It’s hard to overstate the influence Dad had on my life.
He wasn’t so much a buddy, like Mom. Instead, he was more of a revered coach. Conversations with Dad were never casual. In my adult years, our frequent discussions centered on economics, politics, and investment finance.
Dad was a staunch conservative. Though we often found ourselves on opposing sides of an issue, our conversations were always respectful and focused on learning.
To celebrate Father’s Day, I would like to share what I wrote about Dad for the book my sister put together on our ancestors.
Norman Coats was born on Thanksgiving morning in 1925 in the knob-country community of Daisey Hill in Southern Indiana.
He grew up on a farm without running water or electricity. His family grew, raised, or hunted most everything they ate.
Dad went to school in a one-room schoolhouse heated by a wood-fired stove, and hosted by a single teacher covering grades one through eight. He was the first of our ancestors on his side to attend school beyond the eighth grade.
Dad grew up during the Great Depression. The lyrics to a traditional bluegrass tune capture those years: “Times were tough, and money was scarce, the groceries pretty plain, what I wouldn’t give boys, to live those times again.”
Dad frequently echoed that sentiment.
The most important cash crop for Dad’s family was strawberries, planted on land cleared from the forest with axes and crosscut hand saws. As a youngster, Dad spent long hours hoeing strawberries. Child labor wasn’t an issue on Daisey Hill. At harvest time, he got 5 cents a gallon for picking them. During the year of his tenth birthday, he made enough money to buy a leather-bound bible from the Sears and Roebuck catalog.
Dad was a man of serious intent and strong discipline. My high school buddies nicknamed him “The Pillar” in acknowledgment of his wise, no-nonsense approach to life. It was no surprise to me when I learned that he was elected treasurer for the Daisey Hill United Brethern Church at age twelve.
Dad enlisted to fight in WWII at age 17. Before his 18th birthday, he was flying missions over Germany as a ball turret gunner in a B-17 Flying Fortress. Dad flew 17 missions. We later discovered that casualties in this line of work were so high that if an airman made 20 missions, he earned a discharge from service. Later in life, Dad was instrumental in establishing a museum honoring the service of the 390th Army Air Corps members.
Dad completed Bachelor and Master’s Degrees in Agricultural Economics from Purdue University. Upon graduation, he married Mom and worked for 38 years at the Ralston Purina Company, rising to the position of Vice President of Economic and Market Research. Dad was an active volunteer at The U.S. Department of Agriculture. In his honor, a flag was flown over the U.S. Capitol when he retired.
Dad was healthy and robust until his final days. Near the end of his long life, I asked him about his life and whether he had accomplished his objectives. Dad thought about it and said, “My greatest desire has always been to be a Christian gentleman.”
Everyone who knew him would agree he accomplished that objective.
The minister who conducted Dad’s funeral service was normally a somber fellow, but I credit him with playing the only funeral “spoof” I’ve ever witnessed.
Upon entering the Presbyterian church, attendees found the left side of the large sanctuary completely cordoned off. The service was well attended, and those arriving late were forced to sit way in the back on the right.
At the end of Dad’s service, almost as an afterthought, the minister added, “You may be wondering why you are all seated on the right side of the sanctuary. Well, as many of you know, Norm was a bit to the right himself!”
That was a fitting send-off to a life well-lived!
Happy Father’s Day, Dad!
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