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The Smarter One
By: Wayne Brown
Today, like many days, I thought of my dad. He’s gone now. He passed from this life in September of 2007. He was 83 years old at the time. He had a lot of good years and good health. All in all, I think he had a pretty good life during his time here with us. My mother misses him greatly and so she should after over 60 years of marriage. Dad had a long life, many more years than a number of folks are fortunate enough to have. But, you know, now that he is gone, I just wish he could have stayed around a bit longer and let us love him a little more before he moved on to the other side.
I think there was a time that I considered my self smarter than my dad. Through his efforts and finances, I had a chance at an education, an opportunity to seek a higher level in life. I know that he wanted that for me because it was an opportunity that he never had in his life. Life was hard for him pretty much all the way from the time that he was old enough to be aware of it. I never heard him complain of it but when my mother would relate stories of his growing up to us kids, it would register on us. At times, I still want to cry when I think about it. Dad took it all in stride and went on with life. He was a ‘matter of fact’ sort of person in that regard. He didn’t seem to dwell on those things he didn’t control but focused more on those that he did. He went about his business quietly and he spoke his words carefully. Still, there were those immature years in my growing up where my education and my arrogance drove me to believe that I knew best. In time, I would come to see the error of my ways as most young folks do.
My brother was the ‘middle child’. He was a maverick in the full sense of the word. There was no yoke that fit him and seemingly no words of reasoning that penetrated his skull. I was the oldest child but only by four years yet I could see the error in his ways but not mine. My brother rebelled against everything from authority to education. There was just nothing right about the system that suited his needs and he was sure of it. He tired of school in the ninth grade and promptly announced that he was quitting to join the working world and make some money. There were things he want and he wanted then, not later. I was appalled that he would do that and I pleaded with my dad to stop it . He did make an effort but did not change my brother’s mind. From my perspective, he had the power and the authority yet he had lost the battle. I guess, in some ways, it just affirmed my belief that I was the smart one.
When I approached my dad with the argument that he must make my brother go back to school. He nodded his head in agreement with me. He indicated how important it was for my brother to be in school and finish his education. He literally stood there looking at me and made the argument that I had in my mind for me. We were on the same side; we saw things the same way on this one. At least , that’s the way it seemed. So I challenged my dad and asked him if it was true that he believed all of that then why did he not make my brother go back to school? My dad pointed out that he could physically force him to go back to the schoolhouse and indicated that he could just quit his job, get out his shotgun, and march my brother’s butt personally up to the schoolhouse each day. Then he would simply sit outside the door with the shotgun to make sure he stayed there. I heard myself agreeing with him as I shook my head and nodded that was the way it should be. My dad paused and looked at me almost disappointed that I had missed an important element of this discussion. Then he agreed, “yes I can do all that; I can keep him at the schoolhouse but you are missing the point…I can’t make him learn. He must be the one to do that on his own.” I suddenly realized that he was right and right about the most important aspect of it all. His presence at the schoolhouse was not enough; he had to be willing to learn. I was the smart guy here, how had I missed that?
My brother joined the working world as my dad had made that clear to him that he would. He bought cars, he drove fast, he broke things. He seemed like a bull in a china shop knocking things off every shelf that he came near. In his explanations, he was always the victim. There was always a reason why he ran in the ditch, bent the fender, or busted the light. Too often, the explanation was a familiar one when he would say, “A drunk ran me off the road last night.” My dad never really said anything. He would just survey the damage, grin a bit, and walk off toward some other purpose in his life. He didn’t dwell on it because it was not his problem. But I thought it was mine because after all, I was the smart one.
Well, a lot water passed under the bridge and my brother got run off the road by a lot more drunks along with the fights and other various and sundry happenings. In that time, I was off getting an advanced education working on my college degree. If I had been smart before, I was really going to be smart now and I would have a piece of paper to prove it. That would come in handy when I was making my point I assumed. I was at a great age in that I was lapping up all that education without any awareness how life experience played into the overall equation of relieving ignorance and gaining wisdom. Looking back, I now realize that I was among good company for it most certainly is the plight of every one of us until we gain the awareness.
One Sunday afternoon, my dad and I were sitting in the backyard under the shade of a tree. We were not really talking much as we just sat and gazed at the blue of the sky and the green of the grass. We were comfortable in our silence and we talked when we felt the urge. My dad looked over at me and gazed straight into my eyes with a very serious look on his face and said, “I know who that drunk is that is running your brother off the road.” Sensing the seriousness of the moment, I leaped forward and quickly asked, “who is it, dad, who is it, do I know him?” My dad leaned back in his rocker and started to laugh. In fact, he laughed so hard he could not immediately reply to my query. When he finally settled, he looked at me and says, “hell yes, you know him…it is him!” I says, “you really think so, dad?” He replies, “oh hell yes, think about it! Who do you know that meets that many drunks on the road?” Suddenly the lights came on for me. It made perfect sense. Now things were adding up. As we continued to sit there in silence and rock, I wondered to myself why I had not come to that conclusion, after all, I was the smart one. Dad just sat there and grinned.
As I sit here writing this piece and thinking about him, I cannot help but think about those stories. They were lessons in my life and they have stuck with me. My dad used them to help me see what I could not see myself because I did not have the life experience to reach the proper conclusion. At the same time, he also showed me that I probably could not get enough education in my lifetime to be as learned as he was through his life experiences. I know that now and I wish he were here today so I could let him know that once more. Finally, at this point in my life, I actually may be making headway on becoming the smart one. God Bless Ya, Dad!
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