By Carl B. Forkner, Ph.D.
This week I set aside contemporary issues and write on a more personal note. With Father’s Day here, I take some time to reflect on the man who—above all others—was and always be my hero…my Dad. I had many good years with him and think about him nearly every day. The last time I spoke with him was on Father’s Day in 2011, while my two sisters were by his bedside at the assisted living home where he and his wife, Evelyn, were living at the time. I did not know this would be our last conversation…but the next morning, as my two sisters were saying their final farewells before heading to the airport to fly home, he closed his eyes, took his last breath, and bid this world farewell. The last words I ever had the opportunity to say to him were ones that I had said before: “I love you, Dad; you always have been and always will be my hero.”
Why is Dad my hero? He did not make millions of dollars and live in a mansion, drive the latest luxury car, hold high public office, or receive one of the nation’s highest decorations for bravery and valor. What he did, however, was make enough for us to have a comfortable home and lifestyle, had two modest vehicles for our family’s needs, was Executive Director of a Chicago-area YMCA in a disadvantaged neighborhood, a Director at the Chicago area Crusade of Mercy (later the United Way of Chicago), volunteered in our community to help youth, and served honorably in the United States Army Air Force in WWII in England and post-war Germany. No, not lofty offices nor celebrity accolades, but a good, honest life of work, family, and service.
My Dad was a member of The Greatest Generation, but you will not read about his heroics in books or see them in movies. He was like most of his generation—industrious, hard-working, family-oriented, patriotic, active in the community, a volunteer, a mentor, and a servant leader…and a good example…
I remember my Dad teaching me how to cut the lawn with our push mower…and then taking time after we put things away to play catch with me; he taught me that reward comes after accomplishing work, not before.
I remember looking forward to the opportunity to spend the day with him at his office; I learned how to work together with others and appropriate behavior in a professional workplace.
He ran the local youth bowling league (as a volunteer) and got me involved; I learned the value of serving others and how to be part of a team…and later ran the youth program in the summer, eventually coaching and being assistant director of a youth league where I was last stationed.
He taught me how to golf so we could enjoy a father-son activity together; for my son and me, it was bowling.
He taught me the value of learning side-by-side with others who shared similar values in the “Y” Indian Guides, Cub Scouts, and De Molay; I volunteered as a leader in my son’s Cub Scout packs and Boy Scout Troops, watching him grow and providing him the opportunity to learn alongside peers with common interests.
My Dad valued family and wanted his children to succeed; I have tried my best to help my children succeed (one is a professional artist and the other is an IT professional and Technology Department manager for a major company).
My Dad was proud of his military service (he sometimes lamented not making it a career, but after WWII, it was better for him to go to college); I learned the value and honor of serving the country—my Dad commissioned me and my Mom pinned my wings on early in my 28 ½ year Navy career and will always be proud—and humbled—to be a veteran…
I had the misfortune of losing my Mother to cancer when she was only 56 years old (my current age) and I was 27. I was blessed to have my Dad around until the day after Father’s Day in 2011, when he passed quietly at age 84 ½, making him the longest living person of his identifiable bloodline. I spoke with him every Sunday afternoon and tried to visit every couple years. When I was stationed in WA, the kids and I would visit every couple months (by that time, my ex-wife had left us), so my children had the opportunity to get to know him. My son loved to go there and help with getting down or putting back up the holiday decorations each year and often did other little things to help out during our visits…I guess he learned the importance of family and serving others. My daughter enjoyed the opportunity to visit and go to the Tea Room with my Dad’s second wife, Evelyn, and loved seeing her Grandad.
So, yes, my Dad has been and always be my ultimate hero. I have met Medal of Honor recipients from WWII, Korea, Vietnam; Congressmen, Presidents, and Governors; Emirs, Ambassadors, and our most senior military leadership. But they are but a blip on the scope…my Dad helped shape me, teach me, and influence me not through orders or demands, but through his example of what a good and honorable man truly is. Above all else, he is what made the biggest difference in my life. These things are why he endures as the biggest hero I will ever have in my life…
God bless you, Dad, and saying thanks in not nearly enough for all you have meant to me…and still do…I only wish you were still here to share those sentiments in person…