What My Father Taught Me
As Father’s Day approaches, I remember my father with deep love and affection, and I often think of his soft-heartedness towards animals, which always touched me.
Dad was a man of the Depression era, and he was a man who was raised to be tough, to be strong, to be self-sufficient, and to be in control, as was the norm back in the day.
He was a professional baseball player (minor league pitcher), and he was a military man, having served in the U.S. Air Force for 22 years.
I admired his independent spirit (he was, after all, a native Texan), and I respected his often “rebel” attitude towards society, speaking his mind about the injustice of power being concentrated in the hands of the few (namely, Wall Street and Big Business), and he was no fan of Big Government, either.
He was also a spiritual man, who didn’t often speak of spiritual matters, but when he did it was with a deep reverence for the merciful God he loved and kept in his heart.
He taught me much, but most of all he taught me that a strong man has a gentle heart deep down inside.
And that gentle heart includes animals in its compassion.
Dad grew up on a farm, and he cared for many of the animals, got to know each one, and often talked about his affection for them.
No doubt there must have been some bloodshed on that farm at one time or another, but he never spoke of it, and I’m certain that it was because it was painful to him.
Although he never gave up meat-eating, he often admitted that he really should.
“Barbie,” he’d say, with his soft southern drawl, “I should be a vegetarian like you.”
He definitely should have been, and it’s unfortunate that societal conditioning (ironically, that which he often despised, not wanting to be part of a “herd” mentality) kept him from making the change.
I remember vividly that once many years ago I came to visit my parents and my mother told me, “Your father was so upset that he couldn’t sleep last night.”
I asked her what was wrong and she said that dad had set a mousetrap and then was so distressed by seeing the poor little creature killed so violently, that he tossed and turned all night.
I loved him more in that moment than I ever had, and I loved him greatly before.
My eyes fill with tears right now thinking about it–a tough man, strong and independent, brought to deep remorse by the killing of a little mouse.
Such was what my father taught me: that all creatures matter and that to injure or kill one is to cause yourself suffering if you have any pity in your heart for another sentient being.
At the moment my mother told me about my dad’s distress, I heard rustling in the kitchen cabinet, and opening the cabinet door found a very alive mouse, looking at me fearlessly while happily eating a crumb.
I picked him up gently and he was completely unafraid.
I gave him a small piece of cracker and he sat in the palm of my hand munching on his meal.
I brought him to my dad, smiling, and said, “Here, dad, just call me if you need me to catch more mice.”
I will never forget my dad’s face–his look of wonder–his look of joy–and the tears in his eyes.
To me, the strongest man is a man of compassion.
The toughest man is a man of tenderness.
And the biggest man is a man who feels the suffering of others, especially those who are at his mercy.
So I learned that the strongest man–or woman–has compassion for all.
That’s the best lesson he could ever teach me.
And my dear father taught me that lesson by his own example.