My Gratitude to My Father and Father Figures

This weekend is father’s day and though I’ve yet to be one, I appreciate my dad and the other men who have been in my life and shared some wisdom and gave me the example of how to live my life. There are a few guys here so be patient.

First is the man I’m named for, my grandfather, born in Lake Charles Louisiana in 1909, he came up to Chicago as a teenager and worked in the stock yards on the sheep killing floor and worked many other jobs in his life, retiring as a handyman from Stebbin’s Hardware (Harold Washington Library stands there now), in the mid 80’s. Always a devot Catholic (who prayed his rosary during mass), his faith led him to my grandmother and during their 57 year marriage, my aunt and mother were born and raised. His work ethic was legendary, his faith rock solid, and though he lacked education, he made sure we all got to the highest point in academia that we sought. I’m still trying to follow his strong example.

Next is my late uncle Mahat, though he’s been gone 10 years, another hard working man with good values but also liked a good time. He was married to my aunt for 27 years and all of us nieces and nephews were his children. He never forgot a birthday, anniversary or holiday. Always had flowers for the ladies on Valentines and never was without a joke or one liner. I’m still trying to duplicate his grilled fish recipes. His love for my aunt was better than anything you’d find in cheap books in Walgreens with half naked dudes on the cover. Devotion was what he was all about. He was educated at Kentucky State University (along with my dad), and served as class president, later worked as a buyer for Sears and in the end was in a partnership of a houseplant maintenance company. He loved plants, he didn’t have a green thumb, all of his fingers were green. His house looked like Tropic World Africa long before Brookfield Zoo had that exhibit. He helped all of us grow too and we’re still growing from he taught us.

My late cousin Bill Porter should have been a comedian, he was that funny but never said a four letter word. Another strong Catholic, his smile radiated a room. But he was a man of service as well. Started with him being drafted out of high school into WWII, came home and had a long career with the US Postal Service. He was service with a smile long before it was a commercial. He helped raise his nephew James (we call him Jay), and was devoted to his wife Bessie. Always had dogs, including my favorite Sergeant Pepper. Was also a jazz man and loved to travel. Always had a nice big GM car, first Buicks before graduating to Cadillacs. But like I said he was a man of service and gave so much time and effort to the Lions group as well as St Margaret of Scotland parish. He was the reason I went there, because of his dedication to the church and love of Fr. Dan Mallette. Even when Bill was sick and in the hospital I would visit him and he always made you feel better. That is love and one I will never forget.

I will mention a number of priests, starting with the afore mentioned Fr. Dan Mallette, he married my wife and I and saved my faith after I came from another parish where there abuse allegations with the clergy there. Fr. Dan is plain and simple, the faith lives in him and he lives his faith. His masses are quick but his legacy is lengthy from his time in the civil rights movement to assisting young men in the parish and his blunt speaking about alcoholism. He doesn’t make you believe, he is the living example of true belief.

The late Fr. Mark Dennehy and Fr. Norbert were my childhood priests at Seven Holy Founders parish, I served for them at numerous masses, attended their CCD and later the parish elementary school. I learned the ins and out of parish life and mass from them. They were of the Servite Order and treated the parish as their family. Though our parish was small, we were diverse and everyone got along because of their love for everyone. We had the older Polish and Irish members as well as the younger African American and Hispanic parishioners and we celebrated everything. It was a like a Catholic United Nations and I thought this is how everywhere was. But that’s the example these men of the cloth gave us. Unconditional love, support and faith. Every priest I meet for the rest of my life will be graded against these men who knew all of us and lived the Word everyday.

When I attended Brother Rice High School, Mr. James Antos (who is still there), really stood out as the schools motto “Act Manfully in Christ Jesus”. I worked for him as a student worker, managed equipment for his freshman baseball team and had him twice as a teacher for freshman and junior year history. If you crossed him he’d say “Your butt is grass and he was a lawnmower”, except he didn’t say butt. He is a veteran, a smart teacher, fun coach and dedicated administrator. He made Brother Rice a fair but tough institution that prepared us for the world.

Then I went to DePaul University and Dr. Peter Vandenberg became my mentor. He still doesn’t think of himself as such because we are friends but not only has he taught me creative writing and three other classes. He has really brought out my writing skills and given me excellent and fair critique. He also gave me so much of his time, in later years we’ve attended DePaul basketball games, Northwestern football games, Cubs & White Sox baseball, Chicago Wolves Hockey and Indy 500 time trials. Still the man has come from humble beginnings in eastern Nebraska to become a published writer, chair at DePaul and noted rhetorician. Yet he is as down to earth as they come and very humble. But his knowledge of new media and writing styles in unparallel and his devotion to his students and wife Karen is unquestioned. I’m honored to have him as a friend & mentor.

My father in law is the next example, Marty has been married to his wife for 43 years and working for his employer for 41 years. He is loyal, determined and devoted. His love for his children is obvious and always takes care of his mother and her needs. He has helped me too with work around the house and always has time to share a story, advice and a drink. He’ll let you know if you are out of place but the door to his place is always open. Did I mention he’s a Sox fan and muscle car man too? A good guy who will no doubt keep me on the straight and narrow.

The next person is truly a father figure, the dad of my good friends Brandon & Art, not only was Mr. Young the Scoutmaster for our Boy Scout troop, he took a engaging interest in every one of us. It wasn’t just about knots, first aid and camping. It was about a black man who had his own family (and was part time in the National Guard), taking his own time & money to help out with other kids. He took us on trips, provided door to door service that helped out our parents and he opened his home to us and always had time to help and listen as well as have fun. Without him, I wouldn’t know how to swim, so to first aid, nor have refined the fishing skills my father first taught me. The fact that I made Eagle Scout is an afterthought, the fact Mr. Young put me (and many other young men), in the position to achieve Scouting’s highest honor from a small minority scout troop in Calumet Park, is the true honor.

Lastly is my own father, although a little competitive and sometimes cantankerous, his example has always been how to get along. How to get along at work, with friends and with your spouse. Though his advice is often sprinkled with four letter words, the spice he brings is like the food he cooks, it will nourish you but comes with flavor. He is never boring and even on days when he may be quiet, once one of his friends shows up, he perks up. My dad is the ultimate buddy, will share everything he has, will listen to your problems (though if you go on to long he’ll tell you “Take Your Problems to the Lord”), and always has a good story to tell. He taught me how to be friend and as a know it all teenager I learned he knew a lot and it wasn’t until I befriended him with my issues and he had pin point accurate advice that me out of many binds. My friends always thought he was the “cool dad” but better than that, he was the dad with the real world experience from his days in the Navy to now in retirement, he speaks the truth because he has lived it.

All of these men have given a lot of themselves to make me a better mana nd for that I'm grateful. Thanks guys.

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    Charles W. Johnson

    I'm a lifelong writer (since I was 8 years old), and have been doing this blog in some form or fashion since 2004. I'm a DePaul University alum (LA&S '99), and know and love Chicago. Writing is my passion, what I write is what I feel, know and have experienced. I simply want to share my thoughts, experiences and opinions. And I appreciate you taking to the time to read what I have to say.

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