My father was born exactly 100 years ago today on October 8, 1917. In his memory, I reprint a post I wrote on the 25th anniversary of his death.
Benjamin Edward Messerly, (1917-1989) was born in north St. Louis and dropped out of Hadley 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. He was also a single handicap at golf through his early 50s, despite only playing about once a week. He learned to love golf while caddying to help his family during the depression.
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—and who promoted a national health care system—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. But the thing to remember about parents is that they don’t have to be exceptional, just good enough. And he was. Most importantly he instilled in me a passion for knowledge. I always accompanied him to his nightly work at our church, where we talked constantly about politics, 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 came to love intelligent conversation.
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 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 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 I interpreted this to mean 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 and nationalism—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. I even think he might have agreed with many of the things I came to believe had he been fortunate enough to receive the fine education that I did.
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