Husband & Wife Articles


Gallantry in Fatherhood

My dad was a war hero who lives in my heart

Gerald Korson

On a beautiful spring morning in southern California, we stood in silence — my wife, two of our adult children and I — contemplating the grave marker bearing the name of my late father, Paul Joseph Korson.

The military abbreviations etched on his headstone speak of a war hero: “1st Lieutenant. U.S. Air Force. World War II. Air Medal. Silver Star. Purple Heart.” He had been decorated for his “gallantry in action” as a B-17 bombardier who completed a bombing run on an oil refinery in Nazi Germany despite having sustained serious flak injuries. Another tribute of his heroism comes from my mother’s perspective: “Loving Husband.” The rest of his story, from my own perspective, is etched always in my heart: “Loving and Devoted Father.”

It’s not all that uncommon that a son, as he matures, comes to appreciate his father more. “When I was 18, I thought my father was pretty dumb,” recalls Father Chuck O’Malley (played by Bing Crosby) in the 1944 film Going My Way. “After a while, when I got to be 21, I was amazed to find out how much he'd learned in three years.” I find that expresses something to which many an adult son — or daughter — surely can relate.

I know I can. Although I never doubted my father’s wisdom during my adolescence, I was in my early 20s before I could readily assimilate it. Those years would have gone much better for me if I had been able to do so sooner.

The dad I remember from my first eleven years of life came home angry each day as he cursed and complained about his job. Often there was humor in his delivery, but there was also internalized stress that resulted from — or perhaps created — the severe stomach ulcers that would nearly kill him.

The dad who arrived home six weeks after his emergency surgery seemed a changed man. Free of the constant pain from the ulcers that had plagued him for so many years, he became much more relaxed and philosophical, with a penchant for witty observations and anecdotes previously lost amid his dinner-table venting of years past.

I loved both versions of my father, but the latter was more approachable. In my high school years, I would meet him in the orchard of our property as he tilled our garden, more often to seek permission for my teenage pursuits than to receive his fatherly guidance. Those conversations were punctuated by his many digressions, thoughtful pauses and droll rejoinders. Nuggets of wisdom were sprinkled throughout, but I was not always receptive or attentive enough to take them in at the time.

As I grew older, and particularly as I embarked on my own adventures of marriage, family and career, I would increasingly look back on those conversations. I wish there had been more time and opportunities to learn from my dad. If only I had been more mature and receptive to what he had to say.

He was a man who put faith and family before all things, who sacrificed his life for his wife and eight children on a daily basis — just as he was willing to sacrifice himself in the service of his country. His example of fatherhood spoke more eloquently than any wisdom he ever conveyed in speech.

When I was 28, I knew that moving my young family from California to Montana meant the remaining time with my father would be measured not in months and weeks, but in days and hours. I feared each increasingly infrequent visit would be the last time I would see him as his age advanced and health declined. My final visit, two months before his death, was spent assisting him in hospice at a time when his lucid moments seemed few and far between.

I miss my father. Yet in the nearly eight years since his passing, I feel closer to him than ever. I am living the life he lived — raising a large family, struggling to pay the bills — and I turn to him for guidance more than ever as I strive to become the loving husband and devoted father that he was.

Our children may not always appreciate the values we try to instill in them, the advice we offer them, the formation in faith we attempt to provide them. We may search in vain for the magic words that finally win their attention and infuse them with what they need to know. They may nod at our words but remain deaf to their meaning. They may even rebel against us.

Yet we can hope and pray they will come to appreciate us more as they mature into adults — as long as we remain faithful in our fatherhood, showing “gallantry in action” both in word and example.