Dad and the Abels

It was easy, even for this boy of ten, to see that my grandmother was not fond of my dad, that his drinking interfered with his husbandly and fatherly duties, that her daughter had not made a good choice for a mate.

She always seemed on edge when our family came to visit. And her anxiety seemed to grow arithmetically at the sight of his growing family of five boys; five boys who were not always well-behaved, five boys who liked to run, laugh, make noise, create disturbances, get into mischief. Five boys who acted like, well, five boys.

But it was, I think, his outlook on life and his affair with the bottle, more then the turmoil of five rambunctious boys, that doomed this relationship.

Dad was a laboring man and a Democrat, and if that was not discouraging enough, he considered himself a liberal who expected government to help the downtrodden, the unemployed, the homeless, and those who went without. So when FDR and the Democrats won the 1932 election he, like many, were elated.

Debating the condition of the working man was one of the joys of his life. And the debating hall of my father's world was the tavern, where like-minded men could be found. And the Irish in him made him a friend to all in these sometimes raucous surroundings.

But to the Abels my dad was a talker, not a doer, nor, in their estimation, a good provider.

So when Dad, in his not-so-well-thought-out-mind, brought up the subject of Roosevelt with the Abels' excitement was seldom generated. Their taciturnity and German background did not allow this. There might be some nodding by Grandpa while he smoked his pipe, and Uncle Clarence might say a few words in support of my father's premises, but whatever was said was spoken without emotion and apparent conviction.

The Abels', you see, were not real concerned about the outside world. Their talk centered on family, children, garden, work, church. Their German, Lutheran, conservative, rural, and hard-working background had already shaped them. They were taught to rely on their own wits and their own hands for success in this world. Your life is of your own making they believed. They were taught to accept adversity if they could not overcome it.

And their belief in Jesus Christ and his message were central in their lives. Faith alone would take them to the Kingdom of Heaven, and that Kingdom, with the glory of God, overshadowed what they considered slight inconveniences here on earth. God had his ways.

My dad with his New Deal and labor unions, minimum wage and guaranteed employment never stood a chance.