When my dad was badly weakened by the flu and my mom wanted to call an ambulance to take him to the emergency room, he wouldn't go unless he could shave first and change into a nice shirt and a pair of slacks. My mom told him they don't have a dress code at ER. He insisted.
My dad, who didn't survive his illness, was thoroughly old school. He would no more wear a pair of jeans than rainbow-striped clown pants. Born in 1929, he never lost his belief in the standards of a bygone era or his passion for its literature, culture and history.
He taught English for decades at what was then Trinity College in Washington, D.C., with an emphasis on American literature of the 1920s and 1930s. He was a teacher's teacher who devoted himself to transferring, as much as he could, his love for Hemingway and Faulkner to his students.
He adored big-band music Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller and the rest of them. He whistled and hummed their tunes constantly around the house. Later in life, he even tried to teach himself to play the trumpet, although I would put the emphasis on the word "tried." When we played recordings of the greats for him in the hospital, he hummed along through his oxygen mask.
He was a committed World War II buff. Nothing would ever seem as momentous to him as the clash of great armies over the fate of civilization that was in the headlines every day of his youth. He might have missed his calling as a military historian. His bookshelves were a veritable research library on the armaments of World War II. He was a scale modeler, and his study is full of dozens of models of tanks, planes and ships from the war. He had nearly completed his latest, a Heinkel He 115-1 (a German seaplane), when he passed away.
He loved baseball and had New York Yankee pinstripes imprinted on his heart. Like any good Yankees fan, he believed that the universe is in proper order only when the Yanks are world champs. Since his norms were set in an era when it was a big deal when Joe DiMaggio once kicked the dirt near second base in frustration in the 1947 World Series, he had no use for the ostentation of contemporary sport.
He was a private man and very self-contained. I never saw him cry and never heard him raise his voice. Swearing was out of the question. He didn't hug, if he could possibly avoid it. But he may have had the tenderest heart of anyone I have ever known. He spoiled the cats horribly, fed the birds lavishly and always endeavored to find a way to usher insects out of the house without doing them any harm.
He was a devoted husband and father. I'm always a sucker for sentimental father-son baseball scenes in movies. They bring back the times my dad would throw batting practice or hit fly balls to me down at the local field on summer nights.
Whatever lessons I have learned in life in the importance of patience and diligence began when he assembled a model tank with me when I was a kid. He believed in excellence, in duty and in self-control. He was a constant reader, beginning with the newspapers every morning (I told you he was old school), and an inveterate self-educator. He always had something on his list that he wanted to learn more about, and in the spirit of a tinkerer he baked and had dabbled through the years in woodworking, gardening and bricklaying always another project.
He had a trial at the end but was dignified to his last breath. RIP.