He was far more educated than his formal education would suggest. A high school diploma ended the father’s educational credentials, but he knew lots about history and geography and physics and politics and sports. He knew things about words that few knew. He taught me, correctly, that the preferred pronunciation for “err” was ur not air. The noun was air-ur, but the verb was ur. (This made me realize that there was a certain irony whenever someone says, “To air is human.”) He made few grammatical mistakes and got upset whenever a letter from one of his kids mailed from college had one.
I don’t how he learned facts about the moon or the physics of archery or the importance of Bryan’s Cross of Gold speech. It is entirely possible that a high school education in his day was at a much higher level than it is today, but I think what was behind his surprising knowledge was that he simply liked to learn. However, I am somewhat puzzled what he used for sources. He did not read books. (When I was well into adulthood, the father visited me in New York, and we walked to the Brooklyn Bridge. I told him that there was a very good book about the Bridge’s construction, and he took my copy of The Great Bridge by David McCullough when he went home. A month later, he sent it back to me. I found a note from him tucked inside: “I read the whole book.” It was the only book that I ever knew he read.) Other than Reader’s Digest, some golf publications, and maybe True, he seldom looked at any of the magazines that were in the house. On the other hand, he was an avid reader of newspapers. Two came to us daily plus another one, heavy on Wisconsin politics, came weekly. It isn’t just nostalgia when I say newspapers were better back then. You could learn more from them than today. The father certainly did.
He knew, however, that his learning was limited. His regret at not having a college education was evident. I asked the brother about memories from our childhood, and one of his replies was how the father stressed the importance of a college education. If you had asked me when I was four or five, I would have told you that I was going to college. Perhaps that may not seem remarkable, but many of my father’s friends did not have even a high school diploma. Some of their children, my contemporaries, did not finish high school. Their parents may have stressed a good job, but that could have meant being a tool and die maker or a bookkeeper, but they did not stress formal education. The father did. There was little doubt that his three children were going to college, and that had to make him something of an outlier in his social circles.
He sacrificed for our educations. He got a second mortgage on our quite modest house to help finance our educations, but he never mentioned that to us. I only learned about it much later. Sending his kids to college was not an easy thing, but he was not a father who reminded his children of all the sacrifices he had made for them.
We were told the importance of a college education time and again, and the sister, the brother, and I all got good college and post-college educations. He never said it, but surely the father must have felt that if he had gone to college, he would have had a better job with more income. We were not told, however, to get a college education to make sure that we were ready for a good job. It was not go to college and get trained as an accountant or a schoolteacher or for a marketing career. He never suggested that we should treat college as a high level vocational school. The chief point to the education was simply to learn as much as we could about . . .everything.
I, too, like to learn. I am proud of that and think that quality helps define me. I want to believe that it one of my best innate qualities. But perhaps it is not something I discovered for myself. Perhaps I got it from him.