Digging and laying a foundation is hard work. I thought about that recently while checking out the progress on the building of my nephew’s new house. Digging the footing, laying the cinder blocks and bricks, and making sure that it’s done correctly involves a lot of sweat and hard labor. The foundation isn’t noticed like that front door or fireplace. But it’s necessary and vital in the proper construction of a home. And it’s important. If the foundation is not done correctly, the whole structure of a home is in jeopardy.
Families need a good foundation, too. And just like my nephew’s new house down at Clement, laying a solid foundation for a family is hard work. Recently I’ve been thinking about the foundation laid for me by my father, right on the same land where the house is now being built.
When I was growing up if you asked my father, L.F. McPhail, what was his occupation, his answer would depend on the day of the week or the season of the year. He was a farmer, carpenter, tobacco warehouseman, fertilizer dealer, hog house operator, and probably some other jobs that I can’t remember. Many times those jobs coexisted at the same time.
When I was very young, daddy would work at the tobacco market all night. He would come in, try to rest a couple of hours, then go out and do whatever needed to be done that day on the farm until it was time to go back to the market that night. Later, in my teenage years, during tobacco season, he would be back and forth between the tobacco market in Dunn and the tobacco field at home, or the hog houses. They were long hours. I know, because I spent many of them with him. Daddy was laying a foundation. And, of course, mama was there alongside, down in the trench, helping with the foundation.
Laying a foundation is hard work. And it can be stressful, too. There were days when daddy was not in the best of moods. There were times, when I would see him coming, that I would head the other way. The pressures of all the different jobs, especially during tobacco season, the long hours, and just being tired can do that. I understand it now, and wonder how he put up with some of my stuff as well as he did. But he did, and most of the time with a good attitude. I never really knew of all the pressures that my parents faced.
But the foundation was not just providing financially. He laid a foundation of learning hard work, the necessity of a good education, and the importance of church. Pa was a character, but he also had character. I remember him saying several times, “You’re no better than anyone else, and no one ain’t any better than you.” And I saw him live that out with everyone he met.
Growing up, Pa seldom told me that he loved me. I think it was part of the culture of those days. But I always knew he did. And I always knew he would be there for me if I needed him. I always knew Pa had my back. And I knew it until the day he passed away, six years ago.
When I was young I didn’t really understand or appreciate all my parents went through in providing a good home, laying that good foundation. I knew that there was a lot of work going on, and sometimes things were tight financially. But I didn’t really understand. Hey, I was a kid. But now, like many of you, I am grateful for all that they did. Some of you younger fathers may feel unappreciated now by your family. But keep on working in the trenches, laying that foundation, and I believe one day you’ll get the gratitude you deserve.
What’s the best way to show your appreciation for that solid foundation laid for you by your father this Father’s Day? First, and most obvious, say thanks. If they have passed, brag on your father to someone else. I suppose that’s what I am doing. But probably the best way to show your appreciation to your father is to build wisely and carefully on that foundation that they worked so hard to lay for you.
Mac McPhail, raised in Sampson County, lives in Clinton and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.