Tom Purcell: Dad’s key inspiration for learning the art of grace

After all these years, Dad still inspires me.

As I write this, this nearly 89-year-old is struggling to get to his feet because he is exhausted by stenosis, poor knees and general age.

But even though his body shows wear and tear, his mind remains as agile as his sense of humor.

And as he leads his daily battles, he continues to inspire his children.

The old adage “actions speak louder than words” applies perfectly to my dad.

He’s never been too much to talk about, but he’s the greatest action figure I’ve ever known.

He worked long, hard hours every day at Bell Telephone and took overtime to almost every holiday I can think of to provide us with the best way he knew how.

He never did much for himself.

His greatest enjoyment included a weekly box of Pabst Blue Ribbon and keeping a $ 5 bill in his wallet so he could drink hot coffee on cold days.

His actions clearly told his children, “I am not a sophisticated man, but I love you with all my heart and I will always take care of you.”

When he uttered real words, he always started with three: “For God’s sake, Betty ….”

Betty is his favorite name for my mother, Elizabeth. He met her in high school when he was 16 years old.

He told me again last week that he knew he was going to marry her right away, and they got married five years later.

They now have six children, 17 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

Marriage is difficult. The family is difficult. Our clan has not been spared the challenges, failures and disagreements that every family faces and still is.

But the only constant that got us through was that my father deeply loved my mother. He adores her. He was lost without her.

After 66 years together, my dad told me that his heart was still beating fast when my mother came into the room – that they were still holding hands every night while they fell asleep.

A child is the last person on Earth to accurately assess the relationship of their parents. Theirs is intense and sometimes confuses us – but, for God’s sake, they love each other.

It is one of the best gifts that parents can give to their children. My parents gave us a real love story – and here I am in my 60s, and they are still sharing their love story with me.

And my father still inspires me.

It hurts every day. The most basic tasks are becoming more difficult.

Sometimes he gets frustrated, but most days he shows incredible grace as he jokes, “Growing old is not for the faint of heart!”

I share his influence on me because I know how important he was in shaping me and my sisters into people the way we are.

I am thinking of all children, especially boys, who get into trouble because they do not have a father whose actions could inspire and guide them in life.

My sisters and I are not perfect, but we strive to be good people and good spouses, parents and neighbors.

And now, as our parents grow old, it is our turn to repay them – our turn to make our deeds louder than our words by showing:

“We are not sophisticated people, but we love you with all our hearts and we will always take care of you.”

Freelance writer Tom Purcell of the Library is the author of Misadventures of a 1970s Childhood. Visit it on the web at

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