Monday, August 14, 2006


Author of "Self-Reliance"
(Relying on Wikipedia)

My father was a big, powerful, hardworking man of little education and no particular interest in the life of the mind. He drove a truck to pay his bills but didn't pay many of mine when I was growing up because he and my mother had separated. He therefore had little influence on me but once recounted how he had saved my life when I was about a year old by getting me off the baby formula, which I couldn't keep down, and starting me on regular food.

He said that he had looked at me, weak and skinny, and told my mother, "I believe that boy's starvin' to death."

He threw out the formula and scrambled some eggs, which I quickly ate while crying for more. After that, they fed me and fed me until I grew fat ... not obese, but fat in the way that babies should be. Apparently, I liked eating because I would eat and eat and eat and eat until I couldn't swallow any more but would grab the table and bawl for still more food if anyone tried to take me from my meal.

I suppose, then, that I should feel grateful to my father for making his lifesaving decision to change my diet ... except that I don't recall the incident, so any gratitude on my part will have to remain abstract.

On the other hand, I do recall his method of toughening me up for life and making sure that I became self-reliant. Only five years old, I was playing barefoot outside with other boys while my father stood talking to some neighbors who were laying concrete for their patio. A dump truck parked in their driveway contained sand for the cement mix, and as the day grew progressively hotter with the sun climbing ever higher in the sky, heating the streets, the sidewalks, the driveway, the ground, and the sand in the dump truck where I happened to be playing, the soles of my feet started to burn.

I climbed down from the truck, burning my feet even more on its hot metal, and ran to my father, asking him to pick me up. He refused.

"But my feet are burning," I told him, hopping first on one foot and then on the other.

"Go home, put some shoes on," he retorted, not offering to help.

I went, running alone from shade to shade, until I reached our empty house, where I rinsed my feet with cold water to quench the fire...

I asked nothing of my father after that, which was perhaps his intention, and I grew up without his influence, which was perhaps not his intention.

Last Saturday, my wife and I took our kids swimming at some pools here in Seoul, and the day grew fairly hot ... for Korea, anyway. I don't like the sun, so I stayed under our umbrella most of the time, reading, but my turn eventually came to swim with my seven-year-old son. As we were walking to the pool, I noticed that the concrete was getting a bit hot, and I asked my son if his feet were burning. He said yes, so I picked him up and told him the story of my burning feet.

Later that evening, my wife and I decided to treat the kids to a meal in a restaurant. As reward for my own good-parenting behavior and to quench my powerful thirst, I received a pitcher of ice-cold beer along with a deep-frozen, frosty mug.

I had just reached the bottom that pitcher when my son began telling my wife the burning-feet anecdote. After he had finished, he asked, "Why did the bad man marry the good woman?"

He had never met my father, and knew only this 'bad' story, but he had met his grandmother and liked her. Hence, his question.

My wife -- who had met my father on what, ultimately, became his deathbed -- began to explain that he wasn't a bad man, just a tough man. She asked for my confirmation, but I found myself unable to speak ... for a couple of long minutes. When I could talk again, I spoke of other things and said nothing about my silence until Sunday afternoon, when I reminded my wife of the incident.

"Ironically," I remarked after we had discussed my father, "his refusal to help me did have the effect that he wanted, in part. It toughened me up and made me more self-reliant ... but it left him without much positive influence on me. I wouldn't recommend his approach."

My son can become self-reliant when he's grown old enough to understand what self-reliance truly means, namely, when he's old enough to read and understand Emerson: "Let a man then know his worth, and keep things under his feet."

Even if the ground does get a bit hot sometimes...

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At 1:24 PM, Blogger Melissa said...

oh my.

(blink blink)

i read this with my baby daughter napping in my arms and i can safely say - there'll be no hot footin' it for my little angel either.

my father was also a fan of 'tough love', as he terms it, and he enjoys telling the story of how he taught me to swim when i was 4 - by throwing me into the deep part of the lake and demanding that i "swim, girl, swim". :)

i did. but i don't relish the memory!

cheers ...

