My Dad and his sisters began their lives on a very prosperous dairy farm in central Wisconsin. When Dad would describe Christmas as a young boy (in the early 1920’s), he often talked about how exhilarating it was to ride to church over the fields in a horse-drawn cutter, wrapped up in buffalo hides and sheepskins against the brutal cold. He often mentioned his mother’s fur coat and how rosy her cheeks became, and how he loved the moonlight on the snow. Even as a little girl I knew from what Dad said that his parents were thriving on the farm, and that he loved all the special German Christmas treats: stollen, marzipan, lebkuchen, more than he and his sisters could ever want.
Born in 1918, my Dad would’ve been 14 in 1934, which found him and his youngest sister on the streets of a small Wisconsin town trying their best to sell the sweet rolls their mother had baked for five cents apiece. Gone were the furs and the cutters, gone was the marzipan, and my Dad was trying to make do with his older cousins’ hand-me-downs. When his grandparents’ farm had been sold, my Dad’s dad took his allotment and moved to the city to make his fortune. He became a furnace installer and speculated on the stock market. He lost everything.
The story didn’t get happier anytime soon. Dad went off to war and his younger sister rushed into marriage to avoid the constant arguments at home. Grandma was deeply depressed and blamed her husband for all their problems, even those that were purely self-inflicted. Sadly, a series of other tragedies happened and the story of that particular family didn’t end with happiness – only bitterness, blame and disappointment.
If you asked me today, I’d eagerly tell you I had the best father in the world. We all know people who are compelled by circumstance to step up when they are reluctant, or who step out on the streets of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, in shameful circumstances, to make their way in the world. We all know people who suffered unimaginable losses but have kept the faith, and fought the good fight, like my beloved Aunt Rhoda, standing out there with my Dad, singing her heart out while shivering, to attract attention and increase sales. She was beloved by everyone who ever met her. A convert to Catholicism, she loved the Blessed Mother and hundreds mourned her death.
Dad resolved that his kids might not have everything, but that they would never want for love. More importantly, he kept his words. My childhood photos show him on the floor with us playing checkers, throwing snowballs from a fort we made together, pushing us on a sled over a frozen lake, or taking us swimming.
If you’re a parent feeling overwhelmed by society’s suffocating focus on material things, and wonder how on earth you’ll ever keep up, I have three words for you: persevere in love. Sure, your 11-year old is not going to be as thrilled with a coupon for an ice cream cone and four hours alone with Dad as he might be with an X-box…
…Until you take him for the ice cream cone, ask him about his life, and remind him how much you love him. I know from personal experience: it’s the gift that’s lasted me all my life, and it’s one only you can give.
— Liese Peterson lives in Nevada with her husband and three swimming dogs. She is an international businesswoman and enjoys writing about her experiences as a convert to Catholicism.