My Old Man

When I run I usually listen to music—playlists that I compile. The playlists are loaded on my iPod and all of them have more songs than I can hear on my longest runs. My thinking is I’ll hear different songs on each run. To make sure that happens, I set the iPod on shuffle. If you aren’t a user of iPods, that means the songs are played in random order.

Last night, on a 7.8 mile run, one song played twice, The Reverend Mr. Black, by the Kingston Trio. I didn’t think it was a sign. Like Jesus, I don’t have much truck with signs. However, the second time it played, the last verse really registered. Here are the first two lines of that verse.

It’s been many years since we had to part and I guess I learned his ways by heart.
I can still hear his sermon’s ring, down in the valley where he used to sing.

After hearing The Reverend Mr. Back twice, I knew it was time to right a blog about my old man. The folks in the picture are me, the little guy not sure about snow, my mother, and, the subject of this post, Bert Carson, my old man. I was three and half when the shutter opened and closed on the old Brownie that afternoon, in New London, Connecticut. If you are into military history you understand the connection between the location of the picture and the headgear daddy is wearing. He was a submariner, going through advanced at the Naval Submariners School, in New London, prior to his deployment to the South Pacific, in 1945.

He never talked about the war or his part in it. I thought he would talk to me after I served in Vietnam, but he wouldn’t. He said that wasn’t a war, and I suppose that compared to World II, he was right. Of course, anytime you’re in a war, its magnitude doesn’t lessen the personal risk. Be that as it may, he wouldn’t talk about it, and I stopped asking.

He never told me directly that he loved me, but he showed me in a thousand ways. At the funeral home, in Louisiana, a man that I didn’t know, one of four or five hundred that I didn’t know, grabbed my hand, looked in my eyes, and with tears running down his face said, “Your Daddy loved you so much.” That wasn’t the same as hearing it from him, but it was close.

You see, though I don’t agree, I know why he never told me that he loved me. Instead, he told me that he and I were so alike he could read my mind. At first I thought he was kidding, but he wasn’t. He could read my mind, and that’s why he didn’t tell me straight out that he loved me. He had issues with himself, with some of the decisions he had made, and things he had done when he was young. He knew that I would take every step that he took, and he knew he couldn’t keep that from happening. That’s what he didn’t love.

Had he lived beyond his fiftieth year, I know the day would have come when he looked at me and said, “I love you son.” But he didn’t live through that year. He was killed in what was labeled an industrial accident, but, it wasn’t an accident. Daddy was the Vice President of Maintenance of a small, specialty, paper mill in Louisiana, a position he had taken four years earlier, just after I was drafted. One of the first things he had done when arrived at the mill was tour the facility and prepare a list of problems that had to be corrected immediately. Four years later, one of the items he had on that original list, the replacement of a faulty transformer, had not been accomplished.

The day he died, Daddy had a crew of men working near the transformer. He took them to their work site and told them to stay away from the transformer. Before he went to lunch, he did it again. After lunch, before he returned to his office, he went to check on the job. A five thousand volt bolt of electricity from the transformer arced across five feet and struck him in the shoulder. The first man to him told me he sat up, smiled, and said, “I’ll be alright.”

For years I was angry. Not because the transformer wasn’t replaced. Not because the company lied about the real cause of his death. Not because he never told me he loved me. I was angry because he was gone before we had a chance to talk, really talk.

My anger is gone now, replaced by gratitude that he was my old man. I’ve never known a more spiritual person than my old man. I’ve never known another man who loved his fellow man as much as my old man. I’ve never known another man who would go against the world to defend what he believed was right, regardless of the odds or what was at risk. I’ve never met anyone else who would die to save a person he didn’t even know. I’ve never known another man who never compromised, or even considered compromising their integrity.

Since Daddy left, I’ve met others who have shared his values, not many, but a few. I’m more than pleased about that, and I know I wouldn’t have recognized them if the old man hadn’t shown me what they looked like.

Here are the last two lines of the last verse of The Rev. Mr. Black:

I followed him, yes, sir, and I don’t regret it and I hope I will always be a credit to his memory
’cause I want you to understand. The Reverend Mr. Black was my old man!

And here’s the entire song performed by The Kingston Trio:

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