Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Fathers, Part 13

From a column published Nov. 11, 1990...

Oh, my father takes such delight in my parental misery.
I talk to him about teenager troubles. I expect a little sympathy, maybe a little advice. Instead, he rubs his palms together and grins. His eyes twinkle, and he has to suppress laughter. This is the joy of revenge.
I say: “I don’t know what I’m going to do with the kid, Dad. He wears combat boots and a motorcycle jacket. I think his role model is Sid Vicious. And his hair!”
My father snickers. He says: “You can’t imagine how good this makes me feel. Now you know.”
I say: “What am I supposed to do when I tell the kid he has to be home no later than a certain time – absolutely, not a minute later – and he shows up two hours later? And when I confront him, he puts on this puzzled look, glances at his watch and shrugs. What am I supposed to do?”
My father says: “Ha ha ha.”
He puts his arm around my shoulder, gives me a poke or two in the arm and says, “Now you know.”

Yes, now I know what the punishment is for being a troubling teenager: You goof on your parents, and 25 years later it comes around and hits you in the back of the head like some nuclear-age boomerang.
I can recall, back in 1965, a dinner-table exchange that went something like this:
Father: “If you would get that ridiculous hank of hair out of your eyes and off your face, maybe you could actually see what you’re eating!”
Son: “I can see just fine. We’re eating bourgeois food in a bourgeois house.”
Father: “There’s that communist talk again.”
Son: “Oh, Dad, the communists aren’t such bad guys. They’re just like us, and they want to be our friends.” (Yes, I really did say that.)
Father: “Oh, they want to be our friends, do they? And I suppose those things on top of their intercontinental ballistic missiles are just invitations to a garden party.”
Son: “That’s a typical imperialist reaction, but I can’t argue this anymore – the band is coming over to practice.”
Father: “Oh great. And I was looking forward to an evening of peace and quiet. Well, at least I can take off my socks and stand in the kitchen, above the basement, and get a foot massage from the vibrations.”
Son: “We have to play loud. The volume is the music, but I don’t expect you to understand that.”
(A long pause ensues in which the elder silently counts to 10.)
Father: “You’ll see. Oh, you’ll see.”

So, 25 years later, I see. I come home from work, put my hand on the doorknob and feel the tickle of vibration. I open the door and am blasted with noise from the stereo. I cup my hands to my face and yell, “WHAT ARE YOU LISTENING TO?”
He yells back, “JANE”S ADDICTION.”
“OH, NEVER MIND!” I yell in disgust and storm out of the room. Then I turn, rub my palms together and yell back, “YOU’LL SEE!”

Monday, March 30, 2009

Fathers, Part 12

My father and I manage to see each other once or twice a year now. We’ve discussed that adventure in Biscayne Bay several times over the years, but I think my dad would rather forget about it; it was too embarrassing for him. But it will always remain a fond memory for me.

A few years after that, I began writing a column for the Observer-Reporter in which I frequently shared my experiences in raising our children. For 15 years, my kids had their personal lives exposed in the newspaper. Some of those columns were reproduced on this blog in the story, “Dreams of My Children,” which can be accessed in this blog’s archives.

Neither of my children chose to follow me into journalism. When they were young, I worked nights and long hours and saw them not nearly enough. When they saw me, I was often weighed down with the frustrations of my job, harried by angry readers, and they wanted no part of that. They chose, instead, to emulate their mother, an artist of considerable talent. (My children share deep roots in this area with their mother, whose family – pioneer Scots-Irish and Dutch – arrived her in the late 1ate 18th century.) They would develop their own talent and become artists themselves. Like all the other Burroughs children before them going back to the 18th century, they chose a different path than their father.

Fatherhood was a frequent theme of those old columns in the 1980s and 1990s. I’ll share a couple of them with you this week. Tomorrow’s installment first ran in 1990 under the headline, “It took 25 years, but Dad’s finally getting his revenge.”

