Farewell to a gentleman

lowry_cheadWhen my dad was badly weakened by the flu and my mom wanted to call an ambulance to take him to the emergency room, he wouldn’t go unless he could shave first and change into a nice shirt and a pair of slacks. My mom told him they don’t have a dress code at ER. He insisted.

My dad, who didn’t survive his illness, was thoroughly old school. He would no more wear a pair of jeans than rainbow-striped clown pants. Born in 1929, he never lost his belief in the standards of a bygone era or his passion for its literature, culture and history.

He taught English for decades at what was then Trinity College in Washington, D.C., with an emphasis on American literature of the 1920s and 1930s. He was a teacher’s teacher who devoted himself to transferring, as much as he could, his love for Hemingway and Faulkner, to his students.

He adored big band music — Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller and the rest of them. He whistled and hummed their tunes constantly around the house. When we played recordings of the greats for him in the hospital, he hummed along through his oxygen mask.

He was a committed World War II buff. Nothing would ever seem as momentous to him as the clash of great armies over the fate of civilization that was in the headlines every day of his youth. He might have missed his calling as a military historian. His bookshelves were a veritable research library on the armaments of World War II.

He was a private man and very self-contained. I never saw him cry and never heard him raise his voice. Swearing was out of the question. He didn’t hug, if he could possibly avoid it. But he may have had the tenderest heart of anyone I have ever known. He spoiled the cats horribly, fed the birds lavishly and always endeavored to find a way to usher insects out of the house without doing them any harm.

He was a devoted husband and father. I’m always a sucker for sentimental father-son baseball scenes in movies. It brings back the times my dad would throw batting practice or hit fly balls to me down at the local field on summer nights. On the walk back home — with the overused ball stained green from the grass — he would put his arm around me and tell me stories of the game.

Whatever lessons I have learned in life in the importance of patience and diligence began when he assembled a model tank with me as a kid. He believed in excellence, in duty and in self-control. He was a constant reader, beginning with the newspapers every morning (I told you he was old school), and an inveterate self-educator. He always had something next on his list that he wanted to learn more about, and in the spirit of a tinkerer — he baked and had dabbled through the years in woodworking, gardening and bricklaying — always another project. He had a trial at the very end, but was dignified to his last breath. RIP.

      (Rich Lowry is editor of the National Review.)

© 2013 by King Features Synd., Inc.