My father, John Robert Small Jr., with me (left) and my younger brothers Jerry (on Dad's lap) and Jimmy, back in 1970. The inset picture is Dad during his brief "mountain man look" period in the mid 1990s.

When it comes to compiling a list of some of the most interesting and eventful years of the last century, there can be little argument that the year 1938 should be placed somewhere very near the top of that list.

Consider some of the noteworthy events of that year:

• Nazi Germany annexed Austria, setting the stage for World War II.

• President Franklin D. Rossevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act, raising the minimum wage from 25 to 40 cents an hour and limiting the work week to 44 hours.

• The Great New England Hurricane of 1938 – the first major hurricane to strike New England since 1869 –  killed over 682 people and damaged or destroyed over 57,000 homes.

• Famous films of the year included Errol Flynn’s The Adventures of Robin Hood; Boys Town with Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney; and Jimmy Cagney’s Angels With Dirty Faces. An early prototype of Bugs Bunny made his first appearance in the Warner Brothers cartoon Porky's Hare Hunt.

• Elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, Crystal Bird Fauset became the first African-American female to serve in a state legislature.

• The House Committee on Un-American Activities was first established, work began on the Jefferson Memorial, and Orson Welles panicked America with his infamous “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast.

• Howard Hughes flew his Lockheed Vega around the world in three days, 19 hours, eight minutes, and 10 seconds – a new record time.

• Edward R. Murrow broadcast his first CBS radio “News Roundup,” Superman made his first appearance in Action Comics No. 1, and Thornton Wilder’s Our Town debuted in New York City.

And it was in the midst of all this excitement that my father drew his first breath in Kankakee, Illinois, on Sept. 27, 1938 – 75 years ago this Friday.

He’s lived through some interesting times, seen the world change in ways he scarcely dreamed possible as a boy. I can remember sitting on his knee as a six-year-old and marveling together at the sight of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon; more recent advances in computer and telecommunications technology don’t seem to have held quite the same thrill for him, but from what I’ve seen he’s managed to roll with the punches better than a lot of other folks his age that I know.

He still enjoys a good book and good music, though he sometimes complains (and rightly so) that there’s not enough of either being produced these days. 

He may be a little more cantankerous about some things than I remember him being when we were both younger, but he’s earned the right to be. After three quarters of a century seeing first-hand just how stupid and dangerous and tragically inept the human race can be sometimes, who can blame him? 

He’s outlived one of his three sons, and seen the other two stumble and fall perhaps more times than we have succeeded. But the sharing of his own life experiences has given us both the wisdom and the fortitude we need to pick ourselves up, brush ourselves off and keep trying, even when it seems that the rest of the world is against us.

In that respect he has always been the best role model that a person could hope for. He’s the one who taught us that common sense is more important than a “fancy college degree”; that it is always better to question authority, even if the authority ultimately proves to have been right; that we rarely learn anything without making mistakes; that making a better world requires something a little more substantial than lip service and the occasional monetary contribution; that prayer alone is an empty gesture if we don’t commit to working to help make the prayer come true; and that the men and women of best character are seldom identified simply by their occupation, church, social standing or the words coming out of their mouths.

It’s a kind of simple wisdom that seems increasingly hard to find in the world today. And yet the fact that it still exists at all is enough to provide some hope for the future; it amazes me how much both of my own sons sound like their grandfather these days whenever they start voicing their opinion on issues ranging from politics or the environment to the quality (or lack thereof) of modern television programming.

And on those occasions when his one his sons or grandchildren do happen to succeed, we know Dad’s proud of us. No, it isn’t expressed in the loud, boastful manner of the ex-jock whose kid just scored the winning touchdown; rather it is a sort of quiet satisfaction that his offspring are making their own way in the world, an acknowledgement that all the years of teaching may not have been in vain after all.

Over the years I’ve learned that this quiet sense of pride is a far greater expression of a father’s love than the loudest boasts or biggest bumper stickers could ever be.

And we love you, too, Dad.