Father’s Day ~ In Praise of Godly Men

Chapter 44 of the Book of Sirach speaks on Godly Men, and reminds me very much of my Father, Patrick Murdy.

Now will I praise those godly men, our ancestors, each in his own time:

Stalwart men, solidly established and at peace in their own estates–

Their wealth remains in their families, their heritage with their descendants;

Sirach 44: 1, 6, 11

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I’d like to pay homage to my Dad on Father’s Day.  Thankfully he is still in the Land of the Living, and I spoke to him yesterday.   But I’d like to share more about him, to give praise to this Godly man right now.

Sr. Renee Branigan once taught me that when you write or make a speech you “Tell people what you are going to say, say it, and then tell them what you said.”    So with that advice, here are a few things you should know about Dad.     He is a simple and wise man.  That simple wisdom of Dad’s is something I treasure.

Do it right, enjoy yourself while you are at it,   have coffee with friends, share a meal and a joke or two, enjoy the beauty around you,  give to your parish – both your time and efforts and your check; give to your community, think twice before you speak, do what it takes to develop patience.


Pat Murdy RiveratThis picture of Pat the Riverat says a lot about him as a man, and as a father.

My Dad is, and always has been an amazing man.   He grew up on the banks of the Powder River in  Eastern Montana.   His family was very poor, and his Father Lloyd Murdy was often away for months at a time working on other ranches.  Dad learned to be self sufficient at an early age, working at paper routes and then in a clothing store.

When he was in high school, his parents were going to make him drop out to go to work.  Dad insisted on staying in school, and took his Junior and Senior years by correspondence; working by day and studying into the evenings.  In the end he graduated from Custer County High School in 1948.  It was not long after that that he entered the Marine Corps.

Picture 083On one of his first trips home from basic training on leave, this green young kid from the styx got taken advantage of by someone near the bus station who was doing a scam.   He arrived in Montana hungry and  with just a few cents in his pocket.  But he learned a lesson from that experience and no one’s fool after that.

My Mom and Dad met accompanying another couple on a date. They were both seeing other people but there was obviously a strong attraction between them.   He went to Korea and she continued in nursing school and they wrote back and forth. He served with the  1st Medical Battalion and was an ambulance/truck driver.   His unit was at the Ichon landing.    After the war they were married.   Dad went to work for the seismograph crew, and Mother was a nurse so they traveled with his work.

When they came to Chinook, Montana, Bob Inman was the first person they met (Bob and Dad have both told me this J)  They worked in the area, and the seismograph crew was going to be moving on, but didn’t know if they’d have a job for Dad in the new location as he was low man on the totem pole.   Mother was working  for Doc Leeds,  so Dad took a position as a grease monkey at  Taylor Motors.   But Mom and Dr. Leeds had other ideas, and they convinced Dad to go back to school for  lab/x-ray training.

They moved to Great Falls for that.     A great deal of the radiology training was with Dr. Pectkevich (whose son John Misha Petkevich became an Olympic skater) Dr. Petkevich had trouble with his eyes, so would play ping pong with Dad in the evenings while quizzing him.   Dad taught me to play ping pong years later. We would play at St. Gabriel’s or the back of the old Eagles.  It was a fun time with him.
scan0006 My Folks both knew a lot of sorrow in their lives.   Their first child Timothy James, lived but a very short time, undergoing surgery and many treatments before hand.  Dad happened to do the bloodwork that showed his Father Lloyd Murdy had cancer, and the tests showing Mom’s Mother, Walburga Maria Schmidt had Leukemia.   By the time they were 32, they’d each lost a parent and a child, and had four children under the age of seven.   That is a lot for anyone to handle.  But those are some of the things that began to temper his quiet, deep faith.

Dad was always an insightful and compassionate man.  In the winters, he taught himself Spanish by listening to records.  Chinook is sugarbeet country, and there were many crews of migrant workers to tend to them.   They would come into the clinic, and not be able to communicate.   Dad took it upon himself to learn the Spanish.   In 1970, in Chinook, MT,  THAT was a big deal.  It was a different world, and the concept of being bilingual or providing for all was not even being spoken of.

Dad was always a hard worker.  Full time at the clinic, then doing household projects, or formica and handy man projects for other people.  He sold Fuller Brush products for a number of years; basically doing whatever it took to feed and clothe a large family.   When we were younger, Dad was not always the most patient man.     He learned to tie flies as an evening activity in an effort to teach himself patience.    His flies are still talked about in Chinook.  He sold them at the local hardware store.   A few years back someone came up to us at lunch and said, “Pat, you still owe me a bunch of wooly worms!”

Going fishing with Dad was a wonderful time.  Often it was loading up the car after work on a weeknight and heading out to Ross’s Reservoir for a bit, or to the FFF fish for fun club.   He and the guys did cowcreek each year too.  When I called Dad yesterday to wish him a happy Father’s Day,  he and his grandson Hunter were out in the street.  He was teaching Hunter to cast a fly rod.  They were catching some mighty fine rocks!

When I was a very small child, Ron Popeil’s “Pocket Fisherman” was the hot item of the year.  I had my heart set on one and got it for Christmas.   When we went out fishing that spring,  Dad kept laughing at my “Mickey Mouse Outfit….”   However, I caught more fish that day then I ever had so couldn’t rub it in too much.

