The writer is a Bethlehem resident and frequent contributor to The Spotlight.
As we approach Father’s Day this year, I am mindful of the changes in the way I have celebrated this holiday. From the time I was an innocent little girl, who thought I would always have a dad to a woman in her 60s who now cherishes the memories of the dads who have touched her life.
My dad was Joe Keeton, a World War II veteran who after watching all his friends and family members being drafted went to the draft board to inquire as to why he didn’t get his notice. Of course, in the 1940s the only “technology” they had were filing cabinets. In looking for his name and not finding it, the secretary did a thorough search only to find that Dad’s paperwork had fallen in the back of the drawer. Were it not for his persistence and deep desire to serve his country, he may never had been called. Instead, he was processed and sent to war at the age of 19. This small act may have changed many lives as my father earned the bronze star for bravery and heroism.
When the war was over, he followed in his father’s footsteps and became a union plumber. He married my mother, who already had two children and raised them as his own. Dad was the family member who visited hospitals and cemeteries, brought food when someone was ill and sent flowers for no reason.
I remember clearly as a little girl asking for something like new shoes or a toy, and he would answer by saying, “I’ll make it for you out of pipe.” It was the only way he could explain that money was scarce, and I wouldn’t be getting everything my heart desired.
I’ve been told I was the “apple of his eye” by family members recalling my dad. He was noted for his generosity, his cooking and gardening, and his sense of humor. Unfortunately, he was noted for drinking too much too, a curse many in my Irish family suffer from. As a young child, I would give Dad homemade cards, and he always reacted as if I had spent a million dollars. As an adult, I remember he especially cherished a small pair of carved birds that I sent him for Father’s Day.
I was blessed to have two dads when I married my husband, Jim. My father-in- law, Jim Whelan passed away last year at the age of 94. He was a man of faith and conviction, strong values and deep love. He, too, was noted for his cooking and gardening. Dad was proud of his two children, 16 grandchildren, and over 20 great-grandchildren. He was outgoing and would know all the rumors around our neighborhood when we didn’t even know our neighbors’ names. Corny jokes were heard again and again and can still be heard at family gatherings. His son and grandsons are carrying out his legacy. He could be stubborn, and most of the family has inherited some of this characteristic too.
In his last days, he continued to joke but also made sure that everyone in his life knew how much he loved them. In his last email to me (yes, even at 94, he was open to today’s technology), he wrote:
Dear Maggie, thank you for your prayers, your love and concern. I have said that at 94 we are expecting medical problems and I realize that. My spirit is good and I have placed my life in the hands of Jesus. For more than a year, everyday I pray, “Mary, please be with me in the last hours of my life, take my hand and lead me to Jesus and eternal happiness.” I look at you as my daughter, not an in-law. I love you even when you remind me to put tomatoes in the stew.
He enjoyed making fun of himself and would tell the story of going to the store to get tomatoes for the Irish stew and then forgetting to put them in. I didn’t let him forget that.
On Father’s Day, I also am grateful for the father of my children. Jim’s devotion and unselfish love of his children and grandchildren have deepened over the years. If you meet him somewhere, you are sure to hear about a grandchild’s funny comment or latest accomplishment. He will also ask for you to pray for one of his children who is going through a difficult time. I am blessed to have been able to share parenthood with him.
I also remind myself on Father’s Day that there are those who never knew their father because of death, abandonment or adoption. There are the fathers who are in the military and far away from home. I think about those whose dads are incarcerated, and I pray that the holiday can bring some consolation into their lives and the lives of their children.
I am sad that I no longer have a father to pay tribute to on Father’s Day but so very blessed to have had the fathers who touched my life forever.