John Brock: My father always found the real joy in life as a contented soul

  • Tuesday, June 19, 2012

During every Father's Day season, I am reminded of how fortunate children are to have a loving, caring father in their lives. Although my Dad has been gone for 22 years, he continues to be an everlasting influence in my life.

I don't suppose my Dad ever drew a completely secure economic breath in his entire life but yet he died a happy man.

Dad had what escapes most people. He had found contentment in life — sustained by a gentle but profound and enduring faith in God.

The son of a Civil War orphan, he was raised on a farm in Abbeville County, S.C. where my family has called home since the 1700s. Upcountry South Carolina was the first American western frontier and it remained a wild and wooly place until early into the 20th century. Corner Creek near Honea Path bordered their farmland. The stream was thusly called because it formed one corner of the ancient boundary of the Cherokee Indian nation.

My grandfather was one of two young children, both less than three years old, when they lost their father in the Civil War. Granddad's mother's father had died several months before she was born. How she successfully raised these two little children, I will never comprehend. Whatever grit and faith allowed them to endure during the years of so-called “Recontruction” surely carried over into my own Father's life and into mine. The war-widow was not alone because there were thousands of others in the same circumstance throughout the Southland trying to keep body and soul together in a devastated economy. But, she managed and my grandfather became a successful land-owning farmer and cotton broker before losing much of it during the Great Depression. He had signed notes for relatives and neighbors who had come upon hard times and when even harder times came along, he was forced to pay off other people's loans.

Dad, who was born in 1904, grew up on the land, in fact, tied to the land. It was the only thing the Brocks had ever known in America. Dad was the first to break the tradition. He decided one day to leave farming behind and, indeed, he did. He said, “I am never going to tell another mule to giddy-up even if it sits on my lap.”

Dad had only a high school education and he skipped two of those grades but he was extremely bright and well informed on many subjects. He tried first to seek fortune in the 1920s Florida land boom but later moved to Charlotte. He walked from the edge of the city to the downtown business district each day to work. City sidewalks were hard on his country feet, so, he walked on the little grass strip between the street and the sidewalk.

In Charlotte, he found my mother who was a tender fifteen years old. After two years of courtship, they eloped and were married in York, S.C. I was born a year and a half later. My mother was a beautiful person and through Dad's marriage to her, his church and his family, he found real meaning and purpose to human life. As I said, he found contentment.

The Great Depression was well underway when he received the news that I was to be born. About the same time, he also learned that he had lost his job. His boss had given the job to his son who had lost his. Infused with the legendary South Carolina sense of self-reliance, Dad decided, then and there, that he would never, ever work for anybody else again. He opened a small business when other businesses were failing by the thousands. He worked 70 hours or more, six days a week and often I would not see him from Thursday night until Sunday morning but his presence was always there. And, no matter how many hours he had worked, he would be up on the Sabbath, bright and early, ready for church.

Dad was generous to a fault. A more generous man never lived. He gave my sister and me advantages beyond his financial ability to do so through personal sacrifice.

On Sunday morning, he tithed to the church — in cash. He wanted no income tax deduction for giving to God what was rightfully God's. In fact, he said it was no business of the government what he gave to his church.

After retirement, Dad worked part-time in his business until the week he died. It was 22 years ago, at age 86, that he succumbed while tending his garden. In fact, he was spading it by hand on a warm late May day as he had done for many years in his small backyard plot. He grew weary; sat down in a lawn chair. And, went to sleep. Peacefully.

It was sad to lose him but his death in many ways was a celebration — an observance of a good life. I went back years later to speak in his church and everyone there was filled with fond remembrances of my Dad, who had been elected before his death to a lifetime term on the Deacon's board.

Although he never had many material things, he was the most contented man I have ever known. Some call it fatalism but others call it faith. Whatever happens, happens and it's all a part of God's plan. Dad accepted life as it came. I never knew him to be unhappy with his lot. He found the best in everything and everybody. He has remained my inspiration and I miss him.

So, Dad, it's been 22 years since I last felt our arms around each other but in my mind and heart, you are still here. And, I thank you for being the kind of Dad that we all should hope to be.

John Brock is a retired resident of Georgetown County. He can be reached by mail at this newspaper by Email: brock@johnbrock.com.

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