Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

June 24, 2007

Recalling some of the valuable lessons my father taught me 


       Even though I am an old man I still miss my dad. Now and then I wish I could talk to him again. We started several conversations we never finished. And I could kick myself for those times when I just sat with him and said nothing – as though he were going to be around always.

          But life is like that. If life is anything, it is a series of relinquishments from the cradle to the grave. We give up the bottle so we can eat solid food. We give up diapers and learn to dress ourselves. We leave kindergarten so we can go on to the first grade. The process continues until life ends. 

       If we live a long life we also give up people one by one. Precious friends and relatives drop out of our lives and we move on to love and embrace others.

          My sons assure me of their love for me on Father’s Day with a gift or a card or a telephone call, and sometimes all three. They seldom speak of lessons they may have learned from me. That does not surprise me. I do not recall speaking to my father about things I learned from him. But it does stir my heart to hear from my boys on Father’s Day. Fathers need that.

          More than a dozen years have passed since my father’s death. His last few years were difficult. He had been physically strong all his life. His days of weakness and confinement were not easy. He struggled to maintain a semblance of independence. It was actually with a sense of relief that we finally laid him to rest at the ripe old age of 93.

          Dad left no money, stocks, bonds, or real estate. The home he built in 1930 was well kept but old. The family sold it for $75,000. I have no special watch or pocket knife to remember him by. I do have one of his old walking sticks. My mother gave it to me not long after dad died, along with one of his many pocket knives.

          I really don’t need a lot of his stuff to remember him. What I have is more valuable than material things. He left me his wisdom. Though dad had little formal education beyond elementary school, he was one of the wisest men I have known. His sage advice will stay with me all my life for his words are etched indelibly in my mind.

          Dad’s wisdom was not original with him. I know that. But what makes it special is that it came to me and my siblings from him. We still remember some of his sayings:
* "Money doesn't grow on trees." Dad grew up poor and raised his five children during the depression years. He was not miserly but he taught us not to expect something for nothing. Only those who work hard will ever have any money; it is the fruit of labor. He believed that.
         * "If you can't do it right, don't do it at all."  Dad was never satisfied with shoddy work. There was a right way to do everything and that was the way he insisted on doing it. Do your best. Always. Never anything less. If it means tearing something down and starting over, then do it. And do it now.
         * "Always check the oil."  To this day I cannot crank up a piece of machinery - whether a tractor or a chain saw - without checking the oil level. Take good care of what you have, he insisted. "Don't crank it up until you have checked the oil."
         * “Alcohol makes a man a fool.”  Dad drank tons of coffee. That was his favorite drink, with "just a little cream, not too much." His dad died early as an alcoholic. That seemed to be reason enough for the rule: no alcoholic beverages in our home. In addition he allowed no smoking or cursing "under my roof." When he had to, he laid down the law for us: "As long as you put your feet under my table, you will abide by my rules." His word was law.
         * "Never talk back to your mother."  In his presence none of his children ever "sassed" Mama. If we did, he did not spare the rod. We grew up understanding that Mama deserved our respect. To this day it riles me up to hear a child or grandchild speak rudely to their mother.
         * "Hard work never killed anybody."  Dad worked from sunup until sundown. He had no tolerance for laziness. He worked hard all his life and he expected the same from everyone else. No exceptions. Even in his eighties he maintained a large vegetable garden.
        * "A man's word is his bond."  Dad valued honesty as much as anything. Keep your word. If you tell someone you will do something, then do it, or die trying. Dad had no respect for a liar.
        * "Always put tools back where they belong; they have a way of walking off if you leave them lying around." A job was never finished until tools had been cleaned and returned to the place where they belonged.
          * "Pick up that string; you may need it." If you notice a nail, a screw, or a piece of string on the ground, then pick it up and save it. Even the least little thing may have value later on. My dad never felt comfortable with our "throw away" society.
         * "Study hard so you can get a good education."  Dad worked hard for a reason. Not for a "place on the lake." He wanted his children to have a college education, something he never had. As I grew up there was never any doubt about my going to college. He promised to help us financially - as long as we remained single. "Once you get married, you are on your own." I got married when I was a sophomore at Auburn, and dad kept his word. I was on my own from that day forward. 

Dad was an impatient man, hard as nails at times. But we knew he loved us and we loved him. His good qualities far outweighed his weaknesses. A list of them I will not compile in the hope that my sons will do me the same favor. He was not liberal with compliments, but he did give them to us now and then. So I remember with joy those times when the look on his face said, "I'm proud of you, son."

Sage advice is a mighty fine legacy. Add a pocket knife, a walking stick, and the memory of a good example, and you have all a man needs.  Oh yes, one thing more; he loved me and I knew it. + + +