Olympics. It was not about the win. I knew that. It was about Jim Craig, the American Flag ( the Flag you flew for and worked for) draped around his shoulders, skating around looking for his father. “Where’s my father??” Yes, it truly was the first time I saw you cry. Not blubbery mind you, but manly. I feel choked thinking on it now.
Dad, you said to me years before I found Amy that you would not want to be raising children as my generation was hard at work doing just that. How insightful you were. Oh, its not that it is not ‘good,’ its just that you saw, honestly, the melting of the middle class. This is what our country can honestly hold itself above when comparing the great societies of History, the making of the great middle class. That is what your generation was about. Perhaps Brokaw said that in his book or alluded to it, I cannot remember. But it is this foundational element that we introduced to the world as the standard that made and gave equality a chance. It developed such stalwart personage and greatness of value. I can’t stop the melting, Dad, but I won’t stop trying. Because you would never would.
I love you Dad. Happy Birthday.
Douglas Armin Werlein