Franke: Father’s Day
There is something about German father-son relationships that confuse and astound those of different heritages. That relationship appears irretrievably broken to most. Think of the historical examples of King George II and his rebellious son Frederick (George III’s father). Or of Ludwig van Beethoven, who could never please his musical father. Or of King Frederick the Great, regularly beaten and even imprisoned by his unreasonable father.
Why do I bring these dysfunctional examples up on Father’s Day? Because I am fully German by blood and had a similar relationship with my father. Trust me; it was not what it may have looked like from the outside. There is method to this familial madness.
It seemed I could never do anything right in my dad’s eyes. Grades weren’t good enough; chores were never done correctly; all my friends were “bad company.” He even objected to my choice of a wife, that is until he got to know her and decided he liked her better than me.
I was the oldest so maybe I was just setting a very low bar for my siblings to surpass. I hope they realized that then and I am sure they do now. It was a price that I don’t regret paying.
I also was blessed to have two grandfathers and a great-grandfather during the early years of my life. Unfortunately all three passed before I reached teenage, but each played a significant role in my development. My earliest memory is of my maternal grandfather, with whom I lived the first year or so of my life while Dad was called back into the Navy for the Korean War. The memory is one of standing at the end of my crib, waiting for Grandpa to get me up. I have no other memory of the first two years of my life except for that one.
Dad was a different grandfather than a father. My children, particularly my son, loved his Papa. We would go to his house after church every Sunday for dinner prepared by my mom. My two youngest siblings were still at home and my kids developed a close relationship with them back then that continues to this day. We had to pack them in the car, crying, when it was time to go home. They didn’t want to leave.
Eventually after Mom died and Dad was a widower, the tables were turned and he came to our house after church for Sunday dinner. At least he did until at age 90 or so and he moved into a senior retirement facility which provided a full meal plan. “I can eat there for free,” he told my wife in explanation for his absence. “But I don’t charge you to eat here,” she responded. It was that Depression era mentality which demanded he take advantage of every meal he was paying for in his monthly rent. No matter that someone he loved might take offense. Wasting food was a mortal sin to this farm boy.
Dad’s relationship with my wife was great spectator sport. She became matriarch of the family after my mother died fairly young, a rarity in a family of long-lived Germans. She was quite patient with his eccentricities . . . most of the time . . . but one exchange stands out. He must have pushed her to the limit one day as she told him: “You are acting just like your son!” She didn’t mean it as a compliment for either him or me but, in retrospect, I take it as one. In the words of the Harry Chapin song “Cat’s in the Cradle”: “He’d grown up just like me. My boy was just like me.”
So for good or bad, I am my father’s son. I guess I am following in a long cultural tradition. Even Frederick the Great, who hated everything about his father, became him once he succeeded to the Prussian throne. It just runs in the blood, I guess.
I wasn’t an all-American father to my children, working too many hours and leaving the day-to-day child-raising duties to my wife. I hope, though, that I instilled in them what my father did in me — love of God, country and family and the requisite duties therein. And where I fell short as a father, I am working overtime to make good with my grandchildren . . . just like Dad did.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad. You made me what I am today, and I am truly thankful for that.
Mark Franke, M.B.A., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review and its book reviewer, is formerly an associate vice-chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.