Dad to me: ‘Always keep your head up.’

By Don Rush
By Don Rush

The other day I was walking in a local parking lot and I saw a dirty old, patina’ed penny. It was dinged up pretty good, so I reckon it had been run over a few times. Despite the fact President Lincoln’s face was turned down, I bent over and picked it up and slid it in my pants pocket.
I know, I know. Some say, “Woe unto thee! For thoust who picketh ups a penny lain face down, your luck shall disappeareth.” (Or something like that — It’s bad luck to pickup a facedown penny.)
Luck, schmuck. A penny’s a penny and, as dear old pervy Ben Franklin used to say, “a penny saved is a penny earned.” I ain’t too proud or too rich to pass up free pennies.
I pick ‘em up whenever I see them. I probably pick up — tax free, baby — a nickel’s worth of pennies a week. If we do the math, over the course of a year I make an extra $2.60. If I live to be 120, that could add up to be some “serious” jack. So, I’ve got that going for me.
However, I am not here to wax poetically on my cheapness. Nope, this week I wanna’ write about that I saw — see — pennies laying (or anything) on the ground at all. Hmm, where is he going, you’re thinking?
* * *
When I was a lad, my dear ol’ pa after his work in Detroit, would come watch the end of my high school team’s football practices — after all the scrimmaging, game-planning and fun stuff. Pops Rush would only get to see the last part of our practices — the part where coaches made you run your guts out.
I think Clarkston’s Coach Wyniemko called the particular exercise “Cowboys.” Basically you run, hell bent for leather, in full gear around the football field on the track until the coaches feel they have inflicted enough pain. KR (Kurt Richardson, then merely an assistant coach) was fond of saying something witty and encouraging like, “If you ain’t puking, you ain’t giving it your all! GRRRR!” (I swear, he actually growled!)
Trust me, it was as fun as it sounds. Thanks, Walt. Thanks, KR. Good times.
So at one practice, my dad sees us chugging around the track. The little guys, the speedsters, tore up the place and the big guys, the linemen, kind of plugged up the rear. There at the back of the pack is where Da’ Rush catches a gander of his pride and joy, the offspring that will carry on his seed, his only son. That would be me, in all my sweaty, huffing and puffing glory. Head down, sweating lots, breathing hard — not a pretty sight.
After practice, all showered and smelling like Irish Spring deodorant soap, I got home. Said Dad with a serious tone, “Son, I saw you running after practice tonight.” Pause for effect. Stern look. “Run with your head up. Always keep your head up.”
And that was it, I think he lit up another Winston’s Death Stick, cracked another can of Altes “Golden Lager” beer and went about with the rest of his evening.
* * *
“Always keep your head up.”
That has stuck with me all these years later. Was his message, “Football is tough, don’t be a sissy. Always keep your eyes up where you can see so you don’t get your bell rung?”
Or, was he casting wide some sort of father-son, philosophical net about life? “Keep your head up, boy — even when the cards are stacked against you, you keep your head up high?”
Mayhaps it was a bit of both. He loved sports and loved playing hard, but he also really tried hard to impress “other” things upon my still-forming psyche. Honor, duty, respect, honesty and love, were important to him. He did not have money. By any monetary standard Dad was never a wealthy man . He was not good with money, as he said, “it burns a hole in my pocket.” When he died, he left us the bill.
But — and I know it sounds corny in the truth, justice and the American way — he was rich with his belief in his family. Gosh, I don’t know how many lectures I got about stealing, cheating and the like. I got those lectures not because I was a problem child, rather, Dad just wanted me to hear these things over and over and over a million times so I would remember them. His lectures always ended up with a spelling quiz, too. “Do you know what love is, son?” “Yes,” I would reply, nodding my head. “Good,” said Himself, “How do you spell love?”
I guess his tactic worked.
These things were important to him. If he was able to stick to his standards and pass them on, he could always hold his head high. Though it’s considered one of the “deadly” sins, he was a proud man.
* * *
So, here I am.
Fifty-ish years old, still walking with my head down, looking for discarded or lost change and remembering my dad’s words (but as usual, not heeding them). It’s funny, this column started about picking up pennies and turned into a lesson from Dad. I can hear him and see him. Even though he’s been gone for 20 years this year, I can feel his love. (Funny. My eyes are starting to leak just now as I wrap this bit of rubbish up.)
I say this is funny, because I just looked down at the calendar to see Sunday is Father’s Day. Coincidence? He must have reached out from wherever he’s at and touched me — probably reminding me to keep my head up and to teach my boys the same.
Thanks, Dad. I almost forgot to say, “Happy Father’s Day.”
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