You don’t have scrutinize the news feed long to realize we live in the age of overused superlatives. After studying comparisons in English class, we know “superlative” is the form of an adverb or adjective that’s the greatest degree of a given descriptor.
We hear it all the time — on television commercials, in political speeches, and around the office coffee pot. We’ve become numb to it. Well, most of us have.
This trend is frustrating for someone like me who craves accuracy. So, I resist proclaiming something “best,” “biggest,” “worst,” “prettiest,” or anything else that means top (or bottom) of the heap. Who am I to make that declaration? What if there’s something even better, even bigger, even worse, or even prettier out there and I don’t know about it? It’s likely I’ve based my conclusions on insufficient evidence.
We all fall into this bad habit. Overusing superlatives is absolutely the worst thing anyone can do. Oops, I just did it myself.
On the other hand, when something is difficult if not impossible to prove, the absence of definitive proof leaves open the possibility that it actually might be so.
As a result, if someone says his or her father is the best, I’m just going to roll with it. What’s the harm in letting someone believe it? I know better. I know my father was best.
Sunday will be Father’s Day, and it’s one of those observances where dads might see accolades coming and going. A father may have his children honoring him, while that same father is paying tribute to his own dad. Lots of love to go around this weekend.
Frankly, this is one of those occasions when words don’t come easily to most sons and daughters. For those looking for something more than the verse found in a greeting card, I believe the following tribute from President Theodore Roosevelt, who was given the same name as his father, provides a pretty good template.
In a 1900 letter, the year before he became president, Roosevelt described his (by then deceased) father this way:
“I was fortunate enough in having a father whom I have always been able to regard as an ideal man. He did combine the strength and courage and will and energy of the strongest man with the tenderness, cleanness, and purity of a woman … I cannot say that he ever put it into words, but he certainly gave me the feeling that I was always to be both decent and manly, and that if I were manly nobody would laugh at my being decent.”
After his presidency, in his 1913 autobiography, Roosevelt wrote the following:
“My father, Theodore Roosevelt Sr., was the best man I ever knew … I never knew anyone who got greater joy out of living than did my father, or anyone who more whole-heartedly performed every duty.”
Those of us who love our fathers will claim all of this. I know I do.
Exceptions to the standard certainly exist. Not every father is willing, or able, to live up to the high expectations of family and society. And most men I know who are good fathers believe they will never do enough to adequately fulfill the duties of the daunting title of “father.”
Their children beg to differ.
My own father was the youngest of a large family, and his father was a rural South Carolina preacher in the Great Depression. Dad joined the Navy during World War II, and afterward, found a job that provided a good living for his wife and two children.
He took me camping and deep-sea fishing. He took me to see national parks and monuments. He helped me with junior high algebra because as a non-traditional college student, he was taking algebra the same year. He took me to amateur radio field day weekends. He encouraged my interest in reading, music, architecture and journalism. He took me to Cub Scouts. He took me to church. I watched as he broke Old South protocol and insisted that our housekeeper, who was black, take a seat with his family at our dinner table.
He bought me a new car for high school graduation, and paid for my college education.
Dad had been a sailor, but I never heard him curse. My mother later told me that she had only heard him say something off-color once, and it was at a time when such a word was quite appropriate — not to mention effective. To hear my mother tell it, the only flaws the man had was that he frequently used her kitchen knives when he couldn’t find a screwdriver, and that he snored loudly.
After his death in 1985, Mom said she wished she could hear him snore just one more time.
Dad never hesitated to show affection for his wife and children. The kisses he would plant on our lips when we left the house grew awkward when I became a teenager, but soon enough I cherished them.
It’s true that I’m no Theodore Roosevelt Jr., and my father was no Theodore Roosevelt Sr.
But I am blessed that my dad was Everett Eugene Deason Sr., and I’m honored that I am Everett Eugene Deason Jr.
Dad passed away 32 years ago today, with my mother, sister and me by his side. His final words were, “I love you, I love you all.”
It was a Sunday afternoon. It was Father’s Day.
Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.