THE GREATEST GIFT A DAD CAN GIVE TO HIS FAMILY (Story of Jack Kavanagh -The Dreamer & Jim's Dad)
A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with a buddy (Jim Kavanagh) from long ago. We discussed the new dreams he was pursuing and his deep love for his wife. In the midst of the conversation, Jim mentioned his father and told me a little of the impact and great influence his father had on the family, community and those around him before he passed.
I was blown away as Jim described the obstacles his father endured and times he lived in. However, I was humbled to the point of tears of hearing about a man who exemplified everything that my passion and upcoming book is about. He was truly a remarkable man who despite obstacles, advanced years, responsibilities and more dreamed madly, pursued wildly, and trusted completely.
I asked Jim if he would be willing to share the story of his remarkable dad in my book and on my Facebook page to celebrate Father’s Day. He did.
Here is the story of Jack Kavanagh, a dad, a friend, a simple man, and a dreamer.
My dad, Jack Kavanagh, never went hunting in his life, but he knew how to stay on the trail of an elusive dream.
While still a student at the University of Detroit, Jack fell in love with the study of philosophy and decided to make a career of it. He set his sights on becoming a professor. However, right about that time Japan set its sights on Pearl Harbor. He enlisted in the Navy and married his high school sweetheart, Catherine “Honey” Boyle, in the spring of 1942. A baby was on the way by the time he shipped out to the South Pacific.
Jack served as the communications officer aboard the destroyer USS Patterson throughout the conflict. Thanks to occasional leaves and an accident that put the Patterson in dry dock for a few months, he was welcomed home after the war by Honey and three babies who looked just like him – except that they had more hair.
With the war concluded, Jack took advantage of the GI Bill to return to Detroit and earn his master’s degree. He was unable to secure a teaching position, but a job writing stories for Ward’s Automotive Reports helped pay the bills and feed the babies, who were joined by a fourth in 1948.
As more children continued to arrive (hey, my parents were Irish Catholics; this is how it went back then), my dad needed a better-paying job. He landed a position with the Michigan Department of Commerce, which soon necessitated a move to the capital, Lansing. His job was to “sell Michigan,” persuading industrial companies to build factories, warehouses and distribution centers in the state. He was good at it. But it wasn’t his dream job.
Jack and Honey’s 11th and final child arrived in March 1960. (That would be me.) The eldest, Cathy, was getting ready to start college. With 11 children enrolled in parochial schools or college, taking music lessons, playing sports and insisting on wearing clothes and eating every single day, money was as tight as it could be. My older siblings have described seeing Dad turn our big kitchen table into a bill-paying triage center: He had to decide which ones he could ignore for a while, which he could get away with making a token payment on, and which had to be paid right now.
It’s a testimony to both of my parents that even though we never had a lot of money, we never felt deprived.
Jack’s work sometimes took him away from home for three to five days at a time, intervals that showed just how tall my 4-foot-11-inch mother stood as a leader and organizer. Everyone still in the household, from the oldest to the youngest, had chores and responsibilities, including looking after one another. It worked.
Other than when he was on those business trips, my dad was home with the family for dinner at that big table every night. He was a lector at the church and a member of the parish council and school board. He and my mother read to us, talked with us and listened to us. They took us to church, they taught us how to study, they attended our games and track meets and school plays. They delighted in us, they disciplined us, and they demonstrated what love is for us.
By the time I was 15, most of my siblings had gotten married or otherwise moved out, so there was more elbow room in the house and more breathing room in the budget. The time was ripe for Jack Kavanagh’s long-dormant dream to start stirring again.
Jack started taking night classes at nearby Michigan State University. Honey, even after a long day of housework in a long life of housework, diligently banged out his papers on an electric typewriter on the dining room table. Together they pushed the dream forward. There were no online classes then, no podcasts of lectures, no looking things up on the internet. Students had to go to classes, take notes, and put in the time to read and do research at the library.
In the spring of 1979, my mother threw a huge party for him in a ballroom on the MSU campus. The occasion comprised four celebrations: Jack and Honey’s 37th wedding anniversary, Jack’s 59th birthday, the conferral of Jack’s Ph.D. in philosophy – he’d written his dissertation on business ethics – and his retirement after 30 years of service to the state.
He was just getting started.
Jack and Honey packed up and moved east, where he joined the faculty of the University of Delaware’s Center for the Study of Values. After several years they returned to Michigan, where Jack taught at small colleges and fought off colon cancer before moving on to yet another career: writing brief sermons to be used by Catholic priests during weekday Masses. He did that well into his 70s.
After my mother suffered a heart attack, my dad took over the cooking duties for good. They did everything as partners, including heading home to heaven just 19 days apart.
Arm-in-arm with Honey, Jack never let go of his dream despite every obstacle, encumbrance, detour, and delay. There were never excuses, only perseverance, belief, and determination.
That is how a dream stays alive.