Happy Father’s Day to dads everywhere! Mother’s Day gets more attention and this is appropriate. Moms deliver us, and with rare exceptions carry the major load of child care.
I have never written a tribute to my dad, Howard Roy. He died at age 73 after suffering a fatal stroke in his sleep. I was so stunned that I declined to speak at his funeral. He was a devoted parishioner, taught a junior high class at Sunday School for years, served as a trustee and in numerous other positions at church, and was a perennial usher. He was also a volunteer fund raiser for the Salvation Army.
Pa’s early years (yes, we called him Pa) were mired in poverty. His parents had moved from Quebec to Swanton, Vermont, near the Canadian border, where grandpa took a job on a farm. Dad would tell us how he and his three brothers skipped Christmas parties at church because each child was expected to bring a gift worth a dime and they couldn’t afford the 40 cents.
Then there were the tragedies. After Grandpa Roy was hired by the railroad they moved into the village alongside the Missisquoi River. Many Swanton youth swam in that river, and on a June day in 1914 his brother Delos suddenly shouted for help. Another brother, Malcolm, immediately swam out to rescue him. Both drowned, ages 11 and 12. Grandma would say that if it hadn’t been for her faith and her certainty that both boys were happy in heaven she couldn’t have endured the pain.
Dad had worked at the local drugstore through high school to save up for college. In 1917 he entered Middlebury only to withdraw a few weeks later when his father, 44, died. He returned home to provide for his mother and younger brother. About the same time, word came from France that his double first cousin and close friend, Leonard Lord, had become the first Vermonter killed in World War I.
Mom was of Puritan stock and raised Congregationalist. Dad’s religious roots were mixed. In 1704 French and Indians attacked Deerfield, Massachusetts, and among the 109 captives was Martha French, age 8, who was placed in a convent in Montreal. At 16 she married Jacques Roy, bore 14 children, and a grandson, Joseph-Octave Plessis, was later selected by the Pope to serve as Archbishop of Quebec. A great-grandson, however, Eloi Roy II, became a Baptist. As there was no Baptist church in Swanton Grandpa and Grandma Roy joined the Methodists.
When my 12th birthday was approaching, Dad called me into his office. I knew what to expect as my three older brothers had a similar experience. “It’s time for your baptism,” Dad began, “so let’s make arrangements with the minister.” The family followed the Baptist tradition that those baptized should be old enough to assume their own vows. Then dad handed me an age-appropriate booklet on the fundamentals of sex. He went on to describe sex as a gift from God that produces treasured children and also brings love, joy and intimacy to married men and women. “Just handle that gift with care and at the proper time,” he added with a smile.
Dad expected us to deliver newspapers as soon as we were old enough, and when I was in the 7th grade I was hired as a stock boy in a local store: $3 a week for 20 hours of work.
Alcohol and tobacco were forbidden, and we could not engage in such ‘frivolous’ activities as card-playing or movies on Sunday. When I would visit home in later years I discovered that dad had become interested in television evangelism. He even traveled to Tulsa to the Prayer Tower of Oral Roberts’ ministry. I didn’t share this enthusiasm, but it gave him comfort and I never questioned it. He wasn’t pious, but obviously his faith was a source of courage and strength.
There’s much more to say about dad. His dedication to mom and to their five children. His humor, warm personality, and raucous laugh. His kindness and concern. He rose from bookkeeper at the local bank to become its treasurer. He was a bold entrepreneur who launched several businesses, helped by his ability to speak French. He loved to travel and eventually opened a travel agency. His favorite drink was Moxie and, at Christmas, he passed around raspberry candies.
In 1961, when I was first arrested as a Freedom Rider, I wondered how dad would react. He didn’t have mom’s connection to the Civil War, held conservative views on some issues, and going to jail was not a family tradition. When he reached me by phone, his first words were: “I’m proud of you, Ralph!”
And I’m proud of you, too, dad!
Ralph Lord Roy of Southington is a retired United Methodist minister. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.