Luck was not with Dad, for just as he reached college age the recently begun Great Depression destroyed many millions of jobs and made it almost impossible for him to complete a university degree. During his youth he, along with so many of his countrymen, failed in a variety of attempted employments. Leon's first marriage was ill-advised, to an older and apparently rather unstable woman. The circumstances of that relationship are largely unclear, but it soon ended in divorce.
There was as well a bad motorcycle accident from which he recovered only slowly and with complications from inept medical care, an experience from which he would resolve never to go to a doctor again. For the most part, he stuck with that pledge through the balance of his 83 years despite severe hypertension, a terrible goring injury inflicted by one of his cattle, and later strokes. My father had been as yet still an unsophisticated young man when at length an opportunity developed for him to go to Officer Candidate School in the U.S. Army. There he suffered much embarrassment for being a seeming "hick" compared with several of his more urbane peers.
Dad at a Rockin'-B Ranch family gathering, McGregor, TX, about 1991
Yet Leon's fortunes began to turn around in the late 1930s. He met and courted my mother, Julia, whom he would marry in 1942, did well in a federal civil service exam, acquired a good position as part of the Border Patrol, serving along the Texas-Mexico boundary, and, with the advent of World War II, was given a chance to use and augment his officer training and eventually to move up in rank and skill within first the Army and then, as the Army Air Corps became the U.S. Air Force, to transfer into that branch of the military and do well.
In addition, he followed his father's path and, with much cooperation from Julia, saved and invested a high percentage of their income, with results that eventually would dwarf the couple's traditional earnings. In fact, though the family was then on a very tight monthly budget, he was able to retire at only age forty-eight.
Having thus come up through a proverbial school of hard knocks to a place of success, evidently against the odds as they must have appeared but a few years earlier, Leon was adamant when he and Julia began to have children of their own that these offspring should receive a proper upbringing, one that would better prepare them for the tough world ahead than he felt had been the case for him.
They would eventually have eight kids. While outside the home setting Dad could be businesslike, even charming, and though he certainly mellowed over the years, within our flesh and blood unit all experienced him while we were growing up as harsh, even abusive. Still, we would have to admit as well that from that tough beginning we were well equipped for managing in a larger world beyond the family crucible.
Moreover, if the paternal influence had seemed a bit too cold or negative, we now have had the opportunity to profit from Dad's example by relating with folks in a slightly warmer and more upbeat manner. My brothers who have had children of their own are prime cases in point. It is clear they were committed to being better than average parents. If one were to canvas that next generation, I would wager a large amount of money the consensus would be that their dads dealt with that mission admirably well, especially if one considers that their fatherhood model had not been without flaws.
These days, it seems to me if I had had the same obstacles to overcome as did my dad, I would have been hard pressed to do anywhere close to as well. Similarly, I am greatly impressed with the fantastic jobs my brothers who are fathers have done with their kids and, happily enough, now sometimes with grandkids as well.
As I write, it is a couple days shy of the date when we especially honor our dads. To all, then, I say: "Happy Father's Day!"