My first, last, and forever Valentine

chocolate valentineLast week I wrote about my brother Dick, who is the person in the family with whom I share a love of animals, a love of the outdoors, and a need to be my own boss. This week, I want to acknowledge my dad, who at age ninety-four remains the most important guy in my life. (Sorry, Westhaven.)

Stuey is from the generation that knew how to work hard and drink hard, but not always how to put a name to what he was feeling. His parents divorced before it was popular, and his reaction was to insist that his own domestic situation be stable and tranquil. Ha. No marriage that produces seven children (starting off with twin boys), will be tranquil, but I never EVER for an instant entertained the fear that my parents would split up.

10_Patton_FHe supported his wife and seven kids, single-handedly providing the necessities for all of us, despite migraine headaches, university politics, and my mom’s generous streak. All of his children have college degrees, in large part because he taught at a university that gave a tuition discount to faculty dependents. He was a keen and creative researcher, and would have made more money outside academia, but he wanted his children to have an education.

He came home at the end of the day, and ate dinner with us every night. For us kids to be home to eat dinner at 6 pm was a Starfleet directive, and Dad walked the talk. Not all parents do.

10_Patton_BHe could be silly. I love this about my father. He can still flirt with my mother, delight in a stray tomcat singing to the lady cats, or enjoy Joann Castle playing boogie-woogie piano on a Lawrence Welk re-run. He and his friend from Radnor High School, Ben Snyder, had a running cribbage tournament for more than fifty years, and to hear those two teasing each other (“Read ’em and weep, fella! Been nice knowing ya.”) was a revelation to me as a kid. What do you know, grown ups can have fun?!

In the general case, Dad was serious, and he had a temper, though his sons caught the brunt of it more than his daughters. I came to understand that Dad also had a tender heart, though he hid that from us, and often from himself. I once saw him tear up to Gordon Lightfoot’s “Carefree Highway,” but I never heard Dad complain about all the people depending on him.

mount nittanyDad has handed me some of the most timely and comforting advice I’ve ever heard. He told me more than once, “You don’t want to be around people who don’t want to be around you.” He pointed out to me when I was dithering at a crossroads, sometimes I could make a choice based on what I knew for sure I did NOT want to see happen. Once when I was at daggers drawn with my mom, Dad didn’t exactly break parental ranks, but he intimated the problem might not all be me, and to give it some time.

milk bookNow, Stuey has congestive heart failure, about which he does not care. I suspect of all the gifts he’s given me, this dignified dismissal of death will be among the most useful. His life speaks for itself, and, scientist that he is, he’s interested in seeing what comes next, when he is, as he put it, “Subsumed into the general wonderfulness.”

I will be without my first, last and forever Valentine then, but I will never be without his love, nor he without mine.

Do you have a first, last and forever Valentine? Did your dad get some important things right? To one commenter, I’ll send that Scottish Comforts basket.


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25 comments on “My first, last, and forever Valentine

  1. Ah, now I am sitting here weeping about my own father, who is definitely my No. 1 valentine, even though he’s been gone for 23 years. He grew up poor in a rural small town and had the care of his younger siblings during WWII because both his parents went to work in factories (a long commute involved) to support the family. How poor? They had meat for dinner once a week, on Sundays. He was the product of a generation that saw women as wives and homemakers, but he always made it clear to his only daughter that I was expected to go to college (and to pay for it, because his paycheck couldn’t stretch that far). His only disappointment in me was that I didn’t go straight on for a master’s degree (I feared the debt), but he was over the moon proud that I became a journalist and I know he would be thrilled that I still toil in the world of daily community journalism (which is now a website and a newspaper) more than 30 years later. My dad died of congestive heart failure, by the way. In the emergency room on the night he died, his last words to my mother were “It’s been a good life.” To my baby brother, the only one of four of us at home that day (he was a law student then), Pop’s final words were “be a good lawyer.” He was a man who expressed his love for his kids as hopes and dreams for our futures,and for wife with a statement of thanks and no regrets. I miss him always and wish often that I could talk through some knotty problem with him. And I know he loves me still.

    • I was once asked, “If you knew you would die suddenly within the hour, what would regret having left unsaid. Why haven’t you said it?” So I told Dad that he’s still my main man, that I’ll miss the heck out of him when he goes, and that if he thinks for one instant that nobody needs him around any more, he couldn’t be more wrong.

