A True Father’s Day Story to Honor my Father: by William “Doc” Halliday

Above, writer William “Doc” Halliday as a child with his father William Stanley Halliday.

“Thank you dad, so very much, for everything.”

On this Father’s Day I would like to make the following comments to honor my father, William Stanley Halliday:  He was born in 1914 in Holyoke, Massachusetts lived most of his life in that city, and died there in 1991.  My father retired from the City of Holyoke after working for decades as a custodian in the Holyoke Public Schools.  His formal education ceased after the fourth grade, when he was forced to work to support his family.  He did continue to acquire knowledge and to pass that knowledge on to me.

He taught me to speak and when not to.  What you say can leave marks deep inside someone’s heart and mind.  Every person is an individual and deserves respect no matter what her or his beliefs and customs are.

He taught me to laugh; not just at jokes and situations that are funny, but at life itself and, most importantly, myself.

He taught me to read and the value of education from many sources and by many methods, not just formal education.  When I was in the first grade, at H. B. Lawrence School, I took my father’s watch apart.  No, I never did get it back together correctly.  My father used the opportunity to teach me about time and the mechanisms of a watch.  As a result of my father’s influence, I have an insatiable thirst for knowledge.

My father taught me to sit quietly and watch the ants as they built their tunnels.  And he taught me about the various types of clouds and their meaning, as we lay on our backs in the grass on a warm summer day. – William “Doc” Halliday

He taught me to think; to gather information from all the available sources prior to making a decision while keeping your deadline to make that decision in mind.  And he taught me to think ahead, to anticipate.  End the day by thinking about tomorrow.

He taught me the value of friendships and of keeping your word.  He also taught me to say something comforting to anyone who is hurting, even if it is only “I’m sorry”.  This is particularly true if you caused the hurt.  He also taught me to stand beside those you love, whether they are family or friends, no matter the odds.  And he taught me to hang on to and cherish relationships that develop me.  I have been best friends with George for over 60 years.  We all need people who will support and encourage us.

He taught me the work ethic I have today by both his words and his actions.  He seemed to always work extra jobs in an effort to provide more for his family.  He would have made a decent living as an offset pressman, but could no longer perform that occupation.

When my father was first married, he worked for a printing company whose name was perhaps Gilbert & Barker.  My father received a nice offer from a competitor.  He took the offer to his boss, not for a counter offer, but to discuss the offer.  His boss told him two things:  the offer was too good to pass up, and he should take it; the job would not last, and when it was over he could have his old job back.  My father questioned leaving when he had borrowed money from the company.  His boss told him not to worry about the loan; he could pay it in installments even though he was not working for the company.  Of course, the boss was correct.  The job did not last, and my father returned to work for Gilbert & Barker.

It wasn’t just the quantity of work that he completed, but the quality of his work that became embedded in my character.  In 1958 he was offered a part-time position with Sterling Press in Westfield.  He would be paid $5.00 per hour (That $5.00 is $41.64 in 2016 inflated money) from the time he left home until he returned home.  Because he was allergic to printer’s ink from a fire years earlier, he was not required to do any physical work; just advise.  He lasted just two days before the ink in the air prevented him from continuing.

He taught me the value of doing business with a person who would keep their word, and stand behind the product or service they offered.  And of course, he taught me to take care of my “things,” whether they needed maintenance or just to be put away.

This is not to suggest that his family suffered a loss of his time.  From an early age he brought me along whenever he could on extra jobs.  He taught me how to mow and edge lawns, plant trees and shrubs and many other jobs, including mixing cement.  When he was cleaning a church I went along to help and learn.  We also spent time at family outings.  We had cookouts at Mt. Tom, swimming at the Green River in Greenfield, outings to Mountain Park, the amusement park, automobile rides every Sunday afternoon, and of course caravans of cars (My mother was one of 12 children.) to frolic in the ocean at Misquamicut Beach in Rhode Island.  This was long before Interstate Highways or even the major roads that exist today.  The cars had cloth attached to their antennas to identify them, and my father was always the last driver.  He remembered all of the turns as we traveled through the small towns, and could thus round up any of the others who had become lost.  It was on one of these trips to Misquamicut that I asked this question when it was time to leave:  “Can’t we wait until the last wave comes in?”  I was very young.

He taught me to sit quietly and watch the ants as they built their tunnels.  And he taught me about the various types of clouds and their meaning, as we lay on our backs in the grass on a warm summer day.  It was on one of those days that I told him that my friend Buddy and I had ridden our bikes on a 26 mile tour of the countryside, through at least five towns.  We were nine years old.  Instead of being upset, he asked questions about our ride and joined in my excitement.  He took me in the car to travel the same route in order to measure the mileage.  In 1975 Olivia Newton-John performed a song containing the lyrics:  “Have you never let someone else be strong?”  I cried thinking of all of the times my father had let me be strong.

He taught me to fish, especially for trout in the small streams winding throughout the New England countryside.  He taught me stealth and patience, how to dig worms and night crawlers, and how to bait a hook.  He also taught me to clean those fish.

He taught me to drive a car; rotate tires, jump start another vehicle, change the oil and filter and other maintenance items of a vehicle.  My father even taught me to start a Ford Model T using a hand crank.  When shopping centers were closed on Sundays (It seems, and was, a lifetime ago.), he took me to a vacant shopping center (J. M. Field’s) parking lot and taught me to drive on ice in the winter.  “Faster, faster,” he said.  Then he said “Stop.”  As the car slid on the ice out of control, he explained calmly to me about steering into the skid.  Then we did it again.  He also taught me how a chauffeur learned to drive; by keeping a glass of water on the dashboard.  The ride must be so smooth that you do not spill any water.

