Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Father's Day - Birds

I was looking for a Father's Day card for Dad the other day. The cards were pretty good - I didn't have any difficulty finding several that had appropriate messages and great images. I would have needed only a few moments to get the card, but I noticed something interesting - the bird motif cards far out-numbered the golf motif cards - or any other sport for that matter.

But what really grabbed my attention was the type of birds - no raptors, no owls, no ducks. The cards are dominated by familiar, friendly little birds - House Finch, Goldfinch, English Sparrow and Black-capped Chickadees. I'm not sure who the English Sparrow is hanging out with - it's supposed to be his mate I think, but that's not a female English Sparrow. And those loose feathers floating around below them make it look like a shrike just nailed some little tweeter moments before.

My dad has started watching birds in his retirement. It's something we connect on, like we used to connect on law when he was still working.

My favorite Father's Day tribute is Groucho Marx's bit about fathers on the Dick Cavett show - of course it's on YouTube. I plan to get my sibs to learn and sing the Tie Song on the 21st. Groucho is right - there isn't enough sentiment about fathers - plenty about mothers. By the way, notice the bird on Groucho's hat.

My dad's father raised four children on his own. My dad's mom died when he was 4 and his younger brother was an infant. Two older siblings were old enough to remember losing their mom. That was in the late 20's. At that time, if a man was left with kids following his wife's death, normally the kids were sent to an orphanage, or the family split up the kids and raised them among cousins.

When the family announced to my grandfather who was going to take which kid, he shot them down. He said he would raise them. That they were going to grow up knowing their brothers and sister. It was a foolhardy and heroic and sentimental decision, but he raised those kids to be polite, thoughtful, loving, sensitive, generous people.

What is so poignant about my grandfather's insistence that his kids grow up knowing their siblings, is that he had left all his siblings behind in Ireland when he immigrated. Two later joined him, and one of those went back home. But he never saw the others, or his parents again. That must have been a deep wound.

My dad's family lived in an abandoned mission church that my grandfather remodeled into a kind of home for his little family. Their neighborhood was the poorest of the poor - a mixture of blacks, slovaks, germans, french, swedes - people who couldn't afford to live in the neighborhoods organized by nationality around their churches. My grandfather painted signs - freehand - on commercial vehicles for a living, and couldn't have made much. He was a union man, and helped unionize NSP, where he worked for years. One of his sons would later become a vice-President and lobbyist for that company. Another son, a fire chief, and another a federal judge. His daughter would marry and raise 4 wonderful children, even though she gave up her childhood when she reached 12 to take the place of the housekeepers her father hired to help around the house.

So when people talk about how awful it is when single parents raise kids, I count to ten, and tell them about my grandfather - a man I never met, whose tender heart is evident in his sons and grandsons and great-grandsons.

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