Whenever I feel I’ve failed or life has offered me a raw deal, I think about my father. My father grew up in a level of poverty that would be unknown to most people, even at the time when he grew up during the Depression. He lived in a place without floors, slept in a bed without sheets and often had to go without food. Despite this he did what he could to better himself.
But the deprivations of his youth were occasionally hard to overcome. He managed to make it to college but left after only one day because his shoes weren’t good enough. I’ve often wondered how my family’s history would have changed if he had the right pair.
Nonetheless he excelled far beyond his station, despite having a poor education that ended when he left school at 14 to support his family of which he was the eldest. He went onto become a manager but never lost his sense of justice and his championship of the working class as a trade unionist even though his adopted religion forbade it. “Blessed are the peacemakers”, he would say.
Of all the stories that were told at my father’s funeral, one in particular has stayed with me, if only for its apparent absurdity. When my father was a child, he got through winters without shoes by following cows and standing in their cow patties to get his feet warm. I thought this had to be apocryphal because it sounded too ridiculous to be true like some Monty Python punchline (“We were so poor that ... ”). But as I looked around the chapel at the knowing nods of his contemporaries, I wondered if it was in fact true.
Irrespective of memories or myths, I continue to cling to one crucial fact. My family was born in shit but still continues to shine. Despite our awful origins we have each reached far beyond the expectations of our culture and class, to do honour to my father’s vision of a better life. It’s just something I remember when I find myself walking through fresh fields or foul.