At my cousin’s graduation party, we were asked to wear alumni t-shirts. There were ones from Ohio State. IU. University of Chicago. My dad proudly wore one that said, Jabez Elementary, Sixth-Grade Grad, Class of 1951. We told him he should wear it to the Roberts family reunion. He declined, saying “They’ll think I’m putting on airs.”
The truth is my Dad is quite intelligent. When he was 16, his father Joe Etsy set him down and said, “You can quit school now and become a real man. Earn money for the family. Pay your way.”
Out of spite, mostly, Dad stayed in school and earned his high school diploma – all the while being the primary family wage earner working at a nursing home.
Dad went in the military and was stationed in Germany. He has fond memories of seeing the European countryside and meeting new people. He’ll even tell you he learned to speak German and then share his vocabulary – “Eins bier. Zwei bier. Drei bier.”
Dad got out of the service on a Saturday and went to work on a Monday at Cummins where he worked for 32 years, starting out on the burr bench and worked his way up to scheduler, the best paid office hourly worker for the company.
Dad worked to earn a living, but he didn’t live to work. When he was off, he was off. One of his passions was getting involved in my sports. Though he knew nothing about baseball, he accepted a position as assistant coach and statistician on my little league team, the Nineveh Cubs.
Dad had his own way of scoring. Anytime you didn’t strike out, he counted it as a hit. I batted over .850 my rookie season.
I once calculated I played in 128 games in my basketball career and Dad attended a total of 127. He missed one because he was in the hospital after suffering a motorcycle wreck on his way to the game.
Dad wanted me to gain a good college education, but he wasn’t able to save much money to invest in it. That didn’t stop him from contributing. After I received a scholarship from Cummins worth thousands of dollars, Dad calculated the exact number of overtime hours to earn it and he worked off the clock, sometimes going in at 3 a.m..
Dad was no saint, though. For years, he drank and smoked about as hard as he worked. It took its toll as he developed host of other health problems. Yet, his strong will has allowed him to make necessary changes. When he was diagnosed with emphysema, he quit smoking. When he was diagnosed with diabetes, he quit drinking. Just quit. Cold turkey. And hasn’t looked back.
Now Dad lives modestly in our family home where he watches the hummingbirds out the window, rides his four wheeler through the woods, and roots Tony Stewart on to victory each week.
He’s done pretty well for a self-described “dumb old Kentuckian with a sixth-grade education.”
Dad says when he dies, he’d like to be buried on a hillside near a highway and have one of those smiley-faced waving hands on his tombstone that reads,
“I’m dead, but have a nice day.”
“Hear no evil (Dad). See no evil (Me). Speak no evil (Uncle Larry).”