On this Fathers Day, I think of my father, Hiram Joseph, Hi, Baxter: a man who served his country proudly as a Marine medic in World War 2 — despite having an exemption from the service for farming; who gave up architectural schooling because he believed he should pay for the hospitalization of his wifes tuberculosis and the birth of his first child, rather than simply (like much of 21st century America) not pay the bills; whose sense of honor was such that he gave up smoking in order to pay for his 5-year old daughters piano lessons long before smoking was known to be bad and long before he knew that the 5-year old daughter would earn a masters degree in piano performance.
I think of my father during this season of violent weather and torrid economy because I question whether todays youth (or middle-aged, for that matter) are built with such stern stuff.
Rather than expose his family budget to strain, he mowed with the same push mower years after our last neighbor had a powered Lawn-boy; he made his children think cooking hot dogs on the grill in the backyard was a bigger treat than filet mignon, and that singing songs together after dinner while the four of us washed the dishes was as good as family life got long before it was done by the Waltons.
He fostered his children’s dreams by showing in small ways what they could be: by taking his 8-year-old son out to the airport to watch planes land because he heard the son once wistfully offer how neat it would be to fly. “Keep the nose up,” he’d say to the pilot and he and the son would wave as the plane took off. Today that son is a Delta pilot, and my dad’s last word to him was “Keep your nose up.”
He modeled for each of his five children how marriages should work by loving and respecting his wife of 64 years as much his last day on earth as the first day he saw her on grandma’s porch after World War II. He never embarrassed her, never spoke ill of her, never treated her with less than respect, and showed his love in small ways every day of their life together.
In my 63 years I have never known anyone to have ought against him, never known anyone that he was beholding to, and never saw him hesitate to help someone in need, whether young or old, rich or poor, black or white, family or not.
My father pursued his work as a postman with missionary zeal. This civil service job was, for him, to be performed with the same commitment, attention to detail, and esprit de corps as, well, a Marine medic in time of war, and he treated it with as much pride.
More than depositing letters in a metal mail box, he delivered a smile and a kind word at no extra cost, and dozens of residents reported to me that my father made their day with such simple gestures. I can recall with amazement that he knew the name and address by memory of every citizen and business in Great Bend, a town of nearly 20,000. Most of us do well to remember the address of our work or our parents.
I will always think of my father as the strongest, most selfless and honorable man I have ever known.
Hi Baxter passed away on May 9.