I began my previous entry with the following comment: “My father was, is, and forever shall be my hero.” In trying to prepare my remarks for the memorial service we held for Dad last Friday (August 17), I wanted to find that one particular story that might best illustrate why I have always and will always feel this way. 

It proved to be something of a struggle. The problem was, there are just so many such stories to choose from - and each one would, in its own way, have served the purpose. And yet for some reason my mind kept going to one particular story - one that Dad had shared with me and other family members more than once over the years, about an incident from his childhood. 

I was reluctant to use this particular story, however. Quite frankly, I was pretty sure that some might consider the story in question to be somewhat inappropriate for the particular setting in which it was to be told. But the more I thought about it, the more I came to realize that - for better or worse - no other story better illustrates the kind of person my father was. 

I explained all this to those in attendance last Friday - and was gratified afterwards when everyone seemed to agree that it was, in fact, the perfect story for the occasion. In fact, more than one person I spoke to after the service suggested that I should also share the story here.

So with your permission - and with all due respect and apologies in advance to anyone who might still feel it to be in some form or fashion inappropriate - that’s exactly what I have decided to do.

My father was left-handed. And while he was never a boastful man, he did seem to take a certain degree of pride in the fact that he was left-handed. He went so far as to joke on occasion that the one thing that most disappointed him about myself and my two younger brothers was the fact that none of us turned out to be lefties ourselves. 

Of course we knew he was kidding - but I remember that my brother Jimmy at one point did try to learn to write with his left hand, just in case.

It came to be a source of some humor within the family. One year for his birthday or for Christmas I bought him a necktie, and told him it was a special tie specifically made for left-handed men. Of course there is no such thing as a left-handed tie, and my mother - and my wife, as well, if I remember correctly - scolded me a bit for the joke. 

But Dad, he loved it; in fact he told me later that he thought it was one of the best presents he had ever received. Dad was a man who enjoyed a good laugh and knowing that my admittedly feeble attempt at humor had made him laugh was highly gratifying.

Now I told you that story in order to tell you this one:

There was a time when, among certain segments of society, being left-handed was seen as a sign of evil. This was something my father told me the first time he shared the following story and, being naturally inquisitive, I looked it up for myself. And sure enough, I found that it was not only true, but that the word “sinister” is actually derived from the Latin word for “left.”

The reason this is important is that there was an incident that happened to my father when he was in grade school - possibly the third or fourth grade, I can’t remember specifically - that involved a teacher who apparently saw left-handed children as being tools of the devil. 

As Dad told it, one day he and his classmates were practicing their penmanship when the teacher happened to notice that Dad was writing with his left hand. And the teacher responded by striking my father’s hand with the metal edge of the big wooden ruler she carried around with her, hard enough to draw blood, and telling him that left-handed children were doomed to go to hell. And then she laughed at his pain as she continued making her way to the front of the classroom. Dad’s memory of the incident was vivid enough that, every time he would tell the story, he would begin rubbing the knuckles of his left hand as if he could still feel the sting.

Most children would have at least started crying. I’m sure that would have been my reaction. My father - already toughened by other incidents he had endured as a child - had a much different response. 

As the teacher walked towards the front of the room, Dad stood up, took one of his books from his desk and threw it, striking the teacher in the back of the head and causing her to fall forward, where she hit her head on her own desk and apparently lost consciousness for a short time.

Now understand that, in my father’s youthful mind, this was clearly a matter of self-defense. And he continued to view it as such for the rest of his life. 

The school, as you might well imagine, took a somewhat different view of the matter. Dad was expelled from public school for a period of two years and was forced to continue his education during that time at a local parochial school. This had something of a detrimental effect on his overall education, and he ended up graduating from high school a year or two later than he would have otherwise. 

That part never seemed to matter all that much to Dad - or if it did, he never said so to me. He saw his response to his teacher’s cruelty not merely as an act of self-defense, but as a matter of justice. In Dad’s mind, he had stood up not only for himself, but for others who he felt were being similarly mistreated - and by his own admission he felt a sense of vindication when the teacher was later fired for other offenses. 

He did what he thought in his heart was right. But just as importantly, he took responsibility for his actions and accepted the consequences. And those two tenets - doing what you think is right, and taking responsibility when you do so - were at the heart of every other lesson Dad ever tried to instill in me as I was growing up. He was fond of saying that being in the majority doesn’t necessarily make a person right, and that is a lesson I took to heart and have tried to pass on to my own sons.

Those of you who are familiar with the old Walt Disney “Davy Crockett” stories from the 1950s may remember the closing scene of the segment entitled Davy Crockett at the Alamo, which depicts Fess Parker as Crockett battling on and refusing to give up despite the overwhelming odds faced in that historic battle. 

In my heart, in my mind, that is the way I’ll always picture Dad. He was a fighter who continued to fight until he simply had no more fight left in him - and yet even then went down swinging. 

Dad spent a lifetime doing what he thought was right, and standing up for what he believed in - even when the end result might not have been what he had hoped for, or when the things he believed in didn’t quite line up with popular opinion. 

If there is a better definition of the word “hero,” I have yet to find it.

(Column copyright © 2018 by John A. Small)