(Note: Originally written in 2007 for the Commercial Appeal)
Ernest Jennings Ford was part of a generation brought up to believe that sparing the rod spoiled the child. And like many my age, the lessons my father sought to impress upon me in my youth more often than not came with a reminder, which usually left an impression of another sort altogether; one that spared no emphasis, one usually in the shape of a hand, a belt, or a switch, and usually found somewhere on my backside. Many of those impressions were so…impressive, that they actually left depressions back there. Over time, I think I actually began to develop calluses on each cheek.
I know now, that all of the reminders in the world wouldn’t have mattered, wouldn’t have guaranteed that I’d remembered. It is, after all, a well-known, but oft-forgotten fact that the lessons our fathers spent most of their adult lives teaching us to remember, fail to be remembered until we’re well into our own adult lives, and old enough to have our own children. I know this to be incontrovertibly true. I’ve told my own children many times that one day, they will wake up, slap themselves and realize their mother and I were right.
They will realize that the same lessons given to me by father, and his father to him, will be the lessons they will (eventually, I hope) seek to hand down to their children; those lessons that mold who we are; the lessons that shape our character and define how we live our lives among others. Their simplicity is the key to the enduring value each holds: Tell the truth. Respect your elders. Don’t take it if it isn’t yours. Wash your own plate. Sit up straight. Earn it. It only takes five minutes to get in trouble with somebody, and a lifetime to get out (a personal Ernest Ford mantra in my teen years). Brush your teeth. Don’t slouch. Speak up. Mind your manners.
…Life lessons that will endure generation after generation. Lessons I will spend the rest of my life teaching my children to remember, knowing they will possibly need an occasional, moderate reminder.
Last time I checked, none of them had any calluses.
Thanks for the lessons, Dad. I miss you.