Tom Brokaw wrote a book titled, “The Greatest Generation”. In it, he described the generation that survived The Great Depression, was victorious in World War II, and then led one of the greatest periods of prosperity ever known. This generation epitomized that which was good and decent about this country.
Good and decent. I can’t think of two better words to describe my dad.
When I was growing up, everyone in the neighborhood knew who to turn to for help. When playing baseball, football in the street, or basketball in the driveway, my friends and I would inevitably get into some sort of argument. When we couldn’t settle it on our own, it always ended the same way: “Hey Dave, is your dad home? Let’s ask him!”
Whether it was the neighbor who swallowed a sewing needle, the neighbor who broke his arm, the neighbor who’s son was was severely injured, or even the neighbor who just needed a quiet place for an afternoon glass of milk and a cookie, they all knew who to turn to.
Now grown adults, these people don’t call my dad “Mr. Whitham”. Some refer to him as if he was their own father, or others simply call him, “Uncle Dave.”
My dad loved the fire department. He told me one time that he didn’t know what he would have done if he didn’t become a firefighter. I always took that to mean that he answered his calling, and did what he was truly meant to do.
This point was made in a story that my mom told me the other day. A family friend, a local Episcopal Priest, took my mom to a large fire that my dad was fighting. When she got on the scene, she saw my dad walking across the roof of the building, as if he was taking a walk across the street. She freaked out a little at this sight, but for him it was just another day.
He admitted to me that he wasn’t crazy about being promoted to Assistant Chief. He loved being the training officer, but he missed going out on the calls with his guys, as he called them. He missed the camaraderie, and they kept him young.
This was typical of my dad. You see, I had just gotten married, and he didn’t feel right about leaving my mom home alone at night anymore. Don’t get me wrong. Coming from Brooklyn, my mom is as tough as they come, but he always felt the need to protect her.
The way my parents treat my wife, Lisa is typical of them. She’s not their daughter in law. She’s the daughter they never had, and this was even before she gave them the granddaughters they adore.
Good and decent. My dad had a commanding presence, yet was humble at the same time. He treated everyone with respect, a fact that has really been brought home over the last few days. Whether it was the busboy at the local diner he frequented, or people who have buildings named after them in this town, they all said the same thing. He was a good man, and a gentleman.
We’re all going to miss you, dad. You touched every one of us, we’re all richer for having you in our lives, and your passing has left a void that won’t be filled.
I love you, dad.