As Father's Day approaches in the US, it's a good time to remember those who helped us become who we are...
My father was born in 1912 in Cleveland, Ohio. He spent most of his life in Amityville, N.Y.
Yater, as he liked to be called, never liked the name Fleming (it reminded him of the phlegm in your throat!). When I was born he was serving our country in the Navy aboard the USS Windom Bay.
Yater was a Lieutenant Commander during his tour of duty. My mother, Elsie, took us from port to port when he was being trained. When he went to war we moved back to Amityville.
When Yater left the Navy at the end of the war, he created a very stable home for my mother, sister and me in Amityville. Thanks, Yater. I know you wanted to stay in the Navy, but Elsie insisted, and you made the sacrifice. Growing up in Amityville was special. The Friendly Village included having the same friends all the way through school, being able to ride my bike to school, and in later years to walk home for lunch.
I knew early on that I wanted to be an athlete. My father accepted my desires and supported the decisions I made that were very different from what I thought he wanted for me. I always thought he wanted me to have an Ivy League education, wear a blue blazer and lead a very conservative life. My parents did want me to attend a prep school in Upstate New York in the 10th grade, but my high school football coach talked them out of it. That was close!
Yater was extremely supportive -- in his own way. He came to every one of my football games and wrestling matches at Amityville High School. He came to see me play football in prep school in Greenbrier, W. Va., and in college in Atlanta, Ga., when I played for Georgia Tech. He never said much about the games, never gave me advice or told me what to do. Thanks, Yater. For some reason, doing it my way was important.
In college, Yater insisted I have a car to drive. Story has it that he always had a car and he thought it was important for me to have mine. I came home my sophomore year to find a 1960 Corvette. That was sure a special act of kindness. Thanks, Yater and Elsie. Yater was the push behind the car.
When I moved to Hawaii for the surf, Yater was visibly upset. But every Christmas, he and Elsie came to visit, and eventually they moved to Honolulu. He loved to use his Navy training and watch me surf Sunset through his binoculars.
With my parents living in Town, our lives in Pupukea became way more balanced. Our son, Reyn, had grandparents. Yater had a great relationship with my wife, Elise, and Reyn. And with my mother, we all had some really good family times. Holidays, birthdays and anniversaries.
Around this time I was teaching at Punahou and Yater really liked the idea of me coaching and teaching. He had a great vocabulary and could really write. Yater was on it when computers came out. He taught himself how to use the computer and he helped me write a baccalaureate talk. As he read my first draft, he kept saying “make it fun– put some humor in it.” Which we did. And it turned out to be one of the best things we ever did together.
Yater loved to play games: tennis, golf, pitch horseshoes, lawn bowl, and anything with cards. For the last 20 years of his life he was retired in Hawaii. Every day he and my mother spent the entire day together. At lunchtime they played cribbage and kept score for years at a time. They’d lawn bowl in the afternoon. Yater loved routine and he loved being with my mother and she loved being with Yater. They had an amazing life together.
Yater began to have health issues in the late 1990s and it was around that time I retired from Punahou. I’m very grateful that I was able help with his care and eventually get him into hospice. During this time Yater and I developed a much closer relationship. I’m extremely grateful for this time as we were able to finish strong. Yater shared for the first time that he was really proud of me. Which made me cry… then and now.
I shared with him how much I appreciated his acceptance and support. I thanked him for allowing me to choose a very different life from the one I imagined he wanted for me. I was shocked when he said “he appreciated and enjoyed the choices I made!”
Yater shared about how much he loved the Navy. How much he loved my mother, Elsie, and sister, Phyllis Ann, and how much he loved my family, Elise and Reyn.
In his second day in hospice Yater had what was a profound experience for us all. When his nurse came to give him a shower and shave, she bent down to pick him up and he began to tremble. When she asked him what was wrong he said he couldn’t swim and he was afraid of the water.
This angel of a nurse picked him up and held in the shower, shampooed his hair and later shaved him. For the next few days, as this routine continued, my father’s health returned in the form of a glow. From this time forward Yater was really happy and he had accepted his fate. In short, his self–esteem came back.
The amazing part of the story is that we always had a boat. Crusin’, as we called it, was one of my fondest memories. We slept on the boat and stayed out for weeks at a time. Each day we would motor to the next spot. There was lots of swimming, clamming, digging for oysters and fishing. During this time I never saw him swim and I can’t begin to know how he handled being in the Navy. One thing is for sure, he sacrificed for his family. Thank you, Yater. Growing on a boat is the best way to go. It takes a team effort to make it work.
In the end, Yater died with dignity. He died without drama, feeling good about his life and his family.
Yater, thank you! You were a great father. A proud English man, with a huge heart and a penchant for fun and good times. I love you, Yater! Wish I’d said it earlier. Thanks for all you did to make my life so much better.
The humanists in psychology have written at length about the importance of having a good relationship with your parents and the negative effect that a bad relationship can have on your health. At several times during my relationship with Yater I attempted establish better communication to no avail.
Fortunately, at the end of his life we were able to communicate when it mattered most. For this I’m forever grateful. I realize now that a lot of the decisions I made seemingly out of rebellion were really unnecessary. Letting go of those feelings was a huge relief. Wherever you are in your relationships with your parents, forgiveness and acceptance are the keys to moving forward and living your life with integrity and serenity.
My good friend and former teammate Bill Curry wrote the book, “Ten Men You Meet in the Huddle: Lessons From a Football Life. In his book he devoted the last chapter to his father entitled the Post Game–the 12th Man. Bill’s father was his 12th Man (The tradition at Texas A&M University where the students stand for the entire game). The man that always had his back. I had the pleasure of knowing Bill’s dad. No question, Mr. Curry was a strong man. A National Champion in 191pound class Olympic lifts and an Army hand & hand combat instructor.
Father & Grandfather
Now that I have been a father for over 45 years and a grandfather for over 12 I have a few comments on each.
Father Coaching Points
- If you hear yourself sounding like your father, stop. You are running a tape and your kid will know and resent it.
- Just love ‘em. Best advice Elise ever gave me. Put love first always.
- Don’t swear or model bad behavior.
- Be true to what you believe in.
- Let your kid make his/her own decisions.
- Don’t make life harder than it is.
Grand Father Coaching Points
- Just love ‘em.
- Model love.
- Know your place.
- Be available.
It’s all HiLevel!