By Robert St. John
The Meridian Star
As Father’s Day approaches I am ambivalent. My apathy is both professional and personal. Mother’s Day is the busiest lunch of the year in the restaurant business. Father’s Day is only marginally busier than an average Sunday lunch.
As a child, I dreaded Father’s Day. My father died when I was six-years old. They found a brain tumor one day and, within a few weeks, he was gone. As was the custom in those days, boys wore carnation boutonnieres to church every Father’s Day. If your father was dead, your carnation had to be a different color— red or white, I don’t remember. I just remember that it was a different color than everyone in my Sunday school class. I hated it.
Other than the Father’s Day carnation thing, growing up without a father wasn’t as hard as one might expect. It was all I knew. I had a great childhood filled with nothing but fond memories. There were a lot of men— my father’s friends and contemporaries— who stepped up and filled the role giving fatherly advice, counsel, and on occasion, reprimands— Bud Holmes, Louis Norman, Jimmy McKenzie, Doc Roberts, Larry Foote, and others. As it turns out, I had a lot of fathers and I am grateful to all of them.
Though more than any of those, my mother— who never remarried— was a father figure. She raised my brother and me on her own, on a schoolteacher’s salary, no easy task, as I was no cakewalk.
My mother was a single-parent mom before single-parent moms were cool.
In 1968, her husband died, a few weeks later Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. A few months after that Bobby Kennedy was assassinated. A month or so later the riots broke out at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Those were some of the most troubling and unsteady days in our recent history. I can’t imagine how she must have felt having just lost a husband and looking at a future with two young boys to raise, on her own, in a world that probably seemed to be unraveling.
She was a trooper though. Realizing that she would have to play two roles, she went back to college and got her Master’s Degree. She then did something that would change the lives of her two sons forever. Recognizing that she knew nothing about hunting or team sports, she took most of her savings and bought a mobile home and stuck it on a small lot above a tiny marina near the Pascagoula River on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. She might not have known how to hunt, but she figured she could learn how to fish with her boys— and fish we did.
That little house trailer, two blocks from the water, and a mile or so up the creek from the main river is where my greatest childhood memories live. We spent our summers fishing, crabbing, shrimping, and water skiing on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. It was a boys dream come true— father or not.
I learned about the different species of Gulf fish, learned how to cook them, eat them, catch them, and— most of all- how to appreciate the bounty that comes from our Gulf waters. That little fish camp is one of the main reasons I fell in love with the restaurant business.
Today, I am the father of two children. Like my brother and me, they are four years apart. It takes all of the time, effort, emotional fortitude, strength and endurance my wife and I have just to get those two through an average school day. It’s these days— parenting a teenager and a soon-to-be teenager— that I appreciate my mom more than ever.
Today I don’t dread Father’s Day. I have two children of my own. I have lived 15 years longer than my father ever knew, and I celebrate Father’s Day.
My mother will be 80-years old in August and is still teaching school. She’s one of the toughest people I know.
She and I have breakfast every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Occasionally we talk about those summer days spent on the Gulf Coast. Sometimes we discuss my kids and their schoolwork. Mostly we just talk about life.
One topic that never comes up is the subject of growing up without a father, probably because I had one all along. Happy Father’s Day, mom. I love you.