Friday, March 27, 2009

Fathers, Part 11

We had grounded our boat on the Featherbed Banks at high tide. As the sun dipped toward the western horizon, the water around us became shallower with the ebb. We radioed the Coast Guard. They would contact a private towing company to send a barge to pull us off the bar, but that would not be possible until the next high tide, at 3 a.m.

And so began our family excursion to Key Largo. It was the first time we had seen my father since my mother’s funeral. It had been a difficult time, but we seemed to be getting through it OK. In a way, this was our voyage out of mourning. We were anxious for it to continue. What if the barge did not arrive in time? How long would we be stranded? What would happen to us if the weather turned bad?

Darkness fell. In the faint light of a crescent moon, I could see sand poking above the still water off the bow. “I can’t believe the boat is still level,” I yelled to my father as I stood by the rail. “Look. You can see the bottom; it can’t be more than six inches deep here.” My father, wife and son came to the railing to see for themselves, and our weight was enough to cause the boat to list to starboard, nearly hurling us all into the bay.

We spent the rest of the night at a 30-degree angle, crab-walking the deck, the kids sleeping flush against the hull in the starboard bunks. My father and I did not sleep. We peered into the darkness over the stern, looking for lights, listening for the distant hum of engines.
The barge arrived sometime after midnight and anchored a quarter-mile away. My father conversed with the captain on the crackling marine radio. Slowly, the boat began to right itself. A couple of hours later, the barge moved within 100 yards, and men arrived in a dinghy to attach the tow line. And then, with a jolt and a hiss of sand against hull, we were free. Well, the rescue service was hardly free. The mistake proved to be a costly one.

We approached Key Largo as dawn was breaking portside, the two of us red-eyed and punchy from lack of sleep. It had been a difficult night, but we had come through it, and now everything was OK. And as we idled toward the dock the water was as still as a mirror, and the rising sun splashed its fiery light on the trunks of palms and through the portholes onto the faces of the children, still deep in sleep.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Fathers, Part 10

The wide, white wake of the boat is a foamy path reaching to the horizon, toward the tall buildings of Miami that have now set below the vast expanse of blue-green sea. We are cruising across Biscayne Bay under a cloudless sky. We pass the last shacks on stilts and are now surrounded by nothing but water and air.

My father examines the charts. It is a straight shot to the Florida Keys. He chooses a compass point and sets the autopilot.

It is March 1979. My son, nearly 5 years old, is playing with his Hot Wheels in the galley. Alice has taken our 9-month-old daughter, Caitlyn, to the aft stateroom for a nap. My father and I climb to the flying bridge. We converse in shouts over the noise of the rushing wind, the pounding of the hull against waves, the rumble of the exhausts. Since my mother’s death less than a year before, my father has devoted much time to the boat and the constant maintenance it requires. He has a new radar unit, which we are fiddling with as the boat steers herself south-southwest. He goes below to adjust something, and I am looking at the screen on the bridge.

It is then that I look behind us, and suddenly the wake is no longer white, but brown. In a panic, I yank back the throttles. The roar of the twin diesel engines dies; the stern lifts and we surf our own wake. I cut the engines, and all is quiet except for the ominous sound of hull sliding across sand.

Had I not noticed the brown wake we might have been fine, but in cutting the engines, I managed to place our 52-foot craft at the top of Featherbed Banks, a shallow area that becomes a sand bar at very low tide. This I learn as my father pores over the charts. “Dammit! How did I miss this!” he mutters to himself. We share the blame for our predicament.

I don a diving mask and jump into the water, surprisingly cold and not quite waist deep. In the murky dark beneath the stern, I see the propellers half-buried in the sand. We decide it is too risky to turn them. And with the tide going out, it will only get worse.

Here is the moment that has not happened before, when father and son look to each other for help, when the boy is no longer the son, and the man is no longer the father, when they are just two people, equally in trouble.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Fathers, Part 9

Three years after leaving boarding school, just after my junior year at Washington & Jefferson College, I was married. Alice and I moved to Florida, and then back to Pennsylvania in 1972. Two years later, our son was born.

