The Greatest Man I Ever Knew

When some people think of great men, I suppose great actors, writers and world leaders come to mind. As a journalist, over the years I have interviewed a fair share of these types, and yes, some of them are truly great. I look for greatness in other areas, especially in the time that has passed since my father passed away, well over a year ago now.

It is easy to be great I suppose when the world is watching and the camera is rolling, and it is easy to celebrate these images as members of the public. I think deeper greatness lies in people we don’t see and the everyday selfless acts they perform for their families. At my father’s funeral I was asked to write and to speak about the greatest man I ever knew and as a man who devoted a chunk of his life earning degree in writing, I suddenly found myself at a loss for words.

It was then, in that loss of words, and my inability to verbalize my feelings about just what my father had always meant to me that I truly realized and appreciated at a deeper level the man my father had been to my family and me.

It is a surreal feeling of helplessness you experience when you realize the man who watched over you and made you who you are is no longer going to be there. I remember standing in front of the church looking out at the people that were the sum of my father’s life and feeling the endless wave of sorrow emanating from my soul.

As I struggled to read the speech I had written the night before, all I could think about was a day long ago as a child. I had to be maybe 6 or 7 and it was early spring. The stream that went through our yard in Mahopac had swollen up from the melting of the winter snow. I decided to cross and stepped from one slippery stone to the next and when I got to the other side I realized I could not go back.

So I did what most small children do and called out to my father and he came down the hill that lead to that flooded stream with a determined gentleness about him and crossed the stream, swooped me up in his strong arms, and safely put me down on the other side, then went back to working in the yard.

My father was a hero to me in this little moment, and now as I stood in front of all these people, I once again, felt like that scared little boy at the stream waiting for his father to come and carry him safety on the other side. The pain in knowing he wouldn’t be coming to help me across that stream again crushed me.

A great man, my father with mother and niece
Richard H. Dickson, Mother Janet A Dickson and Niece Stephanie.

My Dad worked hard his whole life. I remember him getting up before dawn and not returning home until after dark. Most evenings he was so exhausted he fell asleep eating his dinner, this went on until he retired.

My father’s simple goal was to give his family a good life and he did at the expense of sacrificing a large chunk of his own. He gave all that he had to us. We had a life that some would consider privileged and for that I am very grateful.

We vacationed every year up and down the east coast. My parents took us to see every amusement park, beach, and thing worth seeing on vacation. My Dad would have been perfectly justified in sitting home and resting in his time off but instead, he dedicated all his free time to us too, making sure we always had what we needed.

I feel so blessed looking back at the life he and my mother gave me.

My father was in one way or another behind all the greatest moments of my life, supporting me, never asking for anything in return other than my love. At Christmas he would spend half the night down in the cellar cursing and banging on things as he put together the bikes he bought my brothers and I, then get a couple hours of sleep, only to be woken up by 3 excited little boys that couldn’t wait until morning to open their presents.

I had a lot of difficult years as a teenager and strained the bonds of our relationship on a number of occasions, but he always forgave me and always took me under his wing. When I graduated high school, when I graduated college, when I got married, when my son was born, when I bought my house, every bit of the way throughout my life until this point my father had been there for me.

He didn’t ask for anyone to sing his praises, he didn’t do those things for the camera, he wasn’t that type of man. My father selflessly gave all that he had, often at the expense of his health, because he loved his family and that is what fathers do.

I feel so blessed to have had him as a role model when so many around the world grow up fatherless and alone in the world. To me, my father will always be my biggest hero (along with my mother), and I hope that I am half the man as he, as I go forward and try to live up to his legacy and raise my own family.

My father’s ideals, work ethic, and sometimes unrecognized selfless acts, will live on forever in the hearts and the minds of everyone in my family.

Russell W. Dickson
Russell W. Dickson, lives in upstate NY, and is a Freelance journalist. He has written for both print and online news/opinion pages.Russell holds a B.A. in English, minor Journalism from The University at Albany, Albany, NY. His writing experience spans more than a decade and his work has graced the pages of newspapers, magazines, online news orgs, and political websites in both the U.S. and abroad.