This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #51, on the subject of In Memoriam on Groundhog Day.
My father died a few days ago, at noon on January 27th, 2016. There will be memorial visitation on Saturday, February 13th, from one to four in the afternoon at the Van Emburgh-Sneider-Pernice Funeral Home on Darlington Ave in Ramsey (New Jersey) near the home he has shared with my mother since I was twelve. Before that we lived in Scotch Plains, and in Freeport, Long Island. He came from Sardis, Mississippi, by way of an Electrical Engineering degree from Georgia Tech. I will always remember him working decades for Western Union, but it had been decades since he was there and he had held a number of other jobs since. He did not speak much of his education or his work, but I gather he had completed a masters at Stevens Institute of Technology, and worked sporadically toward a doctorate. He held patents in focusing microwaves, and headed engineering in Western Union’s Data Services offshoot in the late 60’s. He was the only person I knew who had worked in assembly language.
He was Cornelius Bryant Young, Jr. Technically, he was the third, but his grandfather had died while his father was still young, and his father married old, so my granddad took “senior” and made him “junior” (although they never, as far as I know, called him that). Since his grandfather was “Cornelius” his father was always “Bryant”, and he wound up with “C.B.”, although it was often reduced to “Seeb”, which is what my mother generally called him. He hated nicknames–I never understood why, and as “Mark” always wished that there was a more familiar form distinguished as “my friends call me”. (I might then have felt that I had friends.) My mother wanted to name one of us Cornelius Bryant Young IV and call him Neil, and my father always said, “If you want to call him Neil, name him Neil.” My little brother is Neil Bryant Young. My wife also wanted to name a child Cornelius Bryant Young IV and call him Cory, but my father said–well, you know what he said. My second son is Kyler Cornelius Bryant Young, and my third has Cory as a middle name.
I will remember many of the wonderful things he said over the years. They come to mind particularly because he often quipped about today–Groundhog Day–saying “If the groundhog sees his shadow, we will have six more weeks of winter, but if he doesn’t, it will be a month and a half.”
He gave the name Young’s Theorem to a quip he created and put on signs in a working lab he headed before I was born. People working on various projects would find that they did not have the particular piece of equipment they needed, so would substitute something similar–“not the same, but not really different”–and then be surprised at the results. My father’s sign read, “Things that are not the same are different.”
It was from him that I first heard Murphy’s Law, and he delighted in collecting such witicisms. He gave me (appropriately, given the recent reaction to my article a few days ago on the X-Files sexism flap), “I know that you believe that you understand what you think I said, but I am not certain you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” I was still in Cub Scouts, having trouble working on a Pinewood Derby model car, when he said, with a wonderfully instructive facetiousness, “If you cut it too short you can always stretch it, but what can you do if you cut it too long?”
He was the most patient man I ever knew (although once when I said that to my mother, she told me to remember that he lost his temper at me more than once). I only heard him swear once in my life, in a famous story of our effort to navigate Skinner’s Falls on the Delaware River when it was several feet above flood stage. He remained constantly calmly rational–my model of unemotive rationality long before Spock appeared. It has impacted me significantly, as I, too, am generally not effusive in my expressions of emotion, regard foul language as an indication of a poor intellect, and choose rational response over impatient reaction. Yet it had its negative side. He would often praise my efforts after a success in my school days, such as a band or choral concert, but because he knew that his cool rationalism would not sound sincere he forced an enthusiasm that always sounded less sincere in my ears, and so I never received praise well from him–and in turn I made a point with my own sons not to attempt to sound enthusiastic in my praise. I can only hope they understood that I was sincere.
He was always there for us when we were in trouble. I think perhaps we relied too much on him. I wonder, often, whether his available support caused me to rely less on God in times of trouble, or whether it taught me that a father is always there for you. I probably called him for help about a tenth as many times as my wife suggested. I knew I was a disappointment to him in that area, and that that was important to him. I shall need more help from others in the years ahead, I expect, as he is no longer there.
He was, and in a sense continues to be, the reason for much that is in this web log. Because of my law school degree (for which he paid a significant portion, and for which he never received an adequate return on his investment) he regaled me with articles, clippings in envelopes and links online, claiming that President Obama was not legitimately elected because he was not a “natural born Citizen” as required by the Constitution. That led to the composition of my series on The Birther Issue and the addenda on The Birth Certificate, and my title as Newark Political Buzz Examiner. The law and politics section of my website has been expanded to many times its previous size by those articles, and I still keep an eye on the political news and write about it here sporadically. One of the last clippings he sent me before he died was an insightful piece on whether Ted Cruz was a “natural born Citizen”, although I had already addressed that. I have not checked my e-mail since before his final hospitalization, but expect that I will find something there from him that might require me to respond here.
I miss him. We rarely talked, and always when we did I felt that I had failed in the ways he had most hoped I would succeed, but I knew he loved me despite his cool exterior, and I know that my life will be a lot harder and a little lonelier without him.
He was a Southern Baptist in Mississippi, but had settled into the (calmer and less conservative) American Baptist Convention churches by the time I was born. He often expressed doubts and raised questions about Christian faith, and I wanted him to read the draft of my hopefully forthcoming book Why I Believe (tentative title). I don’t know whether he expressed those to me because of my degrees in Biblical Studies, and I never could be certain exactly about his faith in Christ, but I have good reason to hope that he has had those doubts resolved and is in the presence of our Lord even now.
Dad, if you get this message, my long-remembered college friend Steve Freed established the rendezvous location for us and I promised to meet him there, along with everyone else: East Side, Center Gate. I hope to see you there in a few short years.
With tears on my face,
- I love you, Dad.
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