“Only a dad but he gives his all

To smooth the way for his children small.”

–Edgar Guest, English-American poet 1881-1959

Happy Father’s Day to the dads and father figures who step up and do the right thing by their families! Dads do not need to be perfect; fathers are human beings, after all, with weaknesses and strengths. This Sunday, on Fathers Day, we honor them: the flawed but faithful men who support us, love us, provide and protect–as my husband has done for our children, now grown, for which we are grateful.

So, here’s to you, dads, and those who support us like fathers. Below is a poem by one of my favorite poets, Edgar Guest. It’s entitled “Only a Dad.” I feel that the word “only” is not quite fitting, however. A good father is not “only a dad.” They are heroes. Nevertheless, I am guessing the poet uses the word “ony” to reflect the humility he saw in his own dad. (And, from what I’ve read, the kind and had-working poet was that humble type of father, as well.)

Only a Dad

Only a dad with a tired face, 
Coming home from the daily race, 
Bringing little of gold or fame
To show how well he has played the game; 
But glad in his heart that his own rejoice 
To see him come and to hear his voice. 

Only a dad with a brood of four, 
One of ten million men or more 
Plodding along in the daily strife, 
Bearing the whips and the scorns of life, 
With never a whimper of pain or hate, 
For the sake of those who at home await. 

Only a dad, neither rich nor proud, 
Merely one of the surging crowd
Toiling, striving from day to day, 
Facing whatever may come his way, 
Silent whenever the harsh condemn, 
And bearing it all for the love of them. 

Only a dad but he gives his all
To smooth the way for his children small, 
Doing with courage stern and grim, 
The deeds that his father did for him. 
This is the line that for him I pen: 
Only a dad, but the best of men.

(This poem is in the public domain and may be re-printed, attributed to poet Edgar Guest.)

My own dad would be 98, were he still alive; I miss him every day in the decade since he passed. I’m sure many readers relate to this. I have always been keenly aware that I was blessed with a father who was a very good man; he was humble, hard-working, selfless, kind, honest. He knew hardship, that’s for sure, although rarely spoke of it, as folks from that “Greatest Generation” tend to be that way.

I grew up in a Norwegian-American, midwest farming family where words like “I love you” were generally not spoken, but the steadfast care provided by our folks made it clear to us kids that we were valued and loved. Although, my dad and I occasionally had our moments of irritation, usually when one or both of us were grumpy and tired, he from long days working our small dairy farm. I probably had no good excuse for being a bit sassy–in hindsight, I see it was usually due to adolescence rearing its head when I got unreasonably stubborn.

Cheryl Kirking with her dad, LeVerne “Kirk” Kirking, while on the Honor Flight to Washington D.C. in April 2012, weeks before he passed.
When my grandmother passed, I found a number of Guest’s poems among her many yellowed clippings from newspapers, Readers Digest, Good Housekeeping, and other publications. My grandma was quite the poet herself, writing of
everyday” things, and taught me to love reading and writing poetry. Not surprisingly, she was a fan of Edgar Guest, who has been called “the poet of the people.” His poems were usually fourteen lines long and offered a sentimental view of everyday life.

About the poet: Edgar Guest was born in 1881 in Birmingham, England, to Edwin and Julia Wayne Guest. The family settled in Detroit, Michigan, in 1891. When his father lost his job in 1893, eleven-year-old Edgar between working odd jobs after school. In 1895, at age thirteen, he was hired as a copy boy for the Detroit Free Press, where he worked nearly sixty-five years. His father died when the poet was seventeen, and Guest was forced to drop out of high school and work full-time at the newspaper. He worked his way up from a copy boy to the news department. His first poem appeared on December 11, 1898, when Guest was still a teenager. His weekly column, “Chaff,” first appeared in 1904; his topical verses eventually became the daily “Breakfast Table Chat,” which was syndicated to over three-hundred newspapers throughout the United States. From 1931 to 1942, Guest broadcast a weekly program on NBC radio. In 1951, “A Guest in Your Home” appeared on NBC TV. Wonder if any readers of today’s column remember it? He published many books of poetry and was thought to have written over 11,000 poems. Guest died on August 5, 1959, the year I was born. My grandmother, who loved poetry, saved many of Edgar Guest’s poems in clippings from various publications. When I inherited her shoeboxes of yellowed clippings, the above poem, “Only a Dad,” was among them. Hope you enjoy it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.