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June 16, 2003

There’s Something Intrinsically Sad

John W. Ashbury

Thankfully, Father’s Day come but once a year. To be a father is perhaps the greatest gift a man can receive. And to be able to raise – with the help of a devoted and loving wife – children, who call you Dad, brings joy and a swelled heart like nothing else.

But for those of us whose father has passed away, there is a sadness that can be measured only in great memories of one who gave you life, guided you through happiness and sadness, and left you with a sense of love and understanding that could have come from no one else.

My father was – and will always remain – an inspiration. For in his life he was a Father to far more than the four natural children he had. He gave of himself to so many outside the family that some have memories of him which transcend fatherhood.

Fortunately, some have shared those memories and brought a better understanding of just who he really was.

As this special day approached this year, the nation lost two men to the vagaries of old age – Gregory Peck and David Brinkley. Both generated in those who viewed their work a wonderment of just how successful we might become. Both were simple men with enormous talent. Both were astonished at the power they possessed, but never exploited it.

Who can ever forget Mr. Peck as Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s immortal To Kill A Mockingbird, as he explained to his daughter Scout what life was really about. He created a character whose moral fiber remains a role model for us today as we continue to struggle with racism and moral justice.

In his private life he was much as he was on the screen. He seldom departed from the essence of himself as a man of conviction and strong character. It was never better demonstrated than during the Vietnam War when he voiced vehement opposition to that conflict, but stood sturdy in support of the troops fighting there, which included his son.

According to recent news reports recounting his life and death at 87, Mr. Peck was an amiable and fun-loving patriarch, far different than the film roles he often accepted, like Captain Ahab in Moby Dick But there were those parts that demonstrated just how important he felt family truly was, like Atticus Finch.

David Brinkley came into our lives daily via NBC News, particularly after he was teamed with Chet Huntley on the mold breaking Huntley-Brinkley Report in 1956. They remained together for 15 years, until Mr. Huntley retired. They closed their nightly show with the now famous Goodnight Chet, Goodnight David refrain, which both of them disliked in the beginning.

But as he grew older Mr. Brinkley’s innate ability to get to the point in the fewest words possible proved a God-send to an audience desperate for brevity from an industry whose penchant for verbosity has gotten worse, especially with the all-news channels of today.

As his retirement from ABC approached, he seemed the wise, old man who had lived through the great, and the tragic, events of our time in the spotlight himself. And we were comforted by his presence. He was unflappable in crisis after crisis. He reassured us while, at the same time, giving us the information we so needed to know.

Unlike the news anchors of today, you never got the idea from Mr. Brinkley that he was smarter than we were. Nor did we examine his words for his political bent, as we are prone to do today. We didn’t worry about his politics. We weren’t going to vote for him. All we wanted from him were the facts. And that is what he gave us – night after night.

So this Father’s Day we can delight in the lives of those who brought us to where we are – our fathers and those who presented to us a father’s image, though we were never to meet.

The sadness of this day for some of us is tempered by the joy we have in the memories of our fathers - great and small. And it is also tempered by the real thrill we get when we answer the door, or the telephone, and hear a child – no matter his or her age – say “Happy Father’s Day, Dad!”

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