We thought long and hard about a name. I had a boyhood friend named Broderick Washburn, Brody for short. We liked the sound of it. “Are you sure you don’t want to name him Alfred Parker Burroughs IV?” Alice asked me at the last moment. I was wavering, but I said, “No, he should have his own name, be his own person. Let’s call him Brody.”
We compromised, though, and gave him Parker as a middle name.

There was disappointment, even a little outrage in my family. Lulie – my grandfather’s sister – was in a huff. My mother was peeved. “How could you possibly name a child after that horrible, horrible man at the ranch in Mexico!” she complained over the phone when I called from the hospital.
“Who?” I asked, completely puzzled.
“That awful man with the scars all over his face, the body guard, the one who guarded our house, Brodie!” she said.
“I was too young to remem…”
“Broderick would have been OK,” she interrupted, “but now every time I see this child I’m going to think of that awful, awful man!”
Gee, thanks Mom.

The boy certainly looked like his own person. I could detect no resemblance. Of course, many people said the infant “looks just like his father.”
“What!?” I’d say. “Huh? “He weighs like 8 pounds. My nose is bigger than his face. How can he look like me?”

I never did see him as part of me, part of my body. From the beginning, I saw him as this wonderful little stranger that came into our lives. Maybe that was my inheritance, the fathering ways handed down to me from the previous generations. I was content from the start with him being his own person, with his own name.
And like all the other Burroughs men before him, he would find his own path through life.

Complaints and questions

C: Today's (Tuesday's) front page picture of the mobile home certainly added nothing to the story of the home invasion; the same picture showing all the junk in the yard was totally unnecessary. What a picture your paper paints of people who live in Greene County!
Also, while I'm on the subject - the featured story of the 2 pregnant sisters from Greene County in a recent Sunday edition glorified them and their (underage, I believe) pregnancies. Again, what a picture of Greene County residents.
I realize nothing noteworthy ever happens here (except the almighty Walmart's opening), but why do you always find it necessary to magnify our imperfections on your front pages? - C.S.

A: You know, it is what it is. Where the attacked couple lived is relevant; it's not exactly the most promising target for a robber. You kinda have to wonder. Murder is news, and what we do here is to cover the news. Social problems – like teenage pregnancy – are news too. We are a newspaper, not the Greene County Tourism Promotion Agency.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Whine, whine, whine

C: If a Letter to the Editor is sent, the whole letter should be published, not half of it like was done to my husband last year. Letters to the Editor are exercising Freedom of Speech. It's supposed to be a Democracy. Your Editor chose to discriminate. - T.M.

A: As we state on the editorial page, letters are subject to editing for length, clarity and taste. We also correct what might be considered embarrassing errors in grammar and spelling.

The newspaper is not a public utility. You have no constitutional right to express your opinion in someone else's newspaper. You do have a constitutional right to express your opinions, which means you can publish your own newspaper and say whatever you want in it.

And of course editors discriminate. That's their job: to decide what to print and what not to print. We take a tiny portion of all that is happening in the world and publish it each day. If we were not discriminating, the newspaper would be too heavy to lift and too expensive to buy.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Fathers, Part 8

(Boy Scout camp-out, 1959)

In April 1951, Al and Irene’s first daughter was born in New Haven, Conn. His work as a time-study analyst at Winchester enabled them to purchase a tiny, two-bedroom house in West Haven. After Winchester merged with Olin-Matheson Chemical Corp., Al was transferred to Manhattan and the family moved to New York, where they would remain until the late 1960s.

Unlike my father’s childhood, mine was as normal as peach pie, with loving, involved parents who stayed married to each other. My mother had a tendency to force me into activities for which I had little interest, like piano and ballroom dancing lessons. My father, though, preferred to allow me to develop my own interests and activities, and encouraged me by not interfering or offering instruction. He put up with the underground forts and tarpaper shacks I built in the backyard, biting his tongue rather than complain about the eyesores, or advise me as to how to dig a hole or hinge a door. Let him figure it out himself, he must have told himself many times.

I think he dreaded me entering Boy Scouts but put up with it anyway. His only error was in requiring me to play youth baseball beyond the time when I had lost interest.