      I felt a little selfish telling him that–he’s ready to go, and he’ll tell that to anybody–but I also think he was pleased to hear it. I hope he was, anyway.

  2. What at timely post. My dear father passed away on Feb. 2 and, while he had not been well for awhile, I was still unprepared for the shock of his passing. My own dear husband and best fired asked for a separation in December and I am now reminded that my father is the one and only man who truly loves me no matter what.

    • Maria! What a tough, stinkin’ winter you’re having. I hope the separation resolves itself to YOUR satisfaction, or that the friendship at least abides.

      Condolences on the loss of your father, too. There’s the scary business of knowing that your cohort is the now the old guard, but worse, you don’t have your trusted adviser around any more to help you cope with that adjustment, or to the loss of your beloved parents. What a bad deal all around.

      I wish you love, though. Love will get you through nearly anything, including this miserable winter.

  3. My Brother was born in February when I was nine and my sister was seven. My parents brought him home from the hospital on Valentines Day.

    There was much fuss and commotion, flowers and candy (which my dad ate) for my mother and for my sister and I and a screaming red faced baby! I sat with my Nana Molly who stayed with us for a few weeks and watched her feed my brother. Baby Charlie was quiet only when Nana held him. I asked if I could hold him– my mother said no but my Father put him in my arms and he quieted.

    This was the start of our brother-sister bond. We’ve navigated childhood, young adulthood, unexpected tragedies and watched our children grow up. We share a love for animals, small children and roast beef dinner with baked potatoes and green beans. I am glad that my Dad let me hold my brother all those years ago. It was the best gift my Dad gave me. I can count on my brother. Always.

    • I have a sister ten years my senior. Same Same. She was a benevolent source of wisdom and caring as I was growing up, not quite an adult, more of mediator between childhood bewilderment and adult authority. Kind as the day is long, and when she went off to get married, I was NOT ready for her to leave the household.

  4. While I love my husband and sons, my Dad is my constant Valentine and an example of what love, real LOVE is. We lost Mom in July, three weeks before their 60th wedding anniversary. Through the nine months before, we all saw their love and what those vows of *in sickness and in health* mean in real life.

    Mom and Dad met during rehearsals for a production of the operetta, “Bohemian Girl”–Mom sang the lead and Dad was the stage directer. Dad was a dancer–and the vaudeville partner of a VERY famous dancer/choreographer/movie director (this fellow won an Emmy, Tony and Oscar in the same year)–and was also a ballet dancer. Mom was a coloratura soprano.

    I remember Dad (and Mom too) telling me to keep my *chin up* when things got tough. I wasn’t sure what they meant and finally asked when I was a teenager. Dad told me I’d know what to do and it would be different every time. So, keeping my chin up, I plug on when things are rough.

    Dad was 87 in December and this was his first Valentine’s Day without his Valentine. I told him to keep his chin up and he laughed a bit and then we cried.

    • Oh, my…. the show must go on. I think my 91-year-old Mom goes to bed each night praying that she outlives her Stuey, not because she wants him gone, but because she doesn’t ever want him to have to be alone.

      He’s very much a home body, and she used to take long walks to get her “me” time and solitude. Now she can’t jaunt off on her own like that, so she and Dad have developed a routine of tag team naps, sits on the porch, reads of the paper, to give each other space without leaving the property.

      Old marriages take my breath away sometimes.

  5. My father always brought me a red heart-shaped box of chocolates for Valentine’s Day even after I grew up and could purchase my own if I wanted. I miss, not the chocolates, but the wonderful feeling that he really did like me. He was 98 when he passed away.
    The doctor said he just wore out.
    It is nice to have had those kinds of people in our lives.

    • I recall coming home from school in first grade, and though we probably made hearts in art class that week, I absolutely was NOT expecting a Valentine on the mantel for me and my sisters–one each–when I got home that day.

      It was a mushy, silly thing to do for such a serious, hardworking guy, but how thoughtful. I haven’t any of those Valentines now, and I wish I’d kept every one.

      Ninety-eight is a magnificent age, and suggests in addition to all his love, your Dad also gave you some enviable genes.

  6. Forever Valentine, humm?

    I’d probably have to include both my mother and father in that one. They have both been gone now for many years now but I was always more of a Daddy’s girl” than anything else. My mother and I had a more contentious relationship. But the bond that you have with your parents is such a strong one.

    I was just thinking the other day that the last time I gave a Valentine to anyone was 20 years ago. It was to my Mother several months before she died.

