My Dad’s Finest Hour

My dad was an intelligent, creative, and incredibly thwarted man who was unhappy much of his life. I suggested a couple of times that he get therapy, and his answer was, “What do you think I am–nuts?” And so he never got happier. So I’m really happy to read that more elderly people are using therapy:

“For people in their 80s and 90s now, depression was considered almost a moral weakness,” said Dr. Gallagher-Thompson. “Fifty years ago, when they were in their 20s and 30s, people were locked up and someone threw away the key….So they learned to look good and cover their problems as best they could.

“But those attitudes have shifted over time, along with the medical community’s understanding of mental illness among seniors.”

My Dad, Julius Rettig, ca. 1972

My Dad, Julius Rettig, ca. 1972

My Dad would have been 87 this year. He was capable of much more than he achieved, personally and professionally; however, factors including the Great Depression, the traumatic loss of his teenaged brother to cancer, and a chronic obesity problem blocked him.

He’s been gone fifteen years, but I still think of him a lot. I’m so grateful we live in an age where the culture supports our personal growth and evolution. It’s a worthwhile quest–an activist one, even. Every year, it seems, we have new tools for examining and improving our lives, and more people who are willing to use them.

My Dad’s Finest Hour

My Dad’s finest hour may have been during the famous U.S. Postal Workers Strike of 1970. Per Wikipedia:

“At the time, postal workers were not permitted by law to engage in collective bargaining. Striking postal workers felt wages were very low, benefits poor and working conditions unhealthy and unsafe. APWU president Moe Biller described Manhattan post offices as like “dungeons,” dirty, stifling, too hot in summer, and too cold in winter….An immediate trigger for the strike was a Congressional decision to raise the wages of postal workers by only 4%, at the same time as Congress raised its own wages by 41%.”

And from the Website of the New York Letter Carriers Union Branch 36:

“Every revolution has its triggering events, and for the 1970 postal strike it was the courageous actions of a small group of Bronx letter carriers….The actions of the Bronx carriers had instilled a sense of euphoria among many New York carriers…for it became clear that if thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of postal employees could only show the same sense of courage and solidarity that the Bronx carriers had demonstrated, then throughout the country true power would rest in the hands of postal employees.”

My Dad played a small role in all this. According to my mom, he was in management, by then, so no longer part of the union. He was under strict orders, that wintry March, to keep the doors of the massive Bronx General Post Office building locked against the strikers. But he disobeyed, at some risk to his job, and unlocked a door so that the strikers could come in and warm up and use the bathrooms.

The strike succeeded, and postal workers won the right to unionize. As a result, according to the NYLCU-36 narrative:

postalworkersonstrike“Literally millions of workers employed by the Postal Service during the past 35 years have been the beneficiaries of wages, benefits and working conditions far superior to what they otherwise would have been.”

George Eliot’s encomium to Dorothea, the activist heroine of her great novel Middlemarch, seem apt:

“But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

Missing you, Dad, and trying to live the life you would have wanted for me.


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