His idea about punishment was not to stress the painful consequences of bad behavior, but to teach responsibility. He could be moved to anger, but he never raised a hand to me or any of his children.

Hard work and business decisions, both wise and risky, proved fruitful, which made it possible for me to follow in the footsteps of both my father and grandfather, to leave home for boarding school.
My father’s experience at Taft had molded him. That is where he matured, where he developed confidence, where he established his independence. He wanted to offer me the same experience.

Although I would disappoint him and flunk out of his alma mater after one year, I would manage to get though the next three years at another boarding school. The experience was enriching, and I thought at the time that I would do the same for my own son, should I ever have one. But marriage and fatherhood seemed like such a long way off then.
Little did I know.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Fathers, Part 7

(En route to Connecticut from Mexico, 1951)

The younger Alfred became a ship’s electrician and ended up with the occupation forces in Japan at war’s end. After his discharge, he returned to Connecticut to marry Irene, the Polish girl from New Haven whom he had met while at Taft and who had worked throughout the war as a telephone operator.

They bought a small trailer, hitched it behind their old Chrysler and headed west. It was their first home, parked first in Bloomington while Al attended Indiana University on the G.I. bill, and later in Santa Monica, Calif., while he studied at U.C.L.A.

In January 1949, Irene gave birth to a boy. They named him Alfred Parker Burroughs III. That would be me, and the trailer was my first home, too. Later, we’d move to university housing. I would become sort of a mascot, an honorary pledge, of Delta Kappa Epsilon, my father’s fraternity.

(Al and his son on the plantation, 1950)

After graduation, we went to Agua Buena, Mexico, where my father would work for almost two years on the sugar cane ranch. By then, my grandfather had married for a third time, this time to a Brazilian bombshell named Dee. Among my mother, Dee and the Mexican nursemaid, I learned to speak in a mish-mash of English, Portuguese and Spanish.

By 1951, Irene was pregnant again, and the political and social climate in Mexico had become dicey. Unrest had crept close to the plantation, necessitating a guard armed with a Thompson submachine gun outside our quarters at night. Irene vowed she would not have her baby in Mexico, and so they loaded up the car and headed for Connecticut.

It was there that Al began making his own way in the world. He would eventually become successful as a business executive, stockbroker and capital investor, but he started out walking around with a stopwatch in the Winchester gun factory in New Haven.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Fathers, Part 6

(The Alfreds, junior and senior)

Soon after their divorce, Dorothy married Harry Achenbach, a career Navy man. The first of their four children was born in 1930. They called him Bobs. Wherever Harry was transferred, Dorothy and Alfred Jr. and his new brother followed – to Indiana, Illinois, California and Panama.

Meanwhile, Alfred Sr. abandoned the idea of practicing law in the U.S. and sought business opportunities in Mexico. He remarried a woman who, according to family lore, was a wealthy socialite – the complete opposite of Dorothy – and started the Agua Buena Sugar Co. in central Mexico. A daughter, Betty, was born in 1933.

The younger Alfred saw his father rarely, usually on summer vacation visits to the sugar cane ranch in Mexico. His family was constantly on the move, and it was difficult to form friendships when he changed schools so often. The death in childhood of his half-brother, Bobs, robbed him of his closest companion.

At age 13, young Alfred was sent to the Taft School in Watertown, Conn. His father thought it would do the boy good to be on his own and away from home, in a place where he could stay put and make friends, to experience independence and to grow up in an all-male environment that would prepare him for the world, as he had done himself at Lawrenceville.

For the next five years it would be Alfred’s home, except for summer breaks. It would be his home until January 1944, when he would enter another nearly all-male environment that would prepare him for the world: the Navy and the war in the Pacific.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Fathers, Part 5

(Alfred and his mother, Florence, in Holland, March 1930)

While visiting his brother’s mining operation in Seattle, Alfred enrolled at the University of Washington. He met a girl named Dorothy McCully, from nearby Bainbridge Island, and married her. They had a son, whom they named Alfred Parker Burroughs Jr., in September of 1925, and Alfred continued on to law school.

