My dad died on April 25. Adrian “Buddy” Boudreaux was only 73, but those years were very happy ones for him. That happiness came from Dad’s natural good cheer and contentment; it did not come from money. Dad never had much money.
He dropped out of school in the sixth grade, but as an adult he earned his GED. When he married my late mother, at the age of 22, he was a bus driver in New Orleans. Dad soon left that job to work as a pipe fitter at Avondale Shipyards, which at the time was one of that city’s largest employers.
The typical American who would learn of the financial resources now passing down to my three siblings and me would say that we have virtually no inheritance. That’s true only financially. In fact, the inheritance that our parents left to us, while minuscule in terms of dollars, is enormous and valuable beyond measure. My meaning is best conveyed by these excerpts from a letter that I wrote to my dad when he retired from the shipyard in January 2001.
“A man’s worth can be measured in many different ways. Most of these ways are foolish.
“Is a man’s worth measured by his wealthâ¢ Hardly. History is littered with wealthy people who are scoundrels. I meet lots of wealthy people whom I detest — whom I don’t wish to be near or whom I pity because they are shallow.
“Is a man’s worth measured by his powerâ¢ Absolutely not. Hitler and Stalin and Mao had enormous power. But they are among the scummiest of history’s scumbags. Powerful people are almost always detestable creeps.
“Is a man’s worth measured by his educationâ¢ No. Many people with advanced college degrees (and I know lots of them!) lack decency and generosity. Too many are crybabies, more childish than mature and more clever than wise.
“Too few men are truly great. Greatness comes from within and is often invisible to eyes unfamiliar with a great person. A man is great only if he is responsible; only if he is a loyal and loving husband and father and friend; only if he teaches his children and grandchildren properly, not only with words but by example; only if he is free of envy and spite and pettiness.
“You and Mom have taught your kids and grandkids many valuable lessons. In particular, I thank you for never once, in the 42 years that I’ve been blessed to know you and Mom, having shown envy of others. I thank you and Mom for teaching us to be decent and to judge others by their moral merit rather than by their worldly achievements.
“I remember how you took Paw [my paternal grandfather] into our small home after Maw died, and cared for him with tenderness and good humor. I remember how you did the same for Aunt Louise.
“I also remember how, a few years ago when you and Mom were visiting us in Virginia, an offensive former colleague of mine ridiculed a view you expressed about the economy. You took no offense at his remark. You just smiled, and said only, ‘Well, that’s how things look to me, but I’m not as educated as you are.’ Your voice had no trace of insult or anger. You didn’t back down from your view in the face of my colleague’s obnoxious remark, but nor did you deny that he might be correct. By word and example, you (a shipyard worker) upstaged my colleague (a university professor) in both tolerance and good manners.
“I remember also one of the summers that I worked at the shipyard — in an air-conditioned office! One day my duties took me out onto one of the platens [small construction sites] where you were working. It was mid-summer; the temperature was in the upper 90s. I saw you welding. When you saw me, you pulled back your welding mask and, smiling, yelled. ‘How ya doin’, son?!’ You were happy to see me.
“I recall staring at you, because that was the first time that I saw just how incredibly hard you worked to support your family. You were wearing a thick denim shirt, soaked with sweat. I thought to myself, ‘Geez. He does stuff like this every day !’ I was impressed and humbled.
“I was also thankful. You’ve always done your duty as a husband and father. You are loving, kind and genuine. And you’ve never, as far I know, ever once thought of yourself as doing anything special. You just did what you knew to be right.
“You, Dad, are the greatest man I know.”
Rest peacefully, my dear father.