At 1:42 PM, Blogger jj mollo said...

My father was a similar man, as perhaps I am myself to a lesser degree. He had been a drill instructor, an MP, provost marshall and commander of a prison camp during WWII. He was hard on us, boys and girls alike, particularly regarding the distinction between truth and non-truth. We always did exactly what he told us to.

He loved my mother, though, and she kept him in line, as my wife does for me. Most of his influence involved my efforts in trying to figure him out. The relationship was tense and painful. My goal in life has been to earn his respect without doing one single thing the way he would want me to do it.

I think that these men came from the pioneer experience in America's West. His parents were rigid, religious, unhappy people who spoke of duty and obligation and made no jokes. They took me to cemetaries when I went to visit as a child. He was better than them, and I loved him against my will.

At 3:02 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...


Is that Mr. Stkdsd or Mrs. Tkdsd? Or neither?

Thanks for dropping in and looking around.

Van Buren County is certainly Ozark country. Don't the Boston Mountains region of the Ozarks cover part of that?

My grandmother's stories would have overlapped with your father's family history.

Thanks again for reading and for letting me know that you find them interesting.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:25 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Melissa, I think that my brothers and I received similar swimming 'lessons' ... but I don't think that I passed mine very well because when my baby 'fatness' wore off, I grew very thin again and floated poorly.

Thanks for stopping by, and good luck with the baby.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:35 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

JJ Mollo, your father sounds like more of a positive influence than my own. Mine was too young -- both of my parents were.

My mother married at 15 and had her first child when she was 16 ... and me the very next year. My father had just turned 19 when he married my mother, so both of them were just kids, not read for the responsibility of married life, and the experience delayed their maturity.

My brothers and I were fortunate to have good maternal grandparents, who took us in and raised us.

My paternal grandmother -- who had remarried a fine man after my grandfather had died early in a timber accident -- was also a good person but had less influence.

But you're right about the pioneer spirit.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:02 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Oh, Melissa, I just recalled that I had wanted to tell you something about your blog.

It shuts down my browser. My wife's browser, too. Has anyone else remarked on this?

Anyway, I couldn't access what you write.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, that happened to me, too.

At 12:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry I didn't leave my name. The mrstkdsd is mrs. tkd (from san diego, hence the sd), lol. I was doing TaeKwonDo 6 days a week when I picked my screen name, lol. Sort of addicted to the DO, I was.

And for the record, since we are all sharing, my dad was a no-nonsense former marine, lol. Didn't misbehave on the days he was home. Fortunately, he has mellowed quite a bit over the years and is a real softy now.

At 12:40 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Cynthia, thanks for clarifying.

So, your "dad was a no-nonsense former marine"? Sounds like JJ Mollo's tough father.

A tough father is no problem if he's also a good father. I can't say that my father was a good one. For one thing, he didn't fulfill his role as father to me or my brothers since he had little to do with our lives beyond our earliest years. Also, even in those early years, partly due to his youth and immaturity, he didn't know how to be a father and acted to assert his authority in arbitrary, harsh ways that I don't want to recount in this blog.

But let me leave his memory on a positive note. At his funeral, hundreds of people from the Missouri town where he lived came to express their grief. Apparently, many people liked him a lot because he was so friendly and helpful. So, he must have matured some as he grew older and developed his better qualities.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I learned how to be good parent by the reverse method - by doing the opposite of what my father would have done in any given situation. A little harsh perhaps, but true nonetheless.


At 5:31 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Tim, thanks for the comment. I guess that we could both apply that method ... and I suppose that's what I did in picking my son up.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:16 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Discontent is the want of self-reliance: it is infirmity of will. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

At 6:50 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, AJ, for the quote. You're quite the quotologist!

Jeffery Hodges

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