Yes, I know there is a novel by Turgenev by the same title, but I’ve never read it, so I feel free to use the title.
Do I speak for most sons when I say I will spend my whole life trying to understand my father?
My father, Jack W. Hudson, it seemed, was tougher than most, more demanding, more imperious, and, of course, I feared him for a long time.
My mother had told me that his mother had been hard on him after Dad’s father, Oscar, had died young leaving her three young boys to raise in San Antonio. A bullwhip was sometimes used, I was told, on my Dad the middle child, more than the others.
Dad, as a young man, wanted to be a rancher and attended Texas A&M nearby, only to enter the Corps and fall in love with flying. Evidently he liked to buzz the houses of the girls he was dating, including my mother, who was quite taken with twilight rides over the plains of Texas.
When Dad graduated, he entered the Army Air Corps, which was soon to become the Air Force, becoming an instructor at Randolph Field and serving a tour in WWII as a B-24 captain.
He was one of those instructors who was feared and hated by his students because of his stringent, seemingly irrational demands. But as those students came home from the war, they often showed up at the front door of my mother’s house to thank her for having a husband who taught them the discipline to survive combat.
“The discipline to survive combat,” as I write that I realize I can thank Mom for the same thing, for marrying a man with old world strength, a man whose toughness was hard to comprehend but was more and more appreciated as the years passed. Perhaps that’s all I need to understand and appreciate — he equipped me for the part of manhood that many sons never learn.
Yet, he had a heart, one that peeked through from time to time, especially as he grew older and we spent more and more time on the golf course, where he put the tough guy act away and the easy smile appeared on his face.
Above is a picture of father and son in the last golf tournament we played together in Rockland, Maine. See the smile? We finally won the tournament that year, after having fallen short several times. My game started falling apart the last few holes, but Dad, who wasn’t feeling well that day, pulled himself up and parred the last three holes to secure the victory.
When he was hospitalized in Houston a few months later, we learned his heart was pumping very little blood through his body. He would die not long after our happy day in Rockland.
In his last round of golf he had shown me the discipline that his Randolph Field students had been so grateful for, as am I.