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my father: a character sketch
by margaret anderson at age 20 something

whiling away his time on a rich iowa farm, there is a man who might have been an outstanding political leader in our state or nation. of swedish immigrant parents and a large family of brothers and sisters, my father has always impressed upon us the benefits of a good heredity, and a pride in our swedish origin. this pride is characteristic of my father , and, coupled with his stubbornness, it has made him what he is.

he inherited the farm which he helped his father build up to the best in the neighborhood. his two older brothers had their own farms, so "the baby" paul took over the home place when he married. dad, being twenty years younger than anna, the oldest girl in the family, was completely spoiled by the seven brothers and sisters. he was hot-tempered as a boy, and when crossed, would be angered to tears. when he grew older, this anger would release itself in profanity or violence. but this does not mean my father was crude and unlearned--anything but that ! he had all the prerequisites of a successful senator---distinguished in appearance, a wonderful personality and a way with people. he was well equipped to become an outstanding lawyer or statesman, but the narrow-mindedness and conventionality of his immigrant parents squelched all his plans.

i can well imagine what happened when they informed the young, ambitious paul that he must go to the church college or none at all. he probably blew up and , thinking he could win them over to his viewpoint, he stubbornly refused. consequently, he remained at home with only two years of business college behind him. he had a great love for reading, an ability to think, and a thirst for knowledge which lifted him from the ranks of the ordinary farmers about him. fat volumes of rabelais, dumas, emerson, franklin and lincoln; the harvard classics series, american and french history books and a set of huge encyclopedias fill the bookcases at our house along with books on many subjects and in other forms - philosophy, biography and autobiography.

one long shelf holds the codes of iowa and senate and house journals from his congressional days. for my father became "the distinguished senator from webster" in 1932. short, stocky paul became one of the "immortal twelve" in iowa senate-----six republicans and six democrats who fought for and against each other for four years. paul was in his glory then, doing what was his life's ambition---getting away from the solitude of the farm, working with people whose company he craved. what a blow it must have been to lose out after only one term. i wonder what happened----i suppose webster county went republican that year., i was only a chubby baby who remembers playing dolls in the aisle of the senate chamber and playing about the great fountain in the high-ceilinged fort des moines hotel lobby.

my father's pride would let him be nothing less than an excellent farmer, although he hated it. he built two large hay barns for the handsome herds of cattle he fed, and a fine efficient hog house for the many pigs he raised each year on the 260-acre farm. with the farm in the capable hands of hired men, dad could afford to spend those years in des moines, thinking that one of his two sons would soon want to take over the farm. dad had never liked it himself, so i don't know why he expected his sons to , but he was disappointed and hurt when they showed no desire to farm.

so the defeated senator returned to the farm with the rest of this life blankly staring him in the face. dad was only forty-five and his children were just growing up, but his oldest son went off to college with no intention of returning permanently. he and his father couldn't get along, for they had the same stubborn wills, which all of us have, and it became increasingly difficult for all of us to live with him. for a great change had come over him; he had lost his ambition, his great hopes, and he began to console himself by drinking. this habit had started when he was in the senate, and was based upon an attitude with which he had grown up---that a man can take any amount of liquor. at first, he could, but as he grew older, it gradually got the best of him so that in nearly all of my remembering he has been an extreme alcoholic.

it is the usual case history of an alcoholic----progression from a few drinks on downward to d.t's. i'm not sure if he quite reached that point, but he reached his worst just a few years ago. we had of course been trying to help him by sending him to sanitariums, but you can't help anyone who doesn't want to be helped. he was nearly always i a drunken stupor, which was ruining his health, wearing mom down, and letting the farm go to waste and ruin. finally a breaking point was reached and dad was taken to cherokee by the sheriff, a family friend. two months he spent there, which only made him feel more bitter, more persecuted and insecure. just as all the previous "cures", it lasted only a few months, and then we were off again. thanks to my mother's patient and understanding handling, nothing drastic ever happened, although many times it could have.

finally we discovered a place especially for people like dad sand to it we owe the past few years of happiness. dad spent several months there and i think is now well on his way to a normal old age. a main part of their treatment is to build up the patient's health, which is usually very poor, so they realize how much better they feel when they are not drinking. they are given some medicine which satisfies their craving for alcohol, without, of course, the awful effects, and they are surrounded by plenty of recreation to keep them occupied. i believe they also hear lectures about their condition, although "lecture" is too strong a word here; it is more of a chat between the patient and the doctor. "river oaks" had a wonderful influence on my father, for since he enjoyed it, he let it affect him, and typically paul, took the credit for having gone there on his own. we had made it appear that way, although my older sister at home found out about the place, and talked dad into going.

how much of it was river oaks' influence, or if dad just outgrew another phase of his life, i don't know, but perhaps " the distinguished senator from webster" is on his way to becoming the alert , healthy person he used to be. it is hard for me to realize that he has changed; he still likes to sit in the local tavern and chat with the "boys" and to stop at a private club in fort dodge. my experiences with him all my life have been to wait and wait, threaten and coax to get him to go home. it used to be necessary, but it isn't any more, for he is always willing if i am prompt and good-natured about it. he can sit and tell stories by the hour, and some very interesting ones, about nearly everyone i the community, their fathers and grandfathers; his days in the iowa senate, things he has done in the political filed and his political friends; books he has read, poetry he had memorized in his youth; and the endless tales of the old sloughs, the wild game abundant in his youth, the country school and his family.

but actually this is the basis for my father's problem : he has been so wrapped up in himself and his past, he has not moved ahead. either they were much happier days, or else he just hasn't had the incentive to go on. he is interested in people of his own intellectual caliber, so perhaps with mom's help he will find something to occupy his mind that will keep him out of the passive state into which many old people fall. he has an alert, experienced political mind, and perhaps, to his children's great joy, if he behaves himself, he will again be able to put that mind to good use.