January 3, 2014
My dad, Benjamin Edward Messerly, (1917-1989) died twenty-five years ago today from complications of diabetes. At the time it seemed unexpected, but he had been hospitalized for the last two months of his life, so in retrospect it was foreseeable. He died in his home with my mother by his side.
He was born in north St. Louis and dropped out of technical school at age 15 to help his family during the depression. He took a job at a small Kroger grocery floor sweeping floors. He soon became a butcher, which was his profession for almost 50 years. He was a fine baseball player and golfer, playing baseball at a high amateur level and maintaining a single handicap at golf despite only playing about once a week. He served in the Navy in WWII and came home in January 1946 to his family in the suburb of St. Louis where I grew up. He only had an eighth grade education, but he read constantly and was well versed in the politics of the day. He was especially fond of the American President Harry Truman. I suppose a plainspoken Missourian without much formal education was a perfect fit for my dad.
Objectively, I suppose my father was better than some and worse than others—although I’d bet he was better than most. He instilled in me a love of sports and a passion for knowledge. I have the fondest memories of playing golf with him as a small boy, and I’d like to think he would be a bit proud that I still occasionally shoot par! I always accompanied him to his nightly work at our church, where we talked constantly about politics, sports, history, and religion. I thought he was so smart arguing theology and politics with the priests and his fellow parishioners. Due to the many hours of discussions with him as a young boy, I realized that difficult questions exist and easy answers to them elude us.
I can still remember him telling me that I was inquisitive, in response to my constant questioning at the dinner table when I was 9 or 10 years old. Not knowing what the word meant, I asked. After he had explained its meaning to me I asked if it was good to be inquisitive. He answered in the affirmative. Years later the dedication to my master’s thesis would read: “to my dad, who approved of my being inquisitive.”
He was especially fond of saying that great people do what they think is right and then ignore what others think about them. I’m not exactly sure what he meant—I think he liked that President Truman fired General MacArthur—but for me this meant that I should seek the truth and then act on the truth discovered. And while he didn’t agree with most of my conclusions—I vehemently rejected his Catholicism—he accepted me nonetheless. Perhaps he wished he had not unleashed such questioning, but I’d like to think he would be proud of me nonetheless.
My dad was a good man, who taught me and loved me. Words are so ineffectual, but I thank him. I loved you dad.
Your son, John Gerard