By Cheryl Hatch
Writer’s note: I am a journalist in academia, a woman who has traveled among many cultures. I live outside the box and I like it — and I want to share my perspective with you every Thursday.
Years ago, I was working in my father’s home office. I grabbed a gold Cross pen to sign a letter. Hours later, my dad wanted to know where the pen was. He was insistent. What’s the big deal, I wondered.
This is the guy who tossed his medals in the trash (mom rescued them). He long ago jettisoned the reel-to-reel tapes he’d sent with messages from Vietnam. In the more than two dozen moves of my childhood, I’d watched my dad toss plenty of our possessions.
This pen was one of two treasured gold Cross pens. One was a gift from my mother. The other was from a soldier who had served with him. The soldier had “go on guts” inscribed on the pen. The soldier admired my father and his approach to leadership.
As the daughter of a soldier, I wasn’t always fond of my dad’s leadership style. I often conjured the image of Yul Brynner in “The Ten Commandments” portraying the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II: so let it be written, so let it be done. Once, following my father up the stairs in a building at Fort Leavenworth, we passed a soldier who was descending.
“Take off your hat, son,” my father said. The soldier didn’t break stride or say a word. He yanked off his hat and kept moving. It made an impression on me.
Grown men followed his orders. I didn’t stand a chance.
At another military base in my youth, I was home in the early afternoon when the phone rang. I thought I’d be reckless and answer it the way civilian kids do. Just for fun. Just one time.
“Who’s house is this?” my father barked.
“Col. Hatch’s quarters Cheryl speaking sir.”
I couldn’t spit the words out fast enough.
My father is a man of few words and a man of his word. He raised us to be accountable for our actions, to tell the truth and to respect our elders, especially my mother. He promised if we told the truth, he’d have our backs. No matter what.
When I was 16, my dad and mom got that terrible middle-of-the-night call that parents dread.
Driving home from work, I took a tight turn on a winding country road, skidded and wrecked the family’s second car, the beater Bug my dad used to commute to work.
“You were driving too damn fast,” he said, as he drove us to the hospital. The swear word and the silence that followed made his point. He never said another word about it.
Days later, he took me to purchase my first car. I’d saved my money. I’d agreed to make the car payments and cover the cost of the insurance, gas and repairs. I assumed responsibility for the car and my actions. My dad trusted that I’d learned my lesson.
When I was a teen, I asked my dad if I could stand in line all night to buy tickets to a Led Zeppelin concert. It would mean missing school the next day, too. He said yes. And when I asked to take my younger brother, a budding drummer, to the concert, my dad said yes. He trusted me to look out for my brother and myself.
In January, dad told us the doctor had found a shadow on his pancreas. “Shadow” and “pancreas” are not two words I want to hear in the same sentence, particularly not after cancer has stalked several people I love, claiming two, in the past couple years.
I flew home when the first procedure was scheduled. I arrived and learned that it had been postponed; the doctors required additional tests.
In early March, Dad underwent the initial procedure and I wasn’t there. I was at Allegheny College hosting our second annual photojournalism conference. The family waited for the results: cancer or not cancer.
Dad called one day while I was meeting with a student. I excused myself and took the call. It’s not cancer. Good news. It could become cancer. Not the best news.
I’m an optimist. My dad’s a pragmatist, a soldier, a combat engineer. He gathers information. Weighs options. Then he goes on guts.
I like the expression and its double entendre. Go on guts implies following your intuition. To me, it also means to act with resolute bravery in the face of a daunting challenge.
These past few months have been tough for my father, a family man. Though he’s a man of faith, dad’s facing his mortality. I sense that he doesn’t want to leave my mom. I believe that alone gives him a huge tactical advantage.
Dad did his research. He discussed his options. He chose surgery.
Go on guts, Pop. Go on guts.
Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.