Several years after the death of my father, after I’d moved back to my home town, I had a conversation with an old friend of his, Karl Gies. He told me something I’d never heard before about my dad, which shocked the hell out of me.
He told me about my dad’s time at the Catholic School. For the life of me I can’t remember the name right now, but there are plenty of locals who can. Any way, Karl told me how he felt bad that he’d never apologized for the hell my father went through while in school. Even though they’d been friends for decades, Karl never spoke to my dad about it and it bothered him, enough so that he told me. I knew dad hated school, hated it bitterly, and distrusted the Catholic Church, I just never knew why.
You see, my dad came from the poor side of town, and despite being only 1/4 Native American, he was as dark as they came, especially when he spent all his time out doors. He wasn’t white, and being a poor Indian kid, he and his brothers and sisters were educated at the local Catholic school. Apparently because of who and what he was, he suffered a lot of abuse and bullying by the white kids while he was there. Karl didn’t go into much of the details, he just had a sad and angry look on his face and said, “Danny, it was bad.” and then apologized to my father via his son.
If Karl and I hadn’t gotten to talking that day, if he’d hadn’t felt the burden to tell me, I’d have never known what my father went though while at school. Dad never talked about it other than to say the nuns were strict and that a couple of them taught him the value of self-respect. That was it. In the 26 years that I got to know my father, the only other time the color of his skin was every brought up was in the stories my mom would tell about his first meeting with her father. I guess things didn’t start out well, though that would change in time.
I’ll never know where else in his life that Dad encountered racism, I’m damn sure that those weren’t the only times. And I can’t tell you how much racism, if any, my dad had in himself. Sexist, definitely, but his views on skin color he kept to himself. Dad never really talked about it. All he ever taught me, and I assume my brother, was that you judged a person on their own merits, regardless of their circumstances. Race, wealth, etc, weren’t something that he conveyed to me as being important when it came to understanding the character of a person.
I share this story now because I realized way too late, that a lot of people don’t talk about the bad things in their lives. When it came to dealing with pain, injustice and feelings in general, my dad just hunkered down, worked harder and powered through it. He could make a damn rock seem talkative in comparison. Stoic doesn’t really convey how my dad was when I was growing up. But it also means that I never learned how much the world hadn’t changed for the better. He didn’t speak up about it, he didn’t point it out or rage about how unfair it was. To him, the word unfair didn’t exist because that was normal. Good things happen, sometimes you’re lucky, sometimes you make your own luck. But bad things happening, well, that was kind of the default. And he already knew he could survive that.
At any rate, my point is this – When bad stuff is your normal for so damn long, people forget that it isn’t necessarily right.