It occurs to me that parenthood is the most important job in the world. Yes, more important than governor, senator or president. Still, fathers can feel the pressure: to be brave even when one has worries, to maintain a strong face when work pressures mount, to be calm when the world around you is in turmoil, and most important, to try and be the better role model that your children deserve, no matter the doubts one may have at any given time.
I think back to being a 21-year-old Marine, recalling the sound of the Red Cross man’s voice over the military field radio when he finally reached me in the jungle while I was serving in Vietnam: “Corporal Hammer,” he said happily, “you are the proud father of a newborn baby girl!” From a Kansas City, Missouri, delivery room, to the Red Cross, across the ocean to a radio operator in the Republic of Vietnam during a war … how such good news travels far. I can still remember his happy voice today, four decades later.
Thinking back to my own childhood, one of my very first memories about age 3 was of my Dad and Grandpa building stairs and a railing to our downstairs. They didn’t seem to agree on many of the details at the time, as I recall the spirited conversation, but somehow it all got done and still stands strong almost 60 years later.
Later, I recall how Dad would catch my baseball pitches every day after work, not even taking time to change work clothes. He would never let me quit on a bad throw, only after a good one and an encouraging word from him. Fast balls, curves, change ups, sliders and the dreaded side-winding “submarine pitch,” all were in our pitching practice, although I am still quite sure these many years later that I never got nearly as proficient as he had been at the same age.
During one hotly contested American Legion ball game I nearly got lynched by the opposing crowd, by hitting the opposition pitcher in the batter’s helmet with an errant pitch, twice in the same game. Dad was a pitcher himself in his youth, known as “Lefty Lou” playing ball for Kansas University after returning from World War II. As an enterprising child he taught himself to throw the baseball by cutting a square hole in their backyard wooden chicken coop the size of the “strike zone.”
In later years, he would share his monthly “Success Magazines” with me, all with stories of entrepreneurism and free market capitalism, always positive about America and economic opportunities for us all. Is it any surprise then that I later grew up to run my own business?
We also experienced several devastating tornadoes growing up in Kansas. During each of these storms while our family was in the basement riding it out, I would peek out of the window to see Dad running to the older neighbors’ homes to make sure they knew about the fast-approaching storms and that they, too, were taking cover. I worried about him from the safety of our house, but he always made it home just before the tornadoes hit.
Dad was a Great Depression child, learning the value of a hard-earned dollar, an honest day’s work, sharing what little you had with others and enduring hardships. He married his college sweetheart, and to this day still remains her faithful and devoted companion over 63 years later. Living in Lawrence, Kansas, he has been active in the community in several service organizations and in his church, Immanuel Lutheran Church & University Student Center.
He was the first in his family to attend and graduate the university. He volunteered for the Marine Corps and served in the Solomon Islands during the early 1940s. Then, after college, he worked for the Lawrence Paper Company for 38 years before retiring. He still shoots a mean pool cue, too, with the other talented “Eight-Ball” pool-playing gunslingers at the downtown Lawrence Senior Center, sharpshooters all. I know that well from getting my “clock cleaned” by them all in our last local match, at least those still left among the band of brothers.
Finally, his life-long example taught me that “the most important thing in this life that a father can do for his children is simply to love their mother.” I hope it gives him some sense of satisfaction that any of the things I’ve done right in this life can be properly traced back to lessons learned on his watch, with any failures certainly all mine alone, and I am always mindful of his tremendous influence and importance in my life. His spirit and attitude and lifelong example have never been far from my thoughts.