Once upon a time, I had a most wonderful father. To be sure, he was sick most of his life, but he had such outstanding qualities. He was honest, sincere, he liked helping other people, and he certainly loved his family.
I think it is true that whenever your mother or your father dies, you somehow feel you never did enough for them while they were alive. But, if you search your memory, you will come up with things where what you did made dad very proud, very happy, and well rewarded for being your father.
I grew up during the Depression and then during the war years. My dad loved Winston Churchill.
He was a voice from England who had predicted the evil of Adolph Hitler. Churchill warned Europe to be prepared, but as so many voices, most people paid no attention to him. In fact, the prime minister of England, a fellow named Chamberlain, said Hitler was a good man.
It was 1948, and at the Norwich Summer Theater, Winston Churchill’s daughter, Sarah, was in a play at the Masonic Temple co-starring with Jeffrey Lynn, a popular star of the day.
I was the press photographer for the Summer Theater, and I overheard Sarah Churchill say she had to get to the post office to pick up her mail. Stars who traveled all summer with summer theater groups would always have their mail forwarded to general delivery at the next town they were performing in.
My dad was superintendent of mail, and I asked Sarah Churchill to please request that my father get her mail. I told her how my dad respected her father, and she was very good about it. She said, “Why don’t I tell your dad that my father, Winston, told me if I were ever in Norwich, Connecticut, I should look up Jim Stanley?”
So, that night, when my dad came home from supper, he was a different man. He couldn’t wait to tell us all what had happened. He said Winston Churchill’s daughter had stopped at the post office and brought him greetings from her father in England.
On another occasion, when dad was virtually dying, I took my girlfriend to New York to a Yankees’ game. In 1948, I worked for The New York Herald Tribune and had covered a lot of games at Yankee Stadium. I got to know Mel Allen, who was the voice of the New York Yankees, and asked him if he would say hello to my dad, who would be listening to the game alone in his bedroom.
Allen said he couldn’t do it. “I can’t talk to individual people,” he said, “or there would be no end to it.” But to my surprise, in the seventh inning, as everybody stood to stretch, what came over the radio was more than I could have hoped for as Mel Allen said, “Tonight I want to talk to a great Yankee fan in Norwich, Conn. His name is Jim Stanley, and Jim is having a bit of bad health. But I want to make a commitment to you, Jim. You get better, and if the Yankees win the pennant, next year I want you in the broadcast booth with me for the World Series.”
My mother said dad cried like a baby. Of course, he was dead in a few weeks. It was a promise Mel Allen knew he would never have to keep.
When it came time to die, dad was taken to Backus Hospital. He was delirious and virtually in a coma. For seven nights, I stayed with him all night. On the final night, early in the morning, in a very clear voice, my dad said, “Bill, I am going to go now, and I want you to go home.” But then he said, “Please make me two promises. Please take care of your mother, and please don’t ever drink.”
My mother is gone now, but I did my best to care for her, and to this day, I am a teetotaler. I don’t drink at all because my dad asked me not to.
There were time I broke his heart, I know, but I am not going to share those moments with you. But on this Father’s Day, I will think of my dad and wish that I could have done more for him.
Let me speak to all of you whose fathers are still alive and tell you, this day, do what you may never have done before. I know you girls tell your dad you love him all the time, but you men and boys out there, when was the last time you told your dad you loved him? Has he ever heard those words from you mouth? If ever there was a day to say it, it is today.
So, mark my words, the day will come when you will have wished you did the right thing when it is too late and you can only have regrets of what you could have done and didn’t do.
Being a father is a very special obligation…to set good examples…to instruct your children, by example, how to live life…how to respect tradition…how to love family and be grateful for all of your blessings.
Father’s Day is never as sentimental as Mother’s Day. That may be all the more reason why on this Father’s Day, if dad is alive, you should find an opportunity to tell him how much he means to you, how grateful you are for all he had done, and you can say all of that best by simply saying, “Dad, I love you.” Three little words that will mean so much more to the old man on this day, once per year.
Bill Stanley’s prize-winning, latest book, “The 9-Mile Square,” is available at Lawrence & Memorial and Backus Hospital gift shops, Magazines & More, all branches of the Dime Savings Bank, Chelsea Groton, Eastern Federal, People’s Bank, Johnson’s Flowers and Gift Shop in Norwich, Wonderland Books in Putnam, or credit card by calling 1-800-950-0331