Thirty-five years ago, I returned to Buffalo from serving in the U.S. Navy onboard the USS Chicago, CG-11, home-ported in San Diego, Calif., a.k.a. paradise, and went to work for my father.
When I had left home years earlier, I was on civil terms with my parents, but we were worlds apart intellectually. Over the years, working with my Dad daily, and living nearby, I discovered much about my parents I had never fully realized growing up.
I saw two people who, despite their differences, loved each other unconditionally, and kept their marriage together for 68 years until Mom died of old age at 92 at home in their bed.
I truly believe that Tom Brokaw was right when he coined the phrase "The Greatest Generation" about people in my parents' age bracket. They endured unbelievable hardships just surviving the Depression and World War II. Many of them left us a world much better than what they came into. Mom and Dad raised three of us, and their kindness and generosity with time, effort and money to help each of us in life was freely given.
My Dad's father died when he was only 2 months old, and to survive Dad shoveled coal and cleaned chicken coops as a child. The family lived on day-old bread given away, and relied on help from Catholic Charities for basics like one pair of shoes in the fall, or food coupons to use at the nearby soup kitchen. When his mother could no longer feed him and his siblings, he was raised in an orphanage. While there, he worked harvesting crops and repairing shoes while being schooled.
After Pearl Harbor, Dad enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He flew 25 bombing missions as a navigator on a B-29, and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross before returning home in 1946, becoming a mechanical engineer and PE, and business owner. Dad started with nothing in life and became a self-made man. He was not rich by any means, but he was entirely self-sufficient.
Approximately 20 years ago, I bought him out, but he has continued to work with me. Working with him every day has been a privilege. He has been my mentor, my greatest teacher and absolute close friend.
We have spent countless hours together working out engineering solutions on the backs of lunch napkins and place mats. In later years, it has been fun seeing who could come up with the best solution to our customers' problems.
One of his greatest joys in life has been his constant desire to learn about everything possible. He is a voracious reader. Although he reads all kinds of different materials, perhaps his greatest joy is reading and figuring out how complex machines and processes actually work down to the smallest detail.
Every day spent with him and my mother has been a learning experience for me, almost beyond measure.
Now, in his later years, there is virtually nothing that I would not do for Dad to make his life easier. Be it meals, mundane or gross chores, or just those simple things that age has made it difficult for him to do at 92, I am grateful for the opportunity to do them for him. By his nature, he thanks me whenever I help him, but he really doesn't need to.
The reason is, it's not only a privilege, Dad -- it is my honor.
Brendan P. Cunningham, who lives in Orchard Park, is grateful for everything his parents have done for him.