    • You’re so right about the moms… my mom and I did not see eye to eye until I was in my mid-thirties and a mom myself. I finally threw in the towel on the power struggle, and realized she did the best she could, and it was her turn to be the baby again.

      Life has been a lot less frustrating since then, probably for both of us.

      Sorry you’re without Valentines. But for Dad, to whom I sent flowers, I am too… but it’s as Elaine said. The love remains, and the memories.

  7. My daddy has always been my hero. He and my mom have been married for 42 years now and I am grateful to have been able to have both parents growing up. I never went without and I know that if I need anything, my dad will still be there for me. He never finished high school or got any degrees, but I have never been prouder to call him my dad. I learned that I could do anything I wanted from him, just like he learned to be a boat captain and later a carpenter. Thanks dad for being a great role model in my life and now in my son’s life.

    • My dad wasn’t my hero growing up. The family revolved around him and his needs and wants, and he had a temper. I wasn’t very impressed with him as a kid, but then, I wasn’t impressed with the great blue whale that hangs in the Smithsonian or with the Hope diamond, either. Quite the critic, I was, and so ignorant.

      As I grew up, I realized that again, Dad did the best he could, and his generation faced awful challenges, which they met without complaining. I am proud of him and I delight in his company now, and that’s saying a lot.

  8. My first and forever valentine is my husband Terry. He is the first person to ever (including my parent) to eer love me for just me.

    • A lot of people not only don’t celebrate it, they loathe the occasion. I knew one guy who referred to it as “Obligation Day,” because he felt that coerced into getting the card, flowers and chocolate.

      That marriage didn’t last long.

  9. My dad was and is my forever Valentine. He has been gone since 1973, Was 78 (just barely), this is the age I am now. He too had congestive heart failure. What a guy. My mother died at age 46, and here he was, only parent to a 13 yr old girl. Only child, born to them after 12 yrs of marriage. We were a team. Cooking, doing laundry in the old wringer washer. When I was little, reading to me, teaching me how to whistle. He loved his three grandsons, let them build things in his shop. Miss him still.

    • Nola, it’s hard being a single mom, it’s harder still being a single dad, and it’s triply hard being the single dad of a girl. Hats off to Dad for making it look easy before it was popular. I’m sure he was a significant role model for those grandsons (who had better have their priorities straight come Valentine’s Day).

  10. What a sweet post on your father. You are so lucky to still have him! My Hubby of 30+ years is my forever valentine. But after the family filled weekend we just spent–with kids, grandkids, my mother and sister–I sure do miss Dad.

    • I AM lucky to have him. My brothers are pushing seventy, and for them to be parentless would not be that unusual. Dad was in his mid-forties when I came along, and that I’ve had him this long is miraculous… because I’ve needed him this long.

      Also means I need to take a long view of my own situation. With both parents living into their nineties, I’d better have a lot more books in me.

  11. I took a class (Philosophy of Research, I think)with your dad and later he served on my doctoral committee at Penn State. He was an inspiring teacher and I enjoyed every moment of his course. He was/is a model of what a university professor should be. I always felt fortunate that I had the opportunity to meet him. Give him my best.

    • Lordy, what a small world! I will pass along your salutations, Jackie, and if there’s more you want StueyPots to know, please do email me ([email protected]). He’s still in touch with Phil Keeney, and Don Josephson’s family has remained close friends, too.

      Stu was still sitting on the occasional graduate committee into his eighties, and without even knowing that he taught a grant writing class, I ended up as my first job out of college doing nothing but writing proposals. Genes will tell.

      • My first forever Valentine was my grandfather, a man who not only quoted poetry at the dinner table and taught me to appreciate classical music and opera by playing them while we ate, but wrote his own poetry. Growing up, we spent every weekend with our grandparents and Pappy took us to the Heights Library, one of the oldest in Houston, TX where I grew up.

        He searched albums of lullabies until he found one perfect to sing us good nitht and he loved my grandmother to distraction. ONe of the pieces of jewelry he gave her (one of many over the years) was a a hollow sterling silver heart made as a perfume holder on a sterling silver chain. His name was Sterling and her name was engraved on the heart. Of course I could go on and on about the symbolic significance of that piece but it helps to understand why he was the standard against all other valentines had to match up and I did eventually find someone who matches him, perhaps not in other ways but in love and fidelity two indespensible traits in a forever valentine.