Alfred and Dorothy (right) were my grandparents. They died in 1983 and 1986, respectively, and the reasons for the breakup of their marriage in 1929 went with them. Their son – my father – was just 4 years old at the time of their divorce, and he would begin an odyssey around the country and Central America, accompanying his mother and her new husband – a Navy man – and visiting his father, who would seek adventure and fortune in Mexico.

The market crash of 1929 undoubtedly depleted the wealth that A.H. Burroughs had accumulated but had not obliterated it. However, Alfred would see little of what remained, having been for the most part, disinherited.

In 1930, the newly-divorced Alfred and his newly-widowed mother departed for Europe. Their tour of cities like Cairo, Venice and Amsterdam was a voyage of distraction, a time to forget, an opportunity to start anew.

Without the financial advantages of his older brothers, without a father to offer guidance, without a wife to lend support, he would need to make his way independently. But that, of course, was what his own father had done, and his grandfather as well. Independence was becoming a theme in the Burroughs line.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Complaints and questions

We received many comments on our Web site and several angry phone calls yesterday concerning our front-page story Sunday, the first installment of our "Teens Today" series.
The article was about the spike in teen pregnancies recently in Washington and Greene counties and was accompanied by a photo of two pregnant teenagers who are sisters.

One caller, saying that she represented "20 people here at the hospital," said she was appalled that we would write such an article "endorsing" teen pregnancy. She said she was afraid young girls would see this article and assume that it was perfectly all right to run out and have babies. She said that instead of promoting teen pregnancy, we should be writing about how to prevent it.

I pointed out that we do that on a regular basis – weekly, in fact – with Mary Jo Podgurski's column. Podgurski has for many years taught sex education here and runs Teen Outreach. "That hasn't worked," the caller insisted.

Sorry, lady, but it has. Podgurski is responsible for the dramatic decline in teen pregnancy (about 60 percent) from 1990 until just recently, when the numbers began to inch up again. The reason for that rise, Podgurski said in the article, is complicated by shifting social attitudes and economic conditions.

We hardly "endorse" teen pregnancy. I, and everyone I know and work with, is appalled by the idea of girls in middle and high school having babies. This is a problem, and it's our obligation to bring that problem to our readers' attention. Problems are never solved by ignoring them and pretending they don't exist, or by quietly tucking them on a back page of the newspaper, without photos, without thought- and anger-provoking quotations, where the information can be overlooked, particularly by those teenage girls so ready to throw their lives away at the direction of their hometown newspaper.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Fathers, Part 4

(The family at Meadow Wood Park near Roanoke, Va., in the summer of 1910, Clockwise from lower left, an unidentified servant, Lulie, mother Florence, Emily, Davis, Florence and Alfred.)

As the youngest of seven children, and with three older brothers – Ambrose, Whitney and Davis – it’s unlikely that young Alfred received much attention from his father, who had become chief counsel for the giant American Tobacco Co. Spoiled by the family’s financial circumstances and the doting of his much older siblings, Alfred, according to family lore, was a bit of a hellion.

In 1911, American Tobacco was broken apart by the government’s trust busters, and A.H. Burroughs moved the family to New York. His Fifth Avenue law firm handled corporate clients, and the family resided on a sprawling estate called Woodlawn, overlooking the Hudson River north of the city, in Irvington.

Alfred was soon sent off to prep school, to Lawrenceville in New Jersey. After that, he attended Princeton University, but was soon asked to leave (again, according to family lore) for staging a prank that went bad. Whether that’s true or not, Alfred’s behavior had certainly gotten his father’s attention. A.H. amended his will, leaving Alfred, for the most part, out of it.

Avoiding further conflict at home, Alfred headed west, to Seattle, Wash., to visit his oldest brother, then involved in a mining operation. Eventually, father and son would make peace, but before he had a chance to again amend his will, A.H. Burroughs died in June 1929 of pneumonia at age 70. Shortly after his death, the New York Times reported that he had left an estate of some $4.2 million, most of it in securities – a huge fortune at the time.