It was by teaching me about cars that my father taught me about the value of products and services.  He taught me that the cheapest item is not necessarily the best value.  He taught me the value of doing business with a person who would keep their word, and stand behind the product or service they offered.  And of course, he taught me to take care of my “things,” whether they needed maintenance or just to be put away.

After my parents purchased a house on Taylor Street in Holyoke, my father taught me about making home improvements.  He taught me about painting, wallpapering, carpentry, plumbing and some electrical.  He even taught me how to make a French drain.

He taught me about money, and budgeting.  My father kept envelopes in the top drawer of his chest of drawers.  Each envelope had a designation: rent, electricity, etc.  Each week my father came home with cash after being paid.  I have no idea what the rent was originally but let us say it was $50 per month.  Every week my father would come home and put $12.50 in that envelope.  Thus, when the rent was due, the required amount was in the envelope.  There was never any borrowing from one envelope to another.  Every obligation was paid for before there was any money left over for extras.  When I wanted to establish credit, I went to Stein Jewelers.  I could have paid cash for the watch I purchased, but because I was my father’s son, Mr. Stein extended credit to me.

He taught me to fly; not officially, as he was never a licensed instructor, but he did teach me.  He taught me spins and stalls and how to recover.  He even taught me the “falling leaf”; and of course emergency landings.  I remember how proud I was of him when we landed on an ice covered runway in Northampton in a heavy crosswind.  He landed the light Piper Cub J3 at a 45 degree angle to the runway, because the wind was coming in at a 90 degree angle, while giving me instructions.  I felt safe with his hands on the controls.  That runway no longer exists, having been supplanted by the Interstate Highway.  But, every time I drive by there, I think fondly of my father and that treacherous landing on a very cold and extremely windy January day.

He taught me that no person knows everything, but everyone knows something that someone else does not know.

In addition, he taught me to enjoy life.  Not just the big moments, but he taught me to enjoy little delights also: fishing, sunsets and sunrises, watching animals in their natural habitat, bioluminescence (via lightning bugs), and even ice cream.  Oh, how he loved ice cream, particularly with melted marshmallow cream on top.

In January of 1959 I read an article in Boys’ Life magazine entitled “The World’s Strangest Mail” by Dean W. Hanscomb.  It communicated the story about mail from “Tin Can Island” and that the island was no longer inhabited because of volcanic activity.  When I showed the article to my father he became excited.  He had collected stamps when he was young, and had written to Walter George Quensell, the postmaster on the island in order to obtain stamps.  Believing that the stamps must be valuable, my father searched all over for them.  He never found them.

I never did enough for him, but two instances do stand out in my memory when I attempted to repay him in a meager way for everything he had done for me.

In the late 1960s I was living in Las Vegas, Nevada when my father came to visit.  My father’s favorite singer was Rouvaun, and he was performing at the Dunes as I recall.  I knew some people.  We went to the show, walked to the front of the line, and the maître d’ allowed us straight in.  We were taken to the front of the room, and my father began to think that we would get a front row seat.  We did not!  Instead, they brought out a table for two, and seated us on stage left.  There were just three of us on stage: Rouvaun, my father and I.  To say that my father enjoyed the show immensely would be similar to stating that the sun is warm!  My father was euphoric and spoke about that night until the day he died.  I was pleased to have done something for the man who had given me so much.

Decades later, my father was living with my wife and me in El Paso, Texas.  He was ill, on oxygen because of COPD, and essentially bedridden.  My mother was in a nursing home in Massachusetts, suffering from Parkinson’s disease.  My father had asked to be put on the waiting list for the same nursing home so he could be close to his wife of many decades.  When an opening became available, my father was in a hospital with pneumonia among other medical issues.  He could not travel.  While discussing the situation with my father, I essentially stated that he only wanted to see my mother again one more time and then he would give up and die.  How selfish of me!  I wanted to keep him alive!

It took two days for me to come to my senses.  When I spoke to my father, I said that I would get him from El Paso to Massachusetts no matter what it took.  He questioned how that was possible as he was confined to the hospital in El Paso, and the doctors would not release him.  I just asked the simple question:  “Do you want to go?”  He replied that yes he did want to go, and asked how it would be possible.  I stated that I did not know how.  But, I would get him there even if I had to rip the back seat out of a vehicle, install a huge oxygen tank, and drive him there myself.

Early the next morning we left the hospital.  It was about 2 AM.  I signed him out, and with ambulances for ground transportation in both El Paso and Dallas, we flew from El Paso to Dallas, and then on to Bradley Field in Connecticut.  The third ambulance carried us across the state line into Massachusetts and to the nursing home.  My nickname had been worth something in signing him out of the El Paso hospital, and the various medical releases for the air travel and ambulances.  He lived another 14 months in the same nursing home with my mother.  I had been selfish in not wanting to get him there sooner, but I did come to my senses in time.

Thank you dad, so very much, for everything.

And yes, my father did teach me to throw and catch a ball.

If your father is still alive, you might consider writing him a “Thank You” note.  Pick one thing that stands out in your mind, and thank your father for that.  I suspect he will appreciate that note more than a new tie or a grill.  I wish my father was still alive to read this.

William “Doc” Halliday can be contacted at Doc@dochalliday.us

William "Doc" Halliday

Historian, Political Commentator

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