Well here I am, late as usual. But there are things I need to say after all these years. Things I wish I had said sooner. Since it was hard for you to say such things yourself, I know you will understand; that you will realize that some of us are slow to learn; that we have to live a certain number of years before our protective skin softens enough to let out all the feelings we hide, just out of sight.
First of all, I want to tell you how glad I am that you were my Dad. I don’t think I ever did that. I’ve always been proud of you. You were never “showy” or ostentatious, and you would probably never fit in with today’s “yuppies” or “millennials”. You were solid and strong. You never changed. I always knew how you would feel, what you would say and how you would react in nearly every situation.
Constancy was one of your many virtues.
Whenever I hear the Marine’s Hymn or see a young man in that distinctive green uniform, I think of you, and the two words which best sum up your life come easily to mind: Semper Fidelis! Absolute fidelity describes the underlying element which shaped your character and dictated your course. I don’t know whether it was born in you, whether it was a set of traits learned from others in your young life or picked up in the lumber camps of your youth, or whether its genesis was spawned amid the mud and gunfire of Chateau Thierry. But it was always there. For thirty some years, you never missed a day of work or were even late. And there was never a question of where you stood on matters of importance, be they about flag and country, family and principles or the subject of duty. When WW II came along, you spoke of trying to find a way to get back into the Corps even though well over age.
You never complained. About anything, And I can’t recall hearing you say a bad thing about anyone – even those who deserved it. You never made speeches about “bad luck”, hard times or the fickleness of fate. Your “rewards” – the things in which you delighted – were simple: the feel of an object carved from honest wood with your own hands, the thunk of an axe stroke expertly placed, and the obvious joy with which you planted, cared for and harvested an extensive garden plot whose providence always graced our family’s table. You may not have known it, but you instilled some of those same inclinations in your sons. Like you, the ethics you persevered in were solid, honest things and they speak of integrity.
Mom always used to say “your father should have been a doctor”, and I will always remember the gentle confidence with which you treated every kind of boyhood injury, both major and minor. I know it was your skill and fast-thinking that saved Junior’s middle finger the day of the “hatchet incident”. Perhaps your battlefield experiences and long hospitalizations suited you to such tender ministrations.
I think I will always remember with vivid clarity the day you sent me off to a faraway war. You had driven me to Leonard’s Store where we waited for the bus that would take me away. We sat in silence through those long minutes, I filled with the notion I would never return and wanting to say so many things I was afraid would sound childish and corny. And you, no doubt filled with your own forebodings, and hiding beneath that remarkably controlled surface the things you could never quite bring yourself to share. In the end the Vermont Transit bus pulled up amid a cloud of blue diesel smoke, the door wheezed open and we simply shook hands – father and son. It was one of those moments life hands us, so filled with portent that it remains forever emblazoned on the walls of heart and mind. I felt your great love and caring at that moment, and you were eloquent in the things you communicated without speaking.
And then there was that other time when I wanted to say all the things that were locked up inside me; but it was too late. I stood at the foot of your hospital bed, summoned from my own small world to watch your final struggle. You couldn’t hear me, but I was there. You weren’t alone.
In closing, I just want to say . . . I LOVE YOU! Happy Father’s Day, Dad!
NOTE: Auburn Forest Cooper, Sr. was born in 1893 and died 8 days after Father’s Day in 1958.