“In Praise of (Extra)Ordinary Men"

A Memoir by Carol Deistler

You’ve never heard of my father, a postal worker who barely earned enough to keep his family fed, clothed and housed in a small apartment. And yet, if you were to ask me if he were a good provider, I would say the best, because from him, through his actions more than his words, I learned what it is to be an extraordinary person.

Although he missed a lot of my childhood, working the night shift, somehow he was always an important presence. When my sister and I were young, in the early ’60s, before fathering was the hands-on experience it is today, he would take us to the park every Saturday and let us climb and jump off rock outcroppings until our legs were like rubber. He would play endless games of catch with us, and tell me that the Yankees would be lucky to have a pitcher with an arm like mine (talk about building self-esteem!).

I remember my father had to take an annual test at work (for ZIP codes, in the days when sorting was done by hand). When he scored a 99 or 100, I was so proud I couldn’t wait to tell my friends. 

But when I said that, he got angry and said no, don’t tell anyone, and became sullen and withdrawn. I remember thinking, wow, adults sure are weird. Why can’t I tell anyone? He’s proud of me when I do well on a test. I’m not sure how many years passed before I realized why he didn’t want me to tell anyone. He was embarrassed. Compared to the jobs of other fathers who marched off to work in suits, he thought his job didn’t measure up.

When my mother would scoffingly ask my father why he couldn’t fudge our taxes like our neighbor did, he would answer, “Because I want to be able to sleep at night.” He wanted to pay his fair share, regardless of what others did, because it simply was the right thing to do.

Near the end of his life, diagnosed with mesothelioma and sporting a tube sticking out of his lung to drain fluid, if you asked how he was doing, he would answer without hesitation, “Great, great, a little tired, but can’t complain.” I felt like saying, no dad, you can complain, you’ve got plenty to complain about. 

But he honestly didn’t see it that way. On his 80th birthday, when talking to a friend, he said “Hey, we already beat the odds. Whatever happens now, we’re the lucky ones.” He had been through tough times but knew he had always treated everyone with respect, never cheated anyone, and was loved by his family.

So here’s to all the ordinary men of the world, the ones who go to work each day, not to glamorous jobs or to fulfill their creativity, but simply because they need the paycheck. For the ones who are unemployed and almost at the end of their ropes, but who’ll never stop trying because they love their families and want to make things right again. For the ones who work at a company that sees them as a disposable part of the profit equation, but who stay because they know that’s pretty much all that’s out there. For the ones who are bringing up children in the toxic environment America has become, where people who produce nothing walk away with millions. For the ones who struggle with teenagers in thrall to reality stars who are famous by being self-involved parodies of human beings. For the ones who keep the faith that although their fatherly love and support may be spurned today, one day their children will realize whose net worth is more valuable.

So as Father’s Day approaches, let us pay tribute not to the “great men” of the world, the CEOs, heads of state, sports and celebrity superstars whose names everyone knows, whose passing is given thousands of words in the media, but to the men who are rarely heralded — and there are many — who, in the very ordinariness of their lives, reveal themselves to be the truly extraordinary among us. 

 


Carol Deistler, a former communications consultant and college administrator, is currently writing a novel. She lives in Springs.