Father’s Day, Vol. 5, Issue 22

Infant Etiquetteer with Dear Father, January, 1964

Not too long ago, Etiquetteer was sitting near a young white man on a city bus. He was wearing a black T-shirt with a black design on it of a huge stereo speaker containing the words "****ing champs." One might not think that profane apparel would spark memories of one’s father, but then one wouldn’t be bargaining on Etiquetteer.

The late Governor Earl Long of Louisiana was not a man known for his erudition or refinement . . . and that’s an understatement. But he did say something memorable about the state of the arts in Louisiana: ‘If you ain’t got culture, you ain’t got s**t." When Etiquetteer was a callow youth flirting with rebellion, he had a T-shirt with this "witty" quotation on it. Etiquetteer happily wore it down to breakfast one morning, expecting to wear it for a day of toil in the family business. But Etiquetteer’s dear father was having none of it . . . oh no! Etiquetteer was given the option of either changing clothes, and at once, or of wearing the T-shirt inside-out all day. And this is how Etiquetteer learned about how a gentleman presents himself in public, a very valuable lesson.

Of course Dear Father taught all the lessons one expects from a father trying to raise a gentleman: how to shine shoes, the value of a handkerchief ("one to show and one to blow"), proper evening clothes ("a bow tie or no tie"), respect for one’s elders, and courtesy to the ladies, especially when in a bad mood. A cranky Young Etiquetteer once asked his mother what was for dinner and got a jovial "Roast boy!" in response. Etiquetteer’s less-than-appreciative comeback was overheard and corrected by Dear Father in no uncertain terms.

Undoubtedly Dear Father felt that the world could be as beautiful as we choose to make it ourselves. We can only do this if we keep from putting ugliness into it. Etiquetteer did not always share Dear Father’s idealism. "We must concentrate on lovely, pure, and virtuous things," Dear Father wrote in a letter about 25 years ago. Etiquetteer, then a cynical teen, hooted with derision getting that letter. "Oh, this is not what the real world is!" Etiquetteer remembers saying. Now, with the passing of years, the decline of public discourse and the white middle class’s embrace of ghetto culture, Etiquetteer knows just how right Dear Father was to keep his focus on that ideal. Etiquetteer hereby offers a humble apology for not getting it right until now.

Nowadays we are used to seeing zealots wield Christianity as a bludgeon to direct the behavior of others rather than themselves. Etiquetteer’s Dear Father never fell into that trap, thankfully, and provided the best lesson any father, any parent, could: teaching by example. Once when a supermarket cashier gave us change without actually taking our money, Dear Father led the way back to the supermarket as soon as he realized what happened. How many people would be bothered to be so honest now? And this is only one instance of many Etiquetteer could relate.

In conclusion, Etiquetteer could offer no better summary than "Every day he did his best whatever the task." There could be no better example of Perfect Propriety than that.