The Barrons:Fathers and Sons
Fathers and Sons
Tom Brokaw called them the Greatest Generation. They were perhaps the most unheralded group of men this country has ever seen. They stepped forward without thought or consequence and did the impossible. They were hard men, living hard lives. They were the immovable rock that history would beat against relentlessly. They would change the face of a nation and in doing so point the way for whole new generations of dreamers. Giving others something, they themselves would never have limitless possibilities. They were not the fathers that television would have us believe. They were not Ward Cleaver or Ozzie Nelson. They worked hard every day to give their families a better tomorrow. They were solid, dependable, and ultimately alone. They let everyone lean upon them giving no hint of weakness or sign of need. They were the greatest generation and through it, they gave birth to a world of hope.
My grandpa Joe was one of those men. I confess I know little of the man he was. Most of my memories of him are scattered and hazy. Some of that has to do with the distance that separated us, but for the most part, it has to do with the type of man he was. He was a hard working father doing what he needed to do to support his family. Each day he would go to work and put in a hard days work. He would sit at the bar after work sharing parts of himself with his friends that he would never share, could never share with his family. Moments of vulnerability, moments of weakness, moments when men of that generation would let their guard down and let the weariness of the world wash away from them. My dad speaks very little about his relationship with my grandfather. He never tells stories about him and smiles. His father was there and that was what was important. They were family and as long as that was the case, everything seemed alright with the world.
I guess I never considered how difficult being the first-born son is, what with being the second born I never understood the pressure. My father always seemed to be burdened with that. I can remember times when we sat at Grandpa Joes’ house; they would sit together and say nothing. My aunts and uncles being the happy or gregarious ones, my dad being the lone responsible one. Oh, there were times when they would laugh, like when they played penny ante poker, those were times when they both would let their guard down and they would be just themselves instead of being father and son. They would enjoy each other’s company and the rigid structure forced on them by society was left behind. I can remember the first time I saw my father cry. It was as we were leaving after my grandparents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary. He broke down and cried and hugged Grandpa Joe. For a split second my grandfathers heart soften and I could hear him say he missed my Dad too, and then the man was back and he told my Dad to stop and that everything would be fine. That was the nature of the relationship. My Dad did everything he could to become someone my Grandfather would be proud of. I don’t know if he ever got the recognition he was searching for and it is not something I think he will talk about. Grandpa Joe is gone now but the old habits die-hard. I have still watched my Dad sit in a room with my Grandma Josie and not say a word. I can see in his face all the things he wants to say but can’t. I have watched that struggle for most of my life. He struggled against being the father he wanted to be and the father he was taught to be.
It is a hard thing to be a son, let alone to be a son named after your father. I never struggled with that problem. I can not at this point imagine what it is like for Rob or even my Dad being named after his. There is a terrible weight that goes with it, like all the expectations of an entire race are laid upon your shoulders. You must be the rock, the foundation for your family. You can not show you are weak or lonely. You can not express emotions unless you are alone and in the dark. You can not turn to anyone and all the answers are yours to know. Yes, it is a hard thing to be a son.
I think my dad believes that he somehow failed us growing up. I am sure he has regrets about things he feels he did wrong or things left unsaid. I can assure you I was never failed by my father. He taught me how to be me. He tried so very hard in every way he could to break the mold his father had cast him in. I remember growing up the ways he would show he cared. The presents on his anniversary, when it was us who should have given him and mom presents. It made me into the generous person I am. The time I had chicken pox and in the middle of the night he drew a bath for me. He sat with me as the water made the itching go away and then helped me back to bed. The day he gave up his room and the air conditioner to me because I was stupid and got one of the worse sunburns of my life. He couldn’t say the words but he could show it the only way he could.
We would camp out in the living room pretending we were camping, we would rough house on Saturday mornings piling on him and telling him to take us to the mall. We gave no thought to how hard he worked that week or the fact we were barely scrapping by. All those things he kept to himself and like Grandpa Joe it ate away at him slowly over time. He showed nothing to us but what we needed to know, how to be men.
My father taught me what it was to be an honest hard working man. He showed us how despite what others may do to you that pride in your work is what mattered, not the attention or the personal gain. It was your job and you did it. We are blue-collar working people and so each day we get up, go to our jobs, and do them because that is what we were taught. I don’t think he would agree that we learned it from him but we did, Rob, Jeff and I are all the type of men we are today because of my Dad. If being a son is hard, being a Father is harder still.
I think that at times I felt my relationship with my Dad was never what I felt it should be. I thought that he perhaps did not get me or that Rob and he were too much alike for me to ever have a place in their relationship. I think I sold my Dad short on that one. I know that at times he may not understand things that matter to me or what I am going through but I also know that he is proud of me and though I can say “I love you Dad” and talk about the things that are bothering me, it will never be easy for him. He is his father’s son, just as Rob is my father’s son. The molds they are cast in are sometimes too strong to ever truly break. I know my Dad loves me and I know that no matter what he will always love me.
My best day, and not just the day I remember the most, or the one that had the biggest impact, no the best day was by far taking my Dad to the football game. I had wanted it to be a family thing. Rob, Jeff, Dad and I all going and enjoying the thrill of a NFL game, but I think it was better that it was just Dad and I. To see the excitement in his face as we got to the cities and to watch him like a little kid on Christmas morning was one of the purest moments in my life. There was the sheer joy of watching the wonder on his face as we stepped into the dome for the first time, the excitement of seeing him wearing my jersey and chanting, “Here we go Steelers, Here we go” with me. The pure unblocked happiness on his face is something that will live with me forever. He told me that I gave him a great gift but for me he gave me a moment that will last forever. It was my best day!
I see him struggling now trying to still be the Father he wanted to be and the man he was taught to be. I can see where he lets others in by watching him with the grandkids. He plays and he talks, he weaves stories for them and holds them. With the next generation he is free to be the man he has always wanted to be. It is hard for him. It is hard to let go of the things we learn growing up. I see Rob struggle with them in his relationships with his sons. He wants to be so much more and yet he wants to be the man dad taught him to be. It is hard being fathers and sons. It is hard to open up, it is hard to say the tough things, and it is hard to be yourself and not the rock that your family leans on.
Grandpa Joe was a part of the “Greatest Generation”. He lived in momentous times and was always the man his family needed. From him and the generations before him the Barrons have learned to be the men we are. Hard working, blue-collar, family men. From my father I have learned how to be me, I have learned how to be him, I have learned how to be Grandpa Joe, I have learned how to let go of those rigid confines that once defined us as fathers and sons and to move forward into uncharted territory. One day I too will be a father and I hope that I will teach my son how to be like my father, my grandfather, like me. I hope that he will be part of the greatest generation yet to come.