Saturday, April 25, 2009

Happy Birthday DAD!


John Joseph Duffy was born in a house his father built... no not really. His father was a pharmacist. He was born in a hospital in Charleston SC April 25, 1931.
.
My father is a brilliant man. He is funny in a dry sort of way. As an administrator at the University of SC, he inspired loyalty, friendship, and excellence from a diverse & often quirky group of people. Many of those people will gather with him today to celebrate his birthday. What a party.
.
When I was about seven, I had a friend over to play. She announced that she was Caucasian. My father looked at her with wide open eyes and said, "How wonderful! Will you speak some Russian for us?"
.
When he wasn't scaring off my little racist friends, he was reading, watching television, and mediating sibling squabbles all at the same time. Many times I remember fighting with my sister & brother, as Dad looked up and said, "Let me read this to you... it's really interesting..." My children and grandchildren enjoy the same experience. Dad will look up and yell names randomly until he gets to the culprit. Now there are just more names to choose from. (It must be genetic, because I do the same thing.) Sometimes he names cats and dogs as well as children.
.
Since Dad was a college professor in addition to his administrative duties, he knows there may be simple questions but there are no simple answers. If you ask him, for instance, who was Andrew Johnson's vice president, he won't say "no one." He will give you a 90 minute lecture complete with a suggested reading list. I am not kidding. If he is reading this, he is saying, "well, of course. You can't understand the answer without understanding the historical and constitutional issues...." We often wished he'd taught the MWF 50 minute classes instead of the TTh 90 minute blocks.
.
He and Mom gave us a solid sense of self. I have never understood the concepts of keeping up with the Jones, what will the neighbors think?, or be quiet or you might offend someones bigoted sensibilities.
.
When faced with social disapproval, Dad will laugh. One of his favorite stories (or maybe it's one of my favorite of his stories): in the late 50s (or early 60s) he was teaching a history course. The local twig of the committee on anti-American activities questioned him, suggesting he had communist leanings. He pointed out that the book he was using was written by former president Herbert Hoover. The guy said, "I'd feel better if it were written by J. Edgar Hoover."
.
When my mother was a delegate to the Democratic Convention in 1972, she decided to support George McGovern. Some of the local Democrats called Dad and asked him to control his wife, perhaps suggesting his job was at stake. Dad just shrugged. (I'm sure he said something, but I don't know what. I'll ask.)
.
This is not to say that Dad is overtly anti-conformist. If you saw him in the grocery store, you wouldn't think "Commie-pinko-n*-loving-hippie freak." It's only when you see the twinkle in his eye that you realize what he's said, what he'd done, and how he's done it. The pompous of all political & social persuasions lie like tattered balloons on the floor and all you can think is wow.
.
Dad has lots of stories and some of them probably have a nodding acquaintance with the truth. But one of the most interesting and admirable things about Dad's stories is that he is not the hero in all of them. He will tell about stupid things he did, poor choices or silly decisions he made. He will talk about the greatness of others. He will share the good, the bad, and the ugly, but never the petty or the mean-spirited.
.
I started out thinking I didn't know what to say, but now I don't know when to stop. So here: Happy Birthday Dad. I hope we share many many more.
.
Love,
.
Kathy

3 comments:

Martha said...

I think I love your DAD!!
Happy Birthday, John Joseph Duffy!!

Anonymous said...

I second that!
Carolyn

Kim said...

What a wonderful tribute to your Dad. He sounds like my kind of guy. Happy Birthday!