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Fathers and Sons

In March 1979—three months before his sixty-second birthday and, therefore, deprived of any Social Security benefit—my father, Roy Clifford Ramsey, died. I’d like to tell you about Roy:

Some of my friends and acquaintances have heard stories about my dad—ask me some day about the guy looking for directions and my dad’s enthusiastic offer. Today, however, I’m invoking Roy in two other ways. First, as his only child, our relationship bears on my recent blogs concerning the father-son connection between Barack Obama and both his father and stepfather. Secondly, I wanted to share some of my last memories of Roy: his three-day visitation and funeral coordinated by yours truly, the one and thusfar only funeral I have had to arrange.

As you might imagine from my blogging habits here, this will ultimately relate to some of Howard’s experience and his columns in The Plantagenet.

Roy Clifford Ramsey (1917-1979)

Roy was an only child, a singleton like me, born to Roy Lanier Ramsey and Clara Frances Markiewicz. When he was about nine years old, in 1926, my grandmother was late picking him up at school. Unsupervised, he played on a passing freight train, lost his hold on a boxcar and slipped beneath the wheels. His leg was severed below the knee, but medical practice of the day was unable to prevent the onset of gangrene and the loss of more leg, until eventually he had only the stump of a hip. Don’t ask me which leg it was; I don’t remember, because, frankly it never mattered to me or any of my friends.

Imagine growing up during the Great Depression with only one leg, in a working-class family, the sort of family in especially dire straits these days. My grandfather worked for the Corn Products Company his entire life—one of those cradle-to-grave employments far more common a generation or two ago. Knowing there was no place in the workplace for a 1935 high school graduate missing a limb, grampa built a service station for my very mechanically-minded dad. And so, like his own father Roy Lanier Ramsey (whose middle name I bear), my dad entered into the only work he ever knew. 

Two marriages ensued—to two women I call “my father’s first wife” and “my father’s second wife”—one of them having given birth to me. There is more here than I can comfortably write today; and besides, why would you care?

The details I’d like to share today are these. My grandfather, for reasons known only to him, was an atheist. I learned much later that he was also an alcoholic wife-beater. But the man I knew him until his death January 16th, 1951 [he was about two weeks short of his seventieth birthday; I was one day shy of my sixth] was a kindly man called “gunka,” because I could not yet say “grandfather.” His widow (and abused wife) Clara Frances Markiewicz Ramsey was a lifelong Roman Catholic of, as you might suspect, Polish ancestry; who was also disowned by her family for having married “outside the faith”. Their son Roy C. was denied baptism and grew to manhood as an agnostic, though I cannot recall him ever using that term. He did, however, refer to every clergyperson of his acquaintance as “sky pilot.”

My mother—one or the other of my father’s two successive wives; it makes little difference—was a Congregationalist, now become the United Church of Christ; a woman who no doubt tried to lay the groundwork for my own religious upbringing. That was interrupted when they divorced in the spring of 1953, when I was eight years of age and old enough to assume the entire responsibility for the end of my parents’ marriage—the source of endless and ongoing therapy, by the way, which needn’t concern us here. Go figure.

Politically, our family were traditional Republicans of the Eisenhower persuasion (the president in office when I came to that sort of awareness). I’m certain everyone in my family voted for Ike. Through the years, however, my father grew increasingly conservative. In fact, his last ballot in a presidential election was cast for George Wallace. If he were living today—at ninety-six—I am just as certain he would be a Libertarian and more than likely to vote for Ron Paul, if at all.

So, here’s my problem: If Barack Hussein Obama’s Muslim-turned-Christian father and his step-father of probable Muslim connection were so bloody influential—at the exclusion of his Christian mother who was the consistent parent during his “formative” years—why has my religious perspective followed the godless trail of my father and paternal grandfather, while my politics have progressed steadily in the exact opposite direction. Twenty years ago if pressed for a label, I would easily have chosen Liberal; ten years ago that choice would have been Socialist; today I gladly identify with the political leanings of Karl Marx—not the corrupted Communism of the former Soviet Union, but the purer statement in Das Kapital. My simple point here is that family and heritage can mean everything, anything or nothing at all. Take your pick.

Leave the President’s religion alone. Accept what he claims his religious affiliation to be. Stop searching for factoids in his personal story to support the answers you have already chosen.

Consider the role of his mother as the consistent thread in his socialization and balance it against the vague, simplistic, staccato influences that two males may have had on a child too young to absorb much of what people are claiming to be his Muslim ideology. Bullcrap.

Roy’s Funeral

Give me a day or two to craft the story of Roy’s funeral in 1979—an event so revelatory that I marvel how much like him I am and continue to become, despite the chasm of our political differences.

It’s a very different tale.


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