The greatest man I know is my dad.
In all my years, I have never even heard him say a cuss word. What you see in public is exactly what you see in private. He is driven, organized, tough and demanding. When he was younger he had a terrible temper. Most think he is not compassionate, and maybe he doesn’t show empathy in a big way, but when people need help, Dad is always there.
Dad had a strangular rupture in his abdomen and almost died as a baby. At five weeks old, he had surgery on New Year’s Eve and over a foot of his small intestine was cut out. When he tried to join the military during Vietnam he was rejected because he was colorblind and had psoriasis. He had several bad wrecks when he was younger, but was never seriously hurt in any of them.
Easter is a major holiday for all Christians, but it means even more to me because I grew up knowing that when he was sixteen, Dad was saved on Easter Sunday morning. Each Easter I still take a moment to thank God for saving my dad, because I know his salvation has made such a difference in our family’s life.
Dad is very handy. When he needed to be, he was a roofer, painter, mechanic, plumber, and electrician, but he is best at woodworking. Unfortunately, he has seriously cut his hand on more than one occasion with his saws. He has had four hernia operations in his life, which is probably because he tries to lift heavy things, and I suspect the operation when he was a baby weakened his abdomen.
He is a tireless worker and, as you will read, has worked all kinds of jobs to pay the bills as we were growing up. On a few occasions, he held down three at one time. Even though he was working so hard, he went to all of our games and found time to finish college.
He took us hunting and fishing and taught me how to read a map. He tried to teach me about cars and tools, but I didn’t listen very well. He has helped many churches grow and he has personally reached thousands for Christ. His motto is, “Friends don’t let friends miss heaven.”
He doesn’t care about money. He is not trying to amass wealth and, of what he has had, he is always willing to give it away if someone needs it more than he. He has been poor but he has always had enough. We never starved, we were never on welfare, and while we didn’t have all of the “nice” things we wanted, we had everything we needed.
While he is a tough man, my dad can get his feelings hurt easily. Grandma Jetton, Aunt Joan, Mary Gans and Mom told me that years ago, when I started working on this book with him in mind. I didn’t believe it but, as I have grown older, I can see that it is true. He cares about people and caring always opens a person up to getting hurt. Dad is always helping somebody. I can’t begin to tell you about how many people he let move into our house while we were growing up. The list of college kids and summer missionaries he has helped is a long one.
Dad has never forgotten that life is about helping and impacting individual people. He told me once that the average person only really impacts about twelve people in their life. He said that most people will only truly affect some close family members, a few friends, and maybe a young person or two before they die. That may be the average, but Dad and Mom are way above average. In politics, I was helping a lot of people, but I got away from helping individuals. Dad has never gotten away from that important principle, which is why so many people remember him and Mom. Throughout my political career, I would run into somebody occasionally who would ask me if I was related to Bill Jetton. I would answer, “Yes, he’s my dad,” and they would go on to tell me how special Mom and Dad are and about the impact they’d had in their—or someone else’s—life.
Dad has a way of influencing others. When anyone is around Dad they tend to start talking like him and acting like him, which I would argue is a good thing. He says corny things like, “It takes a big dog to weigh a ton,” “Verily, verily,” “I was just telling Judy this morning,” and “Shuck my corn,” among many others.
There are many interesting things to learn from Dad, but the way that he disciplined us kids is one of the things that I thank God for the most. Where he learned how to discipline, or how he figured it out, I will never know. I’m just glad he was my dad.
For as long as I can remember, Dad trained me to be tough. He always told me, “Pain is only in your mind.” Like most dads, he would tell me not to be a sissy when I fell or got hurt and, like most boys, I didn’t want to cry.
Sometimes, he would come up and grab my shoulders, squeezing really hard. I learned that if I squirmed and acted like it hurt he would squeeze longer and harder, but if I would take it and not flinch, he’d let go. Anytime I got cut, he would doctor me up, and it always included hydrogen peroxide, then alcohol, and finally Merthiolate. The hydrogen peroxide didn’t sting but the alcohol and Merthiolate always did. He would tell me, “Sit still and be tough,” or remind me again that “pain is all in your mind.”
