When I was 3, I would occasionally walk beside my father while my mother was busy with my eight brothers and sisters. I was small and Daddy was tall and far too austere to take a toddler by the hand, much less carry me. Instead, he would hold out an elegant index finger. I would reach up, wrap my hand around it and off we’d go.
My father, who died in 2005 at 81, had nine children and 15 grandchildren. Today he would have 16 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. He and Mummy, now 93, married 72 years ago. The impressive tallies aside, Daddy was an understated, reserved paterfamilias who would be perplexed by parenting today.
Children are imprecise, impulsive and untidy, all conditions Daddy detested. He began to enjoy his sons and daughters only after we were old enough to sit at our long dining room table and talk about the daily newspaper story our parents required us to read.
Born in 1924, my father was raised in England and Ireland in an era when children were seldom seen and never heard. He and Mummy, also from Ireland, wanted a big family. Daddy resisted contrivances such as Father’s Day and would be dismayed to be remembered here given his belief that one should appear in the paper twice: at marriage and death.
By age 24, he had earned his veterinary degree and his doctorate, with a specialty in equine blood diseases, which brought him to America to work with racehorses. Eager to keep learning—and earning—he entered Georgetown Medical School when he was 37 and the father of six. He became a full-time student and continued working at night for the research lab where he had been before med school, only at his microscope in his study at home, not in an office. Placing fifth in his class, he was offered internships and residencies at Yale and Harvard. Halfway through med school, his seventh child arrived. I—the eighth—showed up in his final year and my younger brother during his residency.
Because we are Irish and laugh at sad things, my siblings and I find it hilarious that Daddy, who didn’t even like children and went on to specialize in human pathology, won the class prize in pediatrics.
He encouraged us to be independent. The year before Daddy died, I asked my parents if I should take time off to be with them in Connecticut. Daddy vetoed this with the pained but patient mien afforded anything in poor taste. “Absolutely not!” he said. “You have your work and your own life to lead.” He pointed out that he and Mummy, as newlyweds, had moved an ocean away from our relatives to raise their own family.
He took words and actions seriously and would have winced at today’s profligate hugs and the inescapable “love you.” Extravagant displays of expression—except laughter—were bad form. He would have been appalled by the vogue for oversharing and splattering out one’s feelings on social media. His love transcended words and gestures, seldom on display but implicit and enduring.
As teenagers, my sisters and I endured our school’s annual father-daughter Mass and breakfast. Daddy disliked this slightly cloying event as much as we did but always rose to the occasion. When he and I processed into the chapel with my classmates and their fathers, I couldn’t have been more proud.
Ms. Cronin is an associate editorial features editor at the Journal.
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Appeared in the June 17, 2022, print edition.