My dad left school after the eighth grade to help out on the family farm.
I don’t know for sure but I’m guessing all of his five brothers did the same. His seven sisters, as well. Graduating from high school wasn’t a given in those days — especially if your dad needed help on the farm.
I’ve been going through some of my dad’s belongings as he’s downsizing from a large home to assisted living. Most items don’t require much of my time or attention. But hidden within have been a few gems.
I thought I had my dad figured out. Most daughters probably do. He was the guy who went to work every day. Came home, cracked a beer occasionally and then sat down to dinner.
He could fix anything. If he hadn’t fixed a particular item before, he figured it out and came up with some sort of solution — even if it involved duct tape and a couple extra screws.
He didn’t talk much (at all) about feelings or emotions. He got up early in the morning. He made us pancake breakfasts on Saturdays. He pondered over the Sunday paper every week. Still does. He liked a good joke and a good poker game.
But I didn’t see much beneath that. He was my dad; it was as simple as that.
As I alluded to earlier, graduating from high school wasn’t always as common as it is today. Schools must have recognized this because my dad had a “diploma” for graduating junior high school after finishing eighth grade. I know because he’s kept it all these years. It was in with his most important papers.
He left school at age 14. Again, this wasn’t uncommon. It didn’t make him a victim. It just was what it was.
After helping out on the farm, doing various jobs, serving in the military and returning home again to work, he was a young man looking toward a bright future. He met my mom and they began dating and eventually married.
And then, this farm boy, military veteran and recipient of the Purple Heart did something unexpected, but I think heroic. At the age of 29 — 15 years after graduating from the eighth grade and leaving school — he returned to complete his GED. And he did. The document was also with his most important papers.
Seeing his GED made me pause and swallow hard. I wasn’t aware he had it. I thought he’d left school after eighth grade and that was it. And that would have been okay.
But it wasn’t okay with him. He must have sat on that concept for more than a decade. That he wasn’t done with school. He wasn’t satisfied. For him eighth grade wasn’t enough.
So he went back. After 15 years he went back to reading, writing, math and bookwork. I’m sure it wasn’t easy. He has always been a work-with-your-hands type of guy. But for whatever reason, it was important to him. So he did it.
I never knew this about him. I’m glad I do now. Although I already knew he has always been more than a hard worker — definitely a 110% type of guy — the idea that he went back to finish something he felt was important, elevates him even more in my eyes.
I already knew he was a hero. This just cements it.
Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, published playwright, author and member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.