Monday, February 8, 2010

Lessons From Dad

In a small cemetery on the northern end of Hortonville, my dad is at rest, near his golfing and snowmobiling pals, his card-playing buddies, his business associates, clients, and friends. William J. Morrissey, born in Waukau, WI on the 5th of June 1924; passed away 15 years ago today. His marker notes his service to our nation, and he was buried with full military honors and a 21-gun salute from his buddies in the American Legion.

One of the spent .30-06 shells from that rifle salute at his burial is within arm’s reach on my desk right now, next to a similar brass casing from the rifle salute given to my wife’s dad when he was buried – with full military honors – a few years ago in suburban Chicago.

A few days ago we had some new friends over for dinner, as I showed them the “family wall”, on the hallway leading to the master bedroom suite of our home, they saw the picture of my dad and Toni’s dad, in their World War 2 uniforms, next to our family portrait. Just to the left is a picture of my mom’s sister, my late Aunt Virginia, in her World War 2 WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Services) Navy uniform.

“So you’re from a military family?” one of them asked.

Nope. Just a regular family. It brought home the point that people born in the 70’s, like our new friends, don’t have the same perspective as us “baby-boomers”. It’s probably hard for them to get their head around the fact that back in the 40’s, just about every family in America was a “military family”.

But that generation never defined itself that way. Service to their nation and their community must have come more naturally back then. Like so many service men and women after the war, my dad used the G-I Bill to get a college education; started a family, started a business. Those returning vets built and defended their families and their businesses just as they had defended their nation – with pride, honor, and a lot of hard work.

My dad taught me all the things any good father teaches his children – work before play; few good things come easily; a job with doing is worth doing right; keep a civil tongue in your head (I’ve slipped more than a bit on that one); pay yourself first (the virtue of saving); and he taught these lessons and countless others by word AND deed.

He taught me how to handle and respect a firearm, took me hunting and fishing, put me (and five siblings) through college, and helped me become an adult. One of his best lessons: marriage is seldom a 50/50 proposition. Sometimes it’s 99/1. You get out of it what you put into it. If it’s a good relationship, it’ll balance out in the long run. Try to look at the big picture.

As I matured, I discovered dad’s advice about marriage was true about a lot of things in life. His lessons have shaped my life.

I can’t believe he’s been gone 15 years. Today, I’ll be thinking of mom, in her beautiful home on the lake in Hortonville, a few miles from where dad is at rest, and how she must miss him.

And wondering if I’ll ever measure up to the standards they set.


  1. Thank you, Tim. Dad must be smiling broadly in Heaven knowing how well you learned the lessons he shared with you, and equally important; how much you loved and continue to love and respect him. Lynn

  2. Nice.
    When I was a boy we visited our grandpa and grandma every Sunday. The first thing you saw when you came into the big old house in Rockland was a table on which were placed individual photographs of every one of their children. All of the boys' portraits were of them in uniform: Blaine (Marine, died at Iwo), Harland (WW II Army), Roy (WW II, Korea, my dad, Navy), Vernell (Navy), Carmen (Army), Dean (Air Force), Gordon (Marine). Military family? Same answer, same lessons, as yours.

  3. Besides his service (kudos!!)--didn't he play on Law & Order--and have a brother who worked for the Journal-Sentinel?

  4. No to both, Dad29 - the Morrissey who worked for the J-S is not related. But I know who you mean. My dad didn't play on Law and Order, but his dad - my grandpa James - was a member of the first group of Wisconsin State Patrol officers, back when the SP was under the Public Service Commission.