Next Sunday is Father’s Day — a day dedicated to the appreciation of the men who provide moral and material support for the next generation. Although Mother’s Day has been celebrated for more than 100 years and the move to establish a Father’s Day was begun only a year after Ana Jarvis started her campaign for Mother’s Day, the idea for Father’s Day spread slowly.
Men generally disdained the day, scoffing at what was considered sentimental attempts to domesticate manliness with flowers and gift-giving, and deriding the proliferation of such holidays as commercial gimmicks to sell more products — often paid for by the fathers themselves.
It wasn’t until 1972 that President Richard Nixon, in the middle of a hard fought re-election campaign, issued a proclamation making Father’s Day officially a national event
Developments in today’s secular culture may suggest that the traditional role of fathers in society may be diminishing if not vanishing. The hook up culture, the politically correct media focus on same-sex marriage and census data showing 40 percent of the babies born in 2012 were born out of wedlock, will obviously give future society a large cadre of single mothers and allow males who are so inclined to dodge family responsibilities, but currently more than 70 million men in the United States are fathers who are fulfilling the traditional family roles. It is appropriate to express appreciation for them.
Earl H. Perry, born Jan. 6, 1901, was my father. He was left on his own at 14 when his father was killed in a tree cutting accident while clearing land the family had homesteaded.
He worked as a farmhand and at age 20 married my 18-year-old mother. I was born in the spring of 1922. Together they raised seven boys, and one girl. Two other girls died as infants. In addition, they provided a home for additional orphaned children of two of dad’s sisters and one sister of mother. All grew up to be responsible, productive citizens.
The two oldest boys served in the armed forces during World War II. The next two commanded military units during the Korean Conflict. Three of the seven have served national roles in engineering, journalism and higher education.
In the spring of the year I was born, dad took a job in road construction, building the Meridian Highway, now U.S. 81, from North Dakota to Texas. For the first two years of my life, the family lived first in a tent following the construction work and then in a “cook shack,” a small cabin built on wheels so it could be moved with the work site. When the road work was finished, he spent additional years maintaining county graveled roads with horse-drawn grading equipment and building a small bungalow to house his growing family.
This job ended when the economy collapsed and the Great Depression began in 1930. He then turned to farming — share cropping foreclosed farms until he was able to buy land of his own in 1939, on which he prospered during the economic build up to World War II and the years after.
When my mother died, he married a widow who had several children and the two of them provided a home for my two youngest brothers, her teenage son and daughter, and one of my teenage cousins.
He became a pillar in the local Methodist church, sending his children to the church Sunday School, and devoting the proceeds of one rented farm to the church for expansion and upgrade of its facilities.
Stricken with cancer, he died at the age of 70, but his legacy lives in the careers of his children, grandchildren and now great-grandchildren who scatter across the country as bank executives, insurance actuaries, nurses, teachers, electricians, pastors and computer programmers. At least one great-granddaughter has already established a national reputation.
I am fortunate to have been a part of this great family. Ironically, as members traced our family history, they discovered English records dating to 1176 identifying the family with a different spelling of the word — “pirige” — which in old English meant dweller near a pear tree.
The family had a formal motto: “I trust doing rightly.” I’m confident that as a member of the 13th generation of the family, dad was never aware of the motto, but that was the way he lived his life.
The lessons of word and example I learned from him have served me well during my long and happy life.
Murvin H. Perry of Johnson City is a retired professor of journalism.