Mom would be there, too, and after he put the bad stuff on my cuts she would blow on it. Dad took out all of my stitches over the years. He always pushed me to be tough and not give in to pain and this has been a very helpful thing to me as I’ve gone through life. Dad always bragged about me when I didn’t flinch or cry when I was hurt. He would tell Don Sloan and his other friends about how I didn’t flinch when I got stitches or tell some other tale of my bravery. That always encouraged me to be tough.
In high school sports, college sports and in the Marine Corps, being able to take pain, put it out of my mind and push though led to many successes for me. Other kids would give up or give in, but I kept on going. Dad’s teasing and lessons on being tough when I was a little kid really pulled me though some tough times in life.
Dad was very strict. He had very simple rules and he made them clear. If I broke them and he found out, I knew I would be in trouble. I spent countless hours sitting by myself for not listening, and I was grounded several times over the years. The resolve and compassion with which he disciplined were amazing. There was never any doubt what would happen. I knew the rules and knew when I had broken them and been disciplined accordingly. Yet, I never doubted that he loved me, and on most occasions he would explain that he was punishing me because he loved me.
I don’t know how Dad learned to do it this way. He didn’t really ever talk about how his own dad had raised him. Since Grandpa Jetton drank too much and he and Grandma were divorced, I doubt that he provided the example for my dad’s parenting. It seems that Grandma Jetton spoiled my dad. She was very patient and talked things out, which may have provided the model he learned from. But I have always thought that his effectiveness in training us kids was admirable, nonetheless.
I guess I should tell you about Dad’s spankings. My friends and relatives over the years have had an image of my dad as a strict authoritarian. They’ve expressed the idea that he was too overbearing and tough on us, but he rarely had to spank us much to get our attention. I used to count how many spankings I got at each new house we lived in, and we moved at least once a year until I was in seventh grade. I always counted Lottie’s too. For some reason, I always got more than Lottie, but the thing is, I never had to count higher than five or six in either case. Most of the time, instead of resorting to spanking, he would make us sit down or ground us.
We always listened to Dad. He had this “look”. If he looked at you with the “look,” you knew you were in trouble. He would snap his fingers, too. When he did that, it meant to settle down. Sometimes we would be playing at church or at someone’s house, and Dad would be in a deep conversation but still hear us getting rowdy. Without looking at us or stopping his conversation, he would snap his fingers and we would know we’d been given a warning. He would say, “Zip it” when he wanted us to be quiet, although I don’t ever remember hearing him say, “Shut up.” While he was strict, he was also fair. I always knew exactly what he expected of me and when I was crossing the line. When I did take a chance and cross the line, and he decided that a spanking would be the punishment, I would know that it was deserved. One offence he left no wiggle room for was lying. He said he couldn’t stand lying and the act always resulted in a solid spanking.
Before Dad spanked us he would talk to us. This would usually take place after I had been sitting alone in my room for a while, thinking about my actions. The conversation would proceed something like this:
“Do you know what you did wrong?”
“Yes,” and then I would repeat what he had told me.
“Did I tell you not to do that?”
“Why did you do it?”
“I don’t know.”
“Did you understand that you were not supposed to do that?”
Then he would tell me what my punishment was to be. Or worse, sometimes he would ask, “What do you think I should do to discipline you?”
“I don’t know?” was the usual response. He already had me admitting I had done wrong. What could I say?
He would then ask, “What would you do if you were the father?”
“I guess spank me.”
By that time, I usually just wanted the spanking so I wouldn’t have to feel bad anymore. His spankings were bare-bottomed and usually consisted of two or three licks. I don’t ever remember more. Dad was never mad at me or angry when he spanked me. He always had that calm talk that left no doubt in my mind as to what I had done wrong. So many people thought that because we obeyed Dad almost immediately, and did exactly what he said, that he must beat us, but I probably got less spankings than many kids because each one was a serious lesson for me. Of course, I spent a lot of time sitting by myself for being too rowdy. But, where a lot of parents yell at their children, with the kids never listening to a word, my father was more effective. Everyone seemed to listen to him.
Like Mom, Dad was, and is, a prayer warrior. He and Mom have protected all of their kids and grandkids with their prayers. They have led hundreds of people to the Lord and always practice what they preach. The stories below will tell more about them but, through all of it, their commitment to the Lord has made all the difference.
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