First Person: Losing My Father at a Young Age Made Growing Up Difficult

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First Person: Losing My Father at a Young Age Made Growing Up Difficult
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The author's father, shown in 1920.

Sunday is Father's Day. Rather than marking it with declarations about why our fathers are the greatest, or how-to guides on buying Dad the best ties or tools, Yahoo News solicited first-person anecdotes about the more difficult moments or memories we have of our fathers. Here's one reader's story.

FIRST PERSON | My earliest memories are of my dad, Ben, coming home from work and sitting with me in our backyard family garden. I was nearly 4 that spring in 1929, and I had volunteered to plant a small radish patch.

The memories are brief and mixed with some anger and deep loss, as he died several months later.

Am I angry at my father? The eternal questions: Could he have been more careful with his health and avoided fatal illness? Did he fail by leaving his widow and children destitute?

But, through the decades, instead of anger, I felt only a sad wish of what could have been if we had shared our lives together.

Even after all the decades, I still recall Ben's tall figure, friendly face, neat mustache and wavy brown hair. He'd greet me with a hug and settle into a garden chair. He'd then put me on his knee and tell tales of how he grew up on a ranch in the Wild West. There were cattle drives, battles with bandits, cowboys and starlit campfires. I learned later they were fibs, but when I heard him tell them then, I happily believed every word.

Radishes are the quickest vegetables to grow, a task just right for an almost-4-year-old. Under my dad's watchful eye, I sowed the seeds in late April and carefully watered them every afternoon. My dad would stop by daily, admire my skills, and comment on the rich green leaves as they emerged. My requests for Wild West stories always granted, our time together was full of imagination and wonder. A month later when the red root vegetables were ripening, my dad stopped visiting. I tearfully asked my mom why he didn't want to be with me anymore. She said he was sick and in bed for a couple of days. She assured me he'd visit my radish patch again just as soon as he recovered.

He never saw my garden again. I was allowed to see him briefly daily in his bedroom. At first he'd ask about my radish patch and promise to come again soon, but later he was silent, as if asleep. My dad didn't recover. After several months, Ben died of a kidney disease at age 34, long before antibiotics could have cured him. He left my mom penniless with three fatherless kids during America's Great Depression.

When my own kids were growing up, we planted radishes among other vegetables in our backyard garden. Even today, whenever I see a bunch of bright red radishes, I'm reminded of my dad and those too brief, wonderful moments we spent together in my radish patch.

My dad, Benjamin Sherman, died in September 1929, of Bright's disease, just after my fourth birthday. Two years later, my mom placed me in Girard College, then a Philadelphia residential school for fatherless boys. I was there for 10 years, and after high school, I joined the U.S. Navy. Now retired, I live in West Hollywood, Calif., and have a small radish patch. It's nestled among flowers and other vegetables in hanging planter boxes on my balcony. Thanks, Dad!

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