A Good Heart to Lean On

A Good Heart to Lean On

From A 5th Portion of Chicken Soup for the Soul

A Good Heart to Lean On

There was a time, when I was growing up, that I was embarrassed to be seen on the street with my father. He was severely crippled and very short, and when we would walk together, his hand on my arm for balance, people would stare, and I would inwardly squirm at the unwanted attention. If he ever noticed, or was bothered by it, he never let on. It was difficult to coordinate our steps—his halting, mine impatient—and because of that we didn’t say much as we went along. But as we started out he always said, “You set the pace. I will try to adjust to you.”

Our usual walk was to or from the subway, which was how he got to work. He almost never missed a day, and would make it into the office even if others could not. A matter of pride. He went to work sick, and despite nasty weather, which was the toughest on him. When there was snow or ice on the ground it was impossible for him to walk, even with help. At such times he would have my sisters or me pull him through the streets, he sitting on a child’s sleigh, to the subway entrance. Once there he would cling to the handrail with both hands until he reached the lower steps that the warmer tunnel air kept ice-free. When he reached them he was okay, for in Manhattan the subway was the basement of his office building, and he would not have to go outside again until we met him in Brooklyn when he came home.

When I think of it now, I marvel at how much courage it must have taken for a grown man to subject himself to such indignity and stress. And at how he did it—without bitterness or complaint.

He never talked about himself as an object of pity, nor did he show any envy of the more fortunate or able. Although I think he was the object of prejudice (there is still, today, some prejudice toward the disabled), he was not prejudiced himself. He cared nothing about a person’s religion, ethnicity or race—what he looked for in others was a “good heart,” and if he found one the owner was good enough for him. Now that I am older, I have come to believe that is a good standard by which to judge people, even though I still don’t know precisely what it is. I know the times I don’t have one myself, though.

Unable to engage in many activities that healthy people take for granted, he still tried to participate in some way. Never able to play sports, he was still an avid and knowledgeable baseball fan, and often took me to Ebbets Field to see the Brooklyn Dodgers play. When a local sandlot baseball team found itself without a manager, he stepped in to keep it going. Deferred from military service in World War I, he served on our local draft board in World War II. Even though he could not dance, he liked to go to dances and parties, where he could have a good time just sitting and watching. On one memorable occasion, at a beach party, when a fight broke out, with everyone else punching and shoving (fueled, no doubt, by copious amounts of bathtub gin), he wasn’t content to sit and watch, but he couldn’t stand unaided on the soft sand. In frustration he began to shout, “I’ll fight anyone who will sit down with me! I’ll fight anyone who will sit down with me!”

Nobody did. But the next day people kidded him by saying it was the first time any fighter was urged to take a dive even before the bout began.

I now know he participated in some things, vicariously, through me, his only son. When I played ball (poorly), he “played,” too. When I joined the Navy, he “joined,” too. And when I came home on leave, he saw to it that I visited his office, where I was almost as uncomfortable at being shown off as I had been when I walked with him on the street, as a child. Introducing me to his coworkers, he was really saying, “This is my son, but it is also me, and I could have done this, too, if things had been different.” Those words were never said aloud.

After what proved to be a full life, he died in 1961, from a disease that is cured routinely today. Confined to bed for the last few months of his life, he just drifted away. He was off on his final commute, unencumbered by his legs, for the first time in over sixty years.

I think of him often now, not just at Father’s Day. I wonder if he sensed my reluctance to be seen with him during our walks, and if he did, I am sorry I never told him how sorry I was, how unworthy I was, how I regretted it. I think of him when I don’t have a good heart, or when I complain about trifles, or when I am envious of another’s good fortune. At such times I put my hand on his arm, to regain my balance, and say, “You set the pace. I’ll try to adjust to you.”

Augustus J. Bullock
Submitted by Ted Kruger

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