Family & Friends

Father’s Day: Let Us Now Praise Steadfast Men

3.Dad-Me Hackensack 1950The writer and her father, Harold Elleson.

During my growing-up years, my dad seldom said he loved me, but I knew he did. Often, after working a long shift at the roundhouse, he’d give me a gentle whisker rub and let me eat the leftover cookies from his lunchbox. I remember sitting next to him on the breakfast-nook bench in our tiny bungalow in Minneapolis, Minnesota, as he told my mother about spending his day in the pit beneath the giant train engines. The grease embedded under his fingernails was a testament to his commitment to the hard labor that supported his family.

My father, Harold Elleson, had all the virtues expected of a husband and father in Minnesota in the 1940s: he was loving, steadfast, dependable, faithful. His was a hard-luck life, and, like Minnesota fathers back then, he shouldered his burdens without complaint.

When he was 19, a family tragedy set him on a path he would not have chosen. On August 6, 1937, my dad’s father, a locomotive fireman for the Omaha railroad, was killed in a train accident. To compensate the family for his death, the company offered my dad a permanent job with the railroad. His dream was to fly airplanes. But this was an offer his widowed mother, who had three teenagers to support, couldn’t turn down. Deferred from military service as the sole supporter of his family, he completed his machinist’s apprenticeship and was soon repairing locomotives in a dingy roundhouse in Minneapolis—not exactly his dream job.

To provide for our family, my father often worked double shifts, so he didn’t attend many of my childhood events. But on hot summer evenings we’d sit side by side on the front-porch steps. We studied the moon and stars as cars rumbled along 39th Avenue. Dressed in his blue work pants and a tattered sleeveless T shirt, he’d puff on a Lucky Strike while I snuggled in close to him. We didn’t talk about much—just enjoyed those moments of time together. During the long Minnesota winters, when the evening darkness arrived shortly after supper, I looked forward to snuggling next to my dad on the davenport. After he’d read me one of my favorite Little Golden Books he’d plant a goodnight kiss on my cheek and send me off to bed.

Money was always tight at our house. Sundays were often spent going for a ride in the family Plymouth. Sometimes we’d end up at a relative’s house; other times, dad just drove and drove until we ended up back at home. Our summer vacations consisted of trips to my grandparents’ farm during haying season or to my aunt’s rustic cabin in Hackensack, Minnesota. I loved tromping through the woods and sitting in the rowboat with my dad. I can still see him wearing his grease-stained railroad cap, and the dragonflies buzzing around our heads, as my red bobber floated on the lake’s surface.

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  • Diane Dettmann June 18, 2018 at 5:47 pm

    Thank you so much Deborah Harkins and Women’s Voices for Change for sharing my Father’s Day essay about my dad. He passed away in 1987, a wonderful man who is deeply missed.

  • Diane Dettmann June 23, 2015 at 5:43 pm

    Thank you so much, Sue for sharing your response to my essay. It means a lot to me that you took the time to read it and that my story inspired thoughts of your dad.

  • sue walsh June 23, 2015 at 4:18 pm

    What a wonderful article about your dad. It made me think about my own dad and growing up. He was a lot like yours.

  • Diane Dettmann June 23, 2015 at 9:35 am

    Kelly, I can’t imagine losing my father that young. What a painful loss. I’m grateful that my essay touched you in a special way. Thank you for all the support you’ve given me on my writing journey. You and your organization, Women For One, are an inspiration to me!

  • Kelly McNelis June 22, 2015 at 7:16 pm

    Diane – your words and memories about your dad touched me deeply. My father died when I was 17 and I always relish stories of powerful, loyal and heartfelt fathers of women. Thank you for sharing your truth.

  • Diane Dettmann June 22, 2015 at 2:34 pm

    Suzie, I appreciate your wonderful response to my Father’s Day piece. Coming from a talented musician and presenter like you means a lot! Writing the essay brought back so many memories of those simpler times. I’m blessed with a wonderful editor at Women’s Voices for Change who has provide me with support and inspiration.

  • Suzie Umbel June 22, 2015 at 10:18 am


    Oh what a lovely article about your Dad! You know times were simpler back then and you captured the feelings perfectly!

    God Bless,


  • Sari Kaurala June 21, 2015 at 1:44 pm

    Diane, I take this as a promise !

  • Diane Dettmann June 21, 2015 at 10:23 am

    Leann and Sari, I appreciate the time you took to read my essay. My dad was a kind hearted man and dedicated to our family. It’s been almost thirty years, yet I still miss him deeply. Your comments mean so much to me. Coffee sounds great Leann. Sari, if I get to Finland we’ll definitely have coffee and some Finnish pastry!

  • Sari Kaurala June 20, 2015 at 4:39 pm

    What a meaningful life your dad had (in many sense)! Thank you, Diane, for sharing this touching story of your father!

  • Leann powell June 20, 2015 at 4:24 pm

    Diane what great memories you have of your Dad,you hit it on the nose with we didn’t have a lot of money or trophies,but the Love& memories are far worth more! I miss my Dad soooooo much& hold onto those fond loving memories of his love& dedication! You are a wonderful writer& I truly enjoy reading your stories,let’s have coffee soon!

  • Diane Dettmann June 20, 2015 at 9:02 am

    Karen thank you so much for your wonderful response to my essay. I enjoyed writing it and will always cherish the memories I have of my dad.

  • Karen Grossaint June 19, 2015 at 8:09 am

    Enjoyed reading Diane’s article about her Father as Father’s Day approaches. What an awesome tribute