“FINE BOY LAST NIGHT BOTH FEELING TOPS TODAY”
That’s how my father learned he was a father, reading that telegraph in the spring of 1953, on the front lines in the waning days of the Korean War. He was 20 years old.
The telegraph came from my great grandfather Strother Dent Douglass. It’s pitch perfect in economy and tone. He was a railroad telegrapher and knew how to make every character count. Those 36 told my dad everything worth telling. I’ll take a few more than that on the day before Father’s Day to tell you about my dad.
His name is Charles. Charlie is what fits and what everybody calls him. He’s been in the hospital a fair amount lately and as hospital staff come into the room and address him as Charles, I’m tempted to correct them. In Pasco, where he grew up and where, by all accounts, (even some other than his) he was a football star, some folks still think of him as Red Dog. When I was young and we’d walk through downtown Pasco and the older men would address him that way, I’d puff up with pride, like it was me who’d done what he had done.
I can’t imagine what that transition was like when he came home from Korea to my mom and me. He parked cars in a hotel garage at night to feed us, and went to Gonzaga during the day. A few months before, he’d been in hand-to-hand combat on Pork Chop Hill. If there were G.I. benefits coming to him, he didn’t use them. Like a lot of men who served in Korea, he left the Army with a chain smoking habit from free cigarettes and not much more.
And like most of our dads, mine wasn’t famous. But, like most of our dads, he isn’t ordinary. If mine excelled at anything it was being a dad — and he excelled at that. Being a husband and a father, and now a grandfather, have been the only things I’m aware of that had any real importance in his life. Everything was secondary to those roles.
Anything good that my brothers and I are to our own families is due to him. It wasn’t an example that was set for him, but it’s an example he set for us.
I think what he’s always wanted most was to build something that would go on, to pass along the intangible best of family life that his children would pass along to their children, and the compassion and love to deal with the worst of everyday life. I’m not unbiased, but I think he and my mom have done exactly that. I’d venture a guess that most of you reading feel the same way about your parents.
What I’ve inherited from my father and mother is the realization that all any parent has of any worth is the conviction to do the best they can to see that their children do the best they can. After that, things should take of themselves.
On this Father’s Day weekend, for all the Charlie Barkers out there, I’d just like to say, thanks for showing us how.
Doug Barker, The Daily World’s editor, can be reached at 537-3923, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org