When it came to fishing and working in the yard, I loved my time with my Dad just as much as the boys did.   When I go home to this day, we often get a one day license and go out.     Dad taught us an important lesson very early on.   Going fishing and catching fish  were two different things, and it really didn’t matter if you did both!    Going fishing was getting away, and relaxing and being quiet, and appreciating nature, and being attentive to the environment around you.

That’s how you knew where to stand on the creek bank so your body didn’t cast a shadow, or how to watch the water for that fish nibbling on a bug so you could cast out towards it.   You breathed in, you saw and you existed.

Picture 033Similarly, Dad taught many young men similar lessons as a scout leader.   This quiet man who absolutely hated to be in front of a  crowd learned to get up and do it for the sake of his kids and many others.    He had many a story to tell about the tenderfoots who didn’t prepare their meals and backpacks right out at Cow Creek, or the kid who ended up with a blister on his hike for not heeding advice.  While Dad has a very playful time, when it came to learning and teaching he was all business and commanded a great deal of respect.

While with the scouts, Dad began to canoe the Missouri River.    He and Ray Reid took down tons of Scout groups.    Their first trip was lead by another individual, and kids got spread out way too far up and down the river.    Dad and Ray decided never again.    They got these red and green felt hats.     Dad and the red hat were lead.  You stopped, never going past the lead canoe,  and Ray was green for go. You always stayed ahead of the canoe.       Dad still has that felt hat.   In the early 70’s brother Jim got a hold of it and sewed a groovy band of trim on it though.   Somehow even that is fitting.

I remember our first family trip with cousins and many other relatives. It was a wonderful time, even though we had some horrid weather to contend with.  Through the years Dad took well over a hundred river trips, scouts, 4 H kids, family reunions,  and many other private parties.

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He told me the story of taking the church altar boys down the river.   In the white rocks, he pulled all the canoes together out in the calm waters on a beautiful sunny day.  He told those kids, “Sometimes in your life you will be tested, and you may sit and church and wonder what it is all about….. but if you EVER wonder if there is a God, just look around you now.   Remember this beauty. Remember this moment. Remember this day!”

The thing about Dad was,   when you do something you do it right, whether that be the way you clean the hedge or thatch the lawn, or the way you load a canoe.   A half assed approach just wouldn’t do.   He is always methodical and thoughtful in the way he works.   While I learned his work ethic, and to stay with a project however long it takes to complete it, I’m a bit more like my mother in a scattered, creative approach to my life.

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But just yesterday, I used the footstool dad made me when I was little.  It has been repainted numerous times, from the pink with a decal, to yellow, to the gold that matches my kitchen now.  It was well built and has stood the test of time.

In a small town clinic, the hours can be pretty sporadic.  Some weeks he was putting in 60 hours, and some weeks there were not as many hours.  It becomes hard to live like that.   At the age of 57, Dad made a huge change, and went to work for Blaine County as the head of the maintenance department.

It was probably the best decision he ever made.   He worked full time until he was 75, and still works one day a week there.      In that time he has mentored many young men in another way, teaching them work ethics, and communication skills.  He also had a wonderful with the women in the offices and doing their special projects, and finally being able to go have coffee with the guys.  He felt blessed to be able to work and still does.

Picture 102Perhaps my favorite image of my Mother and Father was the two of them dancing.   They were lighter than air when they waltzed, and when they did the polka they were suddenly twenty years younger.  I remember as a teenager when they started going ‘out’ again; and I was waiting up for them.  Very strange.   But they were very happy then.

Sadly, Mother’s dance card ran out at the age of sixty.    Her death was a painful thing for all of us, but devastating for my Dad.    I remember calling him once and asking  “How are you doing?”   He said, in his silly humorous way of deflecting pain, (which I’ve inherited) “Oh I’m making all sorts of new lady friends. There is Mrs. Campbell, and Mrs. Dinty Moore, and Mrs. Paul’s…”   Fortunately though, he did make a new friend.

He and Donna Neibauer found each other.  She’d been widowed since we were in high school, as Neil passed away at a Father-Son basketball game.   I played guitar for his funeral and the Highliners sang “Peace is Flowing Like a River” and other songs.   Jody and Joel were classmates,  Tom and I,  and Jamie was a year younger.  We’d know their family all our life through church and school and life.

Picture 020How blessed those two have had twenty years together.    I can’t say it wasn’t difficult in the beginning, because my heart was still grieving Mother’s death.  He wrote me a letter once that said something like this:  “Jill-babe, you know the heart is an amazing thing.   You think you love someone with all your heart, and that there is not room for anything or anyone else.  And then you find out that it expands.”  His heart had expanded with the capacity to love again.   Donna has always done a wonderful job of trying to make us feel welcome and family, and I’m grateful that she and Dad have each other.   Together, we have all walked through a number of moments of joy and pain which have melded us as a family.

That simple wisdom of Dad’s is something I treasure.

Do it right, enjoy yourself while you are at it,   have coffee with friends, share a meal and a joke or two, enjoy the beauty around you, give to your parish – both your time and efforts and your check; give to your community, think twice before you speak, do what it takes to develop patience. 


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