Four months later, the stock market crashed.

Friday, March 13, 2009

So long, Clarke

Somehow, I hadn't heard about Clarke Thomas' death Feb. 21 and missed the obituary that appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. It's a shame to lose him. He was a bit of a contradiction: a kind, thoughtful and gentle person, and a great newspaperman at the same time.

He spent 43 years in the business, in Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma before coming to Pittsburgh and editing the editorial page. Although he retired some time ago, he kept writing for the P-G as senior editor until very recently. He published a book, "Front-page Pittsburgh," in 2005.

Clarke went with a group of environmentalists from Pittsburgh to Siberia in 1994. While there, the journalists at the Kuznetsk Worker in Novokuznetsk sought help from him and the P-G. They were searching for a sister newspaper in the U.S. to teach them how to survive as a business independent of government. Interest at the Post-Gazette was not high for such a project, so Clarke contacted us at the Observer-Reporter. That's how our newspaper's Siberian adventure began, and how so many journalists, students and teachers were able to experience life in another country from 1996 to 2004.

When environmental journalist Rita Stachovich came her for the first time in 1997, her first request was to visit Thomas, and to give him presents and thanks for making possible the relationship that helped save her newspaper. We had a delightful dinner at the home of Clarke and his wife, Jean.

I kept Clarke posted on our business in Novokuznetsk over the years, and he became a regular contributor to the charitable organization I formed – Books for the World – which in 2000 sent more than 17,000 books to schools and libraries in Novokuznetsk.

I will always remember Clarke as an example of this simple truth: Sometimes even the smallest acts of kindness and consideration can result in great achievements.

Fathers, Part 3

(The house at 220 Madison St., Lynchburg, Va.)

The younger A.H. Burroughs started his practice in Lynchburg, not far from where he was born in 1859, in Leesville. He became the city’s solicitor, and eventually the Commonwealth’s Attorney. He and his wife, Florence, began raising children and in 1895 built a handsome Victorian-style home on Madison Street.

Meanwhile, another Lynchburg resident by the name of James Bonsack, just a few months younger than Burroughs, was making his way up in the world in another way. In 1881, Bonsack received a patent for his invention: a cigarette-rolling machine. Ever since the Civil War, cigarettes had become a popular way to smoke tobacco, but all were still rolled by hand. Bonsack’s machine could do the work of 48 human rollers.

The inventor retained A.H. Burroughs as his attorney and investor and formed the Bonsack Machine Co. It would take more than 10 years to improve the machine’s function and reliability, but once it was put into use by the American Tobacco Co., the number of cigarettes produced quickly passed the billion mark.

Burroughs quickly amassed a fortune, and in 1899 moved his growing family into a new home at 220 Madison more resembling a castle. The couple’s last of seven children was born in that house in 1904. They named him Alfred Parker Burroughs, in honor of two Episcopalian ministers, Dr. Alfred and Dr. Parker.

If the wealthy attorney, in choosing that name, had any hope that his son would follow his grandfather’s spiritual path, he was in for a disappointment.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Fathers, Part 2

Who knows if the Rev. A.H. Burroughs, the “marrying clergyman” of Franklin County, Va., had time to spend with his children, so busy he must have been riding the circuit and marrying all those couples. Little evidence can be found about the man until late in his life, when a remarkable incident gave him entry to history books.

In “Booker T. Washington and the Adult Education Movement,” Virginia Lantz Denton wrote of Washington’s tour of the South and a certain stop at a train station in Greenville, Tenn., in the fall of 1909: “Rev. A.H. Burroughs came to the station to see the group’s departure. He told Washington that he was from the Burroughs family in Franklin County, Va., Washington’s former owners. Washington turned to the crowd and exclaimed, ‘Why, Dr. Burroughs and I belong to the same family.’ As the train pulled out, Dr. Burroughs exclaimed over and over: ‘What changes time does bring. Just to think of it. The great man once belonged to our family. I’m proud of him, sir – mighty proud of him!’”

