From The Catbird Seat

Tom May's father, Robert May, taught him that you help put the spotlight on others, and not on yourself. Submitted photo

In the fall of 1973 my senior year of high school had begun. The Vietnam War was still raging. Protest marches were becoming common place. America was in a state of constant turmoil.

On Wednesday, October 10 of that year, the television was turned on as we entered into government class. Vice President Spiro Agnew was resigning his office after pleading no contest on suspicion of conspiracy, bribery, extortion and tax fraud. The general consensus was the days of President Nixon were just as numbered. My government teacher commented that morning, “Pay attention closely to these events. You are watching history in the making.”

I remember thinking, “I wonder if history will be kind or harsh when it reflects on the Nixon presidency.” Presidents are always concerned about the legacy they will leave. What will be the important things people will remember? How will people view the work that has been accomplished? Will the memory of history be kind?

As I pondered those events the other day, I realized history was worse than harsh to Nixon. History barely remembers him at all. Did you remember Spiro Agnew’s name until just now? History records the Watergate scandal, honors the names of those who broke the story, and occasionally mentions some of those who went to prison for their actions. Nixon’s name may be glazed over in the first paragraph and then again in the next to last one.

The only thing worse than being remembered for bad things is not being remembered at all.

An article appeared on a church leadership website mentioning services that should be eliminated from Sunday worship. One of the 10 suggested deletions was services that honored Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. The reasoning was that too many in the crowd feel upset because they have no children or their own parenting experience was bad.

It would be a shame to not take a day to remember parents. When we have Father’s Day services I do not even consider whether I am a father. I spend the time remembering my father. My memory is always kind.

The times we disagreed and argued never come to mind. The moments when disobedience was disciplined are as faded as the photographs in the scrapbook. There were no ceremonies where he received “Father of the Year” trophies. The President never called to invite him to lunch.

Instead the memories are focused. I remember the things that he taught me. Dad was a quiet man. He didn’t like to be in front of people, wouldn’t even utter words of prayer in public. He wasn’t a public speaker, didn’t sing in the choir, and he really didn’t like a spotlight on him at all. He didn’t lecture. He wouldn’t be standing in front of a chalkboard teaching. But I remember what he taught me.

Dad taught me to read. We would sit on the couch on Sundays reading the Sunday comics from the paper. It started when I was about 3 and continued until I was about 6. We read them all from page to page: Beetle Bailey, Hi and Lois, Dagwood and Blondie, Snuffy Smith, Charlie Brown, The Family Circus and Mutt and Jeff. By the time I was five I was even asking him to read Mary Worth, the Katzenjammer Kids and Happy Hooligan just to have words to read. I soon began to read the comics to him. By kindergarten I was reading like a pro when most couldn’t.

Dad taught me to throw a baseball. When I wanted to sign up for little league we went out to the field and threw a baseball. At the time I didn’t realize that the lot behind our house was the only one in the neighborhood that was mowed. Before the month was out, bases had been marked off, a pitcher’s mound had been established, and a batter’s box and home plate secured. By the time I was in high school, our youth group was playing softball on our personal stadium.

Dad taught me to hit a golf ball. At first it wasn’t striking the ball, it was plowing the dirt behind the ball hard enough that the ball would move. It didn’t matter to Dad. He would replace the divot and pretend that was how a golf ball was supposed to fly. We saw more trees, weeds and cow pastures than fairways and greens when I started. His eye always knew right where the ball would be. What could have been the worst experience in the world was the highlight of my life. We laughed. We talked. We always stopped at Dairy Queen on the way home.

He taught me that you work hard at your job, you never miss church, you love your wife and children, and that you help the spotlight shine on others instead of on yourself. He taught me how to have patience when fishing and watching meat barbecue on the grill. He taught me that blackberries were God’s greatest creation. He would have taught me how to wire the electricity in a house but by then I was too busy to learn.

Last week I was watching the “Today Show” on television when the broadcast was interrupted by a press conference being held in England featuring British Prime Minister Theresa May and President Donald Trump. The questions and answers took a little over two segments of the regularly scheduled program. When the broadcast returned to the “Today” studio, the last seconds of an interview with Pete Rose were coming to a close.

Pete had written another book telling pieces of his story that we have already heard. What we missed on the broadcast was Pete knocking once again on history’s door. Don’t forget me. Even if the things that you remember aren’t good. Just don’t forget.

From the Catbird Seat, as we wander through the time of year when we honor our mothers and fathers, if your parents are still living, knock on their door.

Tell them you remember.

— Tom May is a freelance writer. Reach him at tgmay001@gmail.com.