Tom Purcell: The Art of Learning to Dad’s Inspiration Key

After all these years, my dad inspires me.

As I write this, the almost 89-year-old fellow is struggling to get back on his feet as stenosis, bad knees and general old age wear him down.

But his body shows wear and tear, his sense of humor as agile as his mind.

And he fights his daily battles to inspire his children.

The old saying “actions speak louder than words” applies perfectly to my dad.

He’s never talked about much, but he’s the biggest action figure I’ve ever known.

He worked long, hard hours every day at Bell Telephone and took overtime work almost every holiday I can remember.

He never did much for himself.

His greatest indulgences included a weekly case of Pabst Blue Ribbon and a $ 5 bill in his wallet so he could get hot coffee on cold days.

His actions speak clearly to his children: “I’m not a sophisticated man, but I love you with all my heart and I will always take care of you.”

When he spoke actual words, he always started with three: “For Godsakes, Betty….”

Betty is my mother for her preferred name, Elizabeth. He was 16 when he was in high school.

He told me last week that he would marry her soon after, and they did, five years later.

Now they have six children, 17 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

Marriage is hard. Family is hard. Our clan is spared the challenges, setbacks and disagreements every family faces and still does.

But the one constant that got us through is that my father deeply loves my mother. He dotes on her. He’s lost her.

After 66 years together, my dad told me his heart still beats when my mother walks into the room – that they still hold hands every single night.

A child is the last person on earth to accurately evaluate his parents’ relationship. Theirs is intense and sometimes confusing to us – but goodness, they love each other.

The best gifts parents can give their kids. My parents gave us a true love story – and here I am at 60, and they still share their love story with me.

And my father is still inspiring me.

He’s in pain every day. The most basic tasks are becoming harder.

Sometimes, the frustration gets to him, but most days he displays incredible grace as he jokes, “Getting old ain’t for the weak!”

I share his influence and I know how important he has been in shaping me and my sisters into the people we are.

I think of all the kids, more boys, who are getting into trouble because they don’t have a father whose actions could inspire and guide them in life.

My sisters and I are not perfect, but we work hard to be good people and good spouses, parents and neighbors.

And now, as our parents age, it is our turn to repay them – our turn to action for our actions is shown by our words:

“We’re not sophisticated people, but we love you with all our heart and we will always take care of you.”

Freelance writer Tom Purcell of the library is the author of “Misadventures of a 1970s Childhood.” Visit him on the web at

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