My Column for the Elgin Review June 17, 2020
Once upon a time there was a girl who didn’t like me. She made it clear to other girls that she didn’t like me and told them they shouldn’t like me, either. So, they didn’t. She didn’t know me, but she knew my father was a doctor so we had to be rich and I therefore, had to be spoiled and, as a result she didn’t like me. It took two years of me being ostracized by that group without my having any idea why, before she sought me out to apologize. “I hated you because your father’s rich. I told the other girls to snub you. Now, I know you’re actually pretty nice. So, even though your father’s rich, I owe you an apology.”
I was speechless. I accepted her apology but had no interest in then becoming friends. What I wanted to do was tell her about my father. I didn’t do it then, so instead I’ll tell you.
Daddy drove cool cars and had a snazzy sense of style. With Dad’s cool car and snazzy clothes, I understand someone thinking we were rich, and certainly we always had more than enough. We lived in a new, nice but modest, 1200 square foot brick ranch home. We took two weeks of vacation every year to camp and visit national parks. But the truth was Dad grew up dirt poor in rural Iowa and he never forgot what it was to be poor. He went through medical school courtesy of the U.S. Army and paid the country back by taking care of sick kids and soldiers in Sendai, Japan during the Korean conflict. Daddy once told me, “it didn’t matter the color of the soldier’s skin, or which nation’s uniform they’d been wearing, stripped down to their skivvies they were all just scared little boys wanting the war to end so they could go home.”
When I was seven Dad took me and my brother John to the bank and opened savings accounts for us and started giving us an allowance. A whole dollar each week! We were taught to give one tenth of it to the church, 5 cents to Sunday School and 5 cents in the sanctuary. We were taught to put one tenth of it into our savings accounts so we could one day go to college. We were supposed to save ten cents each week in piggy banks on our dressers so when we wanted to buy gifts for others, we’d always have money set aside to do that. The rest was ours to spend as we chose.
Dad did the same with the money he earned. When court ordered bussing came to Omaha and there was white flight from our neighborhood, Dad kept his medical practice where it had always been. “This is the neighborhood I serve.” When insurance companies started dictating what he should charge for different procedures, he rebelled. “I won’t charge more than seventeen dollars for an office visit, because that’s all I need to charge, and it’s all most of my patients can afford to pay.”
Dad was a musician, a physician, a philanthropist, a good friend. He was a bridge player, a faithful spouse, a fisherman and a thespian. He loved words (forever sending me to look things up in the big dictionary on our hearth), and books and gardening. He walked four miles each day with his best friend, Vic, and sang in the Symphonic Chorus. When dementia set in in his eighties, he still loved a nice Pendleton sweater, a cold beer, scaring his nurses with a rubber snake, and holding his great grand kids. Dad was man of faith, and he loved us kids and our kids and all kids. Nine years now he’s been gone, and I miss him.
I want to tell that girl, wherever she is now, I am rich, not because of money, but because Marshall Zahller was my Dad.
Happy Father’s Day to all the men whose children are rich in all the ways that truly matter because of them.
Park Congregational Church United Church of Christ is worshipping outdoors during the month of June. You’ll find us masked, sitting under a grove of trees at 9:15 on Sunday mornings. We’d love to have you join us. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org and 402.540.5615My