When you think of your parents, what comes to mind first? Are they attractive, smart, compassionate, tall or short, thin or, eh, just slightly overweight? What is their eye color, hair color —do they still have hair? When I think of my Father, I think of three things.
First, his name. Roscoe. Know anyone with that name? No? Ever HEAR of anyone with that name? No. How about Roscoe Lee Browne, actor in theater, film, and TV until his death in 2007. Great voice —James Earl Jones great. How about Roscoe Karns, actor in film and early TV? Remember “Rocky King, Detective”, running from 1951-4? Too long ago? I guess I’m dating …Dad.
Second, my Father was a fine athlete. Grew up on a farm and learned to play horseshoes. Dating Dad again, I guess. He swam well enough to teach Mom, when she was a teenager and they dated. Taught me, too, later. He wasn’t a pro athlete, though. When he was in his 20s and 30s, baseball did not have a minimum major league wage of $500,000. Neither did football or basketball. Golf, Dad’s best and favorite sport, was played by amateurs in country clubs and a small circuit of pros. He busied himself, when time permitted following work, repairing cars, and fixing everything that was broken, with swimming, horseshoes, miniature golf, and bowling —a 180 average after a surgeon sliced the tendons in his wrist to shreds. Might have been pro in that, too. Never complained, though. Not ever. In comparison, John Wayne was a wimp.
Third, my Father was always quiet. Always. Al-ways. Quiet as the grave, Dickens would have said. He was a man of few words. My brother and I used to joke that Dad would consider John Wayne a Chatty Kathy doll for boys. But while Dad didn’t talk much, he did . He got by with a variety of facial expressions, gestures, and short sentences. As a son, you learned to pay attention. He did not speak unless it was important. And he repeated nothing, ever. If you missed something, it was your loss. But his expectations were always fair. If he didn’t KNOW you could do something right, he didn’t request it. And when your chores were completed, properly and on time, you always got your allowance. As he said, once, and followed through with action every time, “you get what you earn.” That was the golden rule. Some of his peers would say, “He was fair to a fault.” My brother and I knew better.
Once, Dad did surprise everyone with an opinion unique for a white man. It was expressed firmly, with just a sly bit of humor, and, as is always true with humor, contained a large grain of truth. The family was discussing the various social ills of our society during dinner. Dad was eating. What were the problems facing the United States in the 1960s and 1970s and what gave birth to them? Dad stopped chewing and interjected: “Most of this country’s problems are the result of the Indians’ poor immigration policies.” I looked at my brother. He looked at me. We both looked at Mom and she looked back at us. We all looked at Dad. He had resumed eating. Good thing our attention had not wandered. We would have missed the moment —never to be repeated.
When an occasion arose at which many men would speak, what was Dad’s reaction:
1) Going to the hardware store. No need for a list or discussion. He’ll pick up what’s necessary when he gets there.
2) Composing a “to do” list. Too many items to discuss/list. He’ll do the important stuff automatically.
3) Discussing current events. Maybe tomorrow if something is still important. Don’t hold your breath.
4) Discussing the price of any and everything. If it’s important, he already knows. Discussion is a waste of time.
5) Discussing a book. He reads a local newspaper and Popular Science magazine. It will suffice.
6) Discussing neighborhood gossip. You’re kidding, right? If you have time for gossip, you’re not doing your job, chores, or homework.
7) Discussing restaurants. Nothing to talk about. He eats at home. Unless, Mom wants to “go out.”
8) Discussing our family’s week vacation at the NJ seashore. NO discussion necessary. If a vacation will occur, Dad and Mom will arrange it and inform family, friends, and neighbors when necessary.
9) Discussing buying a car. There is always a (relatively) new one for Mom; a used one for Dad —or kids, if he thinks it’s for an important reason.
10) Attending a funeral for an extended family member or friend. His suit is always pressed. He would arrive on time, stop in front of the casket, pause for a surprising amount of time, pat the deceased’s shoulder, talk to no one (“What was I supposed to say?”), and —later— at a restaurant/church basement sip A beer.
11) Discussing a movie. My parents went to see the film entitled: “The Bridge at Remagen.” It starred Ben Gazzara. It was about an important battle in Europe in WWII. Dad had always gone to such movies. He was very interested in this film because he had fought in this battle, just as he and other American troops had liberated the Dachau and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps. When he arrived home from the theater, I asked: “How was the movie?” Dad kept facing forward as he walked through the living room and into the kitchen and replied: “It wasn’t like that at all.” Mom, later, told me he’d said to her: “I’m not going to any movies like that again.” Remagen was in theaters in 1969. Dad died in 1999. He never saw another “war movie.”