His father had worked the land with the human beings he had bought and owned. A.H. Burroughs had chosen a much different path – following the Lord. And his son, also named Ambrose Hammett, would likewise go in a completely different direction – the law – in search of luxury and the filthy lucre his father’s sermons most likely warned against.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Fathers, Part 1

Even with slaves doing the heavy work, farming was a hardscrabble existence for landowners in the hills of western Virginia before the Civil War. Near Hale’s Ford, James and Elizabeth Burroughs (left) owned 207 acres, but less than half of that was arable.

The place was called a plantation, but the Burroughs were neither wealthy nor affluent; their equity was of the human variety: about a dozen slaves. One of them was called Jane, who, impregnated by a white man from a neighboring plantation, gave birth to a boy on April 5, 1856. He would be known as Booker T. Washington (below right), who would one day become a great educator and founder of the Tuskegee Institute.

Elizabeth bore James 14 children. When war came in 1861, most of the boys went off to join the Confederacy, some of them never to return. The ones who came back stood on the porch of the big house in 1865 as the Emancipation Proclamation was read to their family’s slaves, among them 9-year-old Booker.

“All of the master’s family were either standing or seated on the veranda…” wrote Washington in his 1919 autobiography. “There was a feeling of deep interest, or perhaps sadness, on their faces, but not bitterness… They did not at the moment seem sad for the loss of property, but rather because of parting with those whom they had reared and were in many ways very close to them.”

Among those standing on the porch was returning soldier Ambrose Hammett Burroughs and his 6-year-old son, the boy to whom he had given his own name and who had grown up in all these years of his father’s absence.

At his death in 1861, James Burroughs’ estate was listed at just over $7,000, about $5,000 of that being the value of his slaves. With their freedom, not much was left, and the plantation would disappear, just as Hale’s Ford would evaporate from maps.

Jane and her son, Booker, would leave immediately for West Virginia, where he would work in the mines before leaving to begin his education at the age of 16 at the Hampton Institute.

The confederate veteran A.H. Burroughs would go on to earn a doctorate in theology and become the “marrying clergyman of Franklin County,” for the more than 3,000 couples he would unite.

His son would take a much different path.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A new story

Men can’t help but think that fathering children is a good thing; it’s nature; it’s the way our brains are built. And so, after the children are born, it’s only natural that men should think that being a father to them, for the rest of life, is a good thing, too, and should be joyous. We men are expected to cherish those monumental moments: the births, the graduations, the marriages. And we are expected to be proud and happy, and often we are. But just as often, we feel a twinge of regret. Regret, that we have not had a closer relationship with our own fathers. Regret, that we are not emotionally closer to our children. We think of all the child-parent activities we begged off from and feel shame for not having been the dads we could have been, or should have been.

Some dads seem so close to their kids. They are the weeping dads, the huggers, the ones who always seem to be with them or on the phone with them, in regular communication about the simplest things, long into the offspring’s adulthood. Sometimes, I envy their bonds, their mutual dependency, because it has always been different in our family.

I learned fatherhood from my father; he learned it from my grandfather, who learned it from his father. It goes back much farther than that, but I know the history back to the 19th century, which is when this story begins.
As always, I know how this story starts, but not exactly where it’s going or when it will end. Please feel free to comment about your own experiences with fatherhood. The comments are just as interesting as the story.
This one starts tomorrow. We’ll call it “Fathers.”

Monday, March 9, 2009

Today's gripe

I've been gone for a few days, mooching off my Florida family and applying golf therapy to my sore back...

There's no excuse for a four-putt green. To all of you non-golfers, let me explain. When you land your golf ball on the putting green, the idea is to put the ball in the hole, usually in two strokes. If you are far from the hole, your first putt gets it close enough for your to sink it on the second putt. Occasionally, you screw up and don't get your first putt close enough to the hole, and then you miss the second putt. This is murder on your score.

But putting four times on the same green is beyond screwing up, beyond unlucky; it's a hint that you have no business being on a golf course.
On Friday, I four-putted three greens – three of the first five holes I played that day.

But of course, I have an excuse. I haven't been playing golf that long. In fact, I only started playing in 1962.