Why Father’s Day means so much to me

Jun
19
2015
by
Lynne McTaggart
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My father, the bright youngest child of working-class Irish, was more an inventor than a straightforward engineer. At the end of the Second World War, he designed a revolutionary kind of heating system for all the new homes being built for returning vets. In order to fund the start-up, he found two partners willing to invest. They would handle the sales and finance, while he would focus on the designs and shop floor. In a nod to the patriotic mood of the times, the three partners christened their new firm the ‘Federal Boiler Company.’

Dad’s business rapidly took off. He and my mother had moved from Yonkers and the Bronx to the pretty suburban town of Ridgewood, New Jersey. Year after year, they enjoyed the fruits of increasing prosperity: a speedboat, a second car, a second home.

My father, the bright youngest child of working-class Irish, was more an inventor than a straightforward engineer. At the end of the Second World War, he designed a revolutionary kind of heating system for all the new homes being built for returning vets. In order to fund the start-up, he found two partners willing to invest. They would handle the sales and finance, while he would focus on the designs and shop floor. In a nod to the patriotic mood of the times, the three partners christened their new firm the ‘Federal Boiler Company.’

Dad’s business rapidly took off. He and my mother had moved from Yonkers and the Bronx to the pretty suburban town of Ridgewood, New Jersey. Year after year, they enjoyed the fruits of increasing prosperity: a speedboat, a second car, a second home.

By 1970, one partner had died and dad’s remaining partner was growing ill. The company began to founder badly. After the remaining partner died and my father took over, he discovered the reason: two sets of accounting books, the official one for my father, and another revealing the truth about the other two partners’ drawings.

Before the business got bought for a song, the hefty life insurance on Federal’s directors was still in place. The partner’s widow landed a million dollars, while my father, by then in his mid-fifties, had to find work among his company’s rivals. When I returned home from college one summer, the second car and house were gone, and the house in Ridgewood he and my mother had built from scratch was up for sale.

Dad never stopped believing that he could do it all over again. On a trip to Florida, he saw another problem that needed a solution – the damage done to small pleasure boats continuously kept in the water. My parents moved to Florida, where my father set to work designing an ingenious boat lift that would scoop boats up and out of the water with just a push of a button.

During a particularly stifling summer’s day, while welding one of the prototypes, he fainted. The welding rod in his hand fell on his face, killing him instantly. Unlike his old partner, he died without life insurance. The new policy he’d meant to sign that evening was sitting on his bedroom chest of drawers.

There is one other important plot twist to this story. On Father’s Day that year, I’d called my parents once but hadn’t managed to get through that day. I got busy and forgot to call later. The next day, my mother called, and at first I thought she was calling me back so I could wish Dad Happy Father’s Day.

I started to apologize for not trying harder to get through the day before, when she was suddenly unable to speak. She handed the phone to a family friend, who told me about Dad’s fatal accident earlier that day.

I was 25 at the time. I not only never had a chance to say goodby; I never had a chance to tell Dad one last time what a great father he’d been.

But Dad handed me a powerful legacy. The entire trajectory of my family’s life became defined by unfairness – by ‘I win/you lose.’ It convinced me that fixing the problems that now beset us requires nothing less than ripping up that rulebook and starting afresh, based on something other than every man for himself.

Dad’s experience not only formed my character, but showed me my path. So, thanks, Dad, for giving me my life in every sense.

Lynne McTaggart

Lynne McTaggart is an award-winning journalist and the author of seven books, including the worldwide international bestsellers The Power of Eight, The Field, The Intention Experiment and The Bond, all considered seminal books of the New Science and now translated into some 30 languages.

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