Just a Girl
Get Her Done!
Not for Sale
Preface & Reader Response
Despair was only allowed to poke its ugly head up briefly before being transformed in the flash of an eye with humor and a workaround solution that was close by to anyone with the imagination to see the possibility....
Testament to the Influence of a Good Father
A MIRACLE MAKER
by Jerry Murley
It is a tradition in my family for its members to write commemorative tributes (stories and poems) to other members to celebrate significant occasions, such as 16th, 60th, 80th and 90th birthdays; 50th and 60th wedding anniversaries; and retirements. More often than not the offerings aim at humor, but sometimes they melt the heart beneath tears of laughter.
On 6 July of this year, my father, a handsome, athletic wonder of eternal youth, turns 80. I had been working on a tribute for private consumption when a central point of that work occurred to me in the context of another pressing family concern. That point became the core of this personal and public tribute, because that point is a recurring theme in my own life and is perhaps the significant tenet and principal impulse involved in how I conduct my life – and how I wish more lives in the public domain were conducted. By my reading of this tenet, a household challenge cannot normally be an insolvable dilemma casting members to the fates, because by patriarchal definition and practice all social conflicts and personal problems are solvable in some fashion, though the solution might still hurt a little and look a bit jury-rigged. This is a point of view that may not be highly esteemed in the lives of readers, but the impact of its steady and light-hearted application on youthful psychological development and lifelong habit should generate some curiosity and prove of benefit to even the most sceptical of mind and cynical of heart.
I don't personally like a lot of conflict and drama in my life, especially purposely manufactured or exaggerated conflict and drama. One reason for this is my opinion that there is plenty of both in life naturally. I do accept that conflict, particularly when convictions, self-respect and self-regard are in play, will always be with us. But even then, there are ways to address it with humor, honor and accomplishment, and other ways that do not make a bloody mess of things. My father's example taught me this essential lesson.
Something at the very core of my being makes me optimistic most of the time. I see bad, but I don't wallow in its presence or think that bad is pervasive or inherent in others. I always believe that there is a way to resolve problems, even where there are passionately held positions among the parties involved – often persistent and personal defensive opposition among members of dysfunctional families. Sometimes the solution is as simple as one party redefining the problem in such a way as to allow that party to walk away from the fight with dignity intact. But that takes practiced cool and intellect and a sense of proportion – and perhaps it also takes a special temperament nurtured by a fortunate life. The overriding thread here is that something will always turn up – but only if one looks for it in the right places and in the right way.
It may be that my father and I share a special gene, which is also apparently shared by my son. That is the things-will-work-out gene. I don't really think it is all or mostly genetic, though. I think it is a gift passed down through fatherly behavior from father to son to grandson.
My father was and is nothing less than a miracle maker to me. Despair was only allowed to poke its ugly head up briefly before being transformed in the flash of an eye with humor and a workaround solution that was close by to anyone with the imagination to see the possibility, concoct a solution, and be satisfied with results that were unlike the ideal but just as serviceable.
Let me tell you about the family storage genius. My father and I can put more stuff into a 10' x 10' container than about anyone on the planet. The nay sayers will sip on their iced tea and say, "You'll never get that sofa in there." And we will. What's more, nothing would be damaged in the process. The principle here is similar: "Why shouldn't one more thing fit – everything else did." This takes an astonishing – and repetitive – disregard of limits – the annoying obstacles that usually stop many people in their tracks the minute they encounter a difference of opinion, conflicting ideals, overwrought drama or simple resistance to immediate gratification of their thoughtless will. It's far easier to moan that "I don't have one of those" or "Good things never work out for me" or "I'm no good at this sort of thing" or "I'm too tired."
My dad gave us confidence by modeling that some daunting tasks could be attempted without formal training. His knowledge of real estate law and transactions with only correspondence courses and scattered training, earned for the most part on the job in sink-or-swim situations, is a prime example.
After years in college, having never really doodled seriously or drawn before, when I became interested in art, it never once occurred to me to do anything other than go out and buy a drawing pad, canvas and some paints and dive into it for myself. Writing is a bit different, seeing as we all had to take English courses in school, write papers and answer essay questions. But the idea of studying creative or journalistic writing utterly creeps me out. So, you guessed it, when offered a chance to forward a good cause by editing – and writing filler – for a metropolitan community newspaper, I jumped into the sink-or-swim of it, kicking and paddling at a fevered pace. This is what my dad taught me to do; not in so many words, but because that is the way he did everything. Who says that we can't just try to do what we want to do? Why must we wait while some authority, some professional gatekeeper, blocks us from participating in the fun and displaying the audacity to go nose to nose with the masters, especially regarding acts and questions that bear most on the root level of human existence? Train – yes; look to skill for guidance – yes; but be deterred from trying to speak and master – never.
My dad didn't always pull off the miracle that I was praying for. But he did teach me that if you can't solve the problem you have, try restating it: in other words, reframe the problem so that you can reasonably solve it. I can today see his spirit everywhere is the kind-hearted characters in the tales of Dickens. He is a veritable exemplar of the something-will-always-turn-up man – the pillar of a decent and resilient society. During his career (and he still works by the way), he trusted his fellow man to a fault, when many associates attached to such a man were not worthy of his trust. His cheerful outlook that something would always turn up, that something broken could always be fixed with a little concoction of his own imagination, invariably was proven true, given his monumental ingenuity and the resources stockpiled in his garage for a rainy day. He could have invented the word kludge when it came to simple household needs, because given the parts he used at times, the gadgets he made to overcome a problem should not have worked at all, but they did.
Fearless in public speaking with a few handwritten notes, he had the hope and expectation of greatness for his son in sports, academics or public life – and probably all three. Early in my life, his example threatened to overshadow my development, but eventually it made me feel special. His building, his help with school projects, the help with my band and recording opportunities tied with his philanthropic endeavors, his helping with overwhelming typing homework or getting term papers typed, or just playing football with the neighbors in the back yard – or seeing value in my playing football and basketball at home, and experimenting in tennis and golf and photography and music – all promoted my confidence and egalitarianism in the sense that we strive to be equals among equals at all times. He stepped in to help and make things possible, even if they were not what or the way he wanted it; football, basketball and politics would have to accept academics, music, travel, art, landscaping and like it. We shared an interest in building and furniture making. And he shared the most important gift one man can share with a younger man – how to be a good citizen, husband and father.
In August 1975, my new wife of but a few days and I wanted to buy our first house before she started a new job as a special education teacher in September. I asked my father to help us. Within two weeks he had found a well-built, one-story brick house in Midtown Memphis and negotiated a contract for $13,500. That house, with several weeks of sweat and a little weekend labor from my father and mother, soon made a very happy home for us. Within five years, after several more months of our weekend sweat and a few hundred dollars of material improvements, we sold that beloved house for three times its original cost to us. Not only did my father find the starter home of a lifetime for us, he helped two of our friends buy their first houses in the same neighborhood. It all went so fast and so well, it seemed amazing then and seems more than fortuitous even now. Our life of careful financial management, profitable labor together, and involvement in a larger community solidified with that single act of parental involvement, personal sacrifice of time, and fatherly investment of knowledge about the city, construction and real estate expertise, and interpersonal skills.
And did I mention that there is not a mean-spirited cell in my father's body. To live in these times with almost sixty years of close contact with a man of stature who has never – not once – exhibited mean-spirited behavior or speech is nothing short of remarkable, if not miraculous. His is a life that casts no shadow but rather emits sunshine with a brightness that extends far beyond his home and his family. By any standard, that is remarkable.
Throughout my sixty years of association with my father, I cannot recall that he once acted out as if he were mad. I know that he sometimes must have felt angry, and I know that he experienced frustration and disappointment. But he never acted angry. In fact, as children, my sister and I did not act in dread of our father lashing out in red-faced anger at us, but rather we endeavored to avoid disappointing him more than anything else.
Having recounted a long list of my father's involvement in my life in ways that relieved pressure or created promise in a relatively normal adolescent life, I could detail many other examples that further demonstrate his hands-on approach to parenting and his generous guidance in helping launch my life in a stable and profitable direction. When I was in college, he found two wonderful apartments for me. He and my mother paid my tuition, textbook, and housing expenses for four years of college. When I quit college and returned almost twenty years later to complete my major, my father helped me negotiate the university bureaucracy and find a way to complete my degree at Memphis State University while living in Middle Tennessee with a family and a job. My father and mother also have helped me move my household six times, each time also assisting with, and sometimes directing, clean-up as well.
Years after my father's two terms in the Tennessee legislature, he continued to give to his community through work with the Lions Club and the March of Dimes – and through his decades of dedication to his church, Eudora Baptist. His political involvement continued as well, as he worked for other candidates and made a run for county government in the late 1960s. In part due to these continued contacts through community involvement, my father was instrumental in helping me get my first real job as a junior and senior in high school. I had cut grass for spending money from about the seventh grade until that time. My first job was working on a mixed-race crew cleaning drainage ditches in various locations in Memphis. Besides making me good money and keeping me fit with more of a tan than I should have had, it exposed me to a rigid early-morning schedule, to endurance in extreme heat and humidity, to a cross-section of people from my city, and to a backyard view of many of the neighborhoods in Memphis. (My mother helped me get a job at the telephone company my freshman summer at Memphis State.) Then, after I had worked a summer as a framing carpenter, my father helped me get a job in cabinet-making off of South Main Street, and months later he arranged an interview for me at City Hall through the mayor's office. These last two jobs were designed to directly address interests in craft and urban development that I had acquired while traveling in Europe and Central America for a year. The job at City Hall not only led to a critical start for me, it led to a start in community-related work for a half dozen other well-educated friends and associates – and, I would like to think, a significant contribution to the re-development of Downtown Memphis.
How fortunate can one young man be to have such a father – to have such parents? Their model taught me to do something similar, but far less taxing, for my son. (Fortunately for my wife and me, my son, having more initiative, being more disciplined, being healthier, bigger and smarter, and probably possessing more native talent than I, has needed much less assistance than I received from my parents. However, we have had the pleasure of being of help to him, and he has been grateful and always been secure in knowing that we would be there for him.)
My dad's irrepressible humor was (and is) something we in the family all wished at times – especially when our own personal injury and embarrassment were involved – was not quite so irrepressible, charming and utterly indomitable. Often we doubted and even despaired, but we were urged to go to bed and sleep well. The next day might not bring what we imagined we needed, but it brought enough to surmount the crisis of the moment, to move us to a new day with incremental gains. Always expecting relief from outside oneself can be debilitating. But somehow the balance was struck to goad personal endeavor rather than dependency. His example of fixing or creating something out of nothing was a genuine lifelong gift. He was and is a miracle maker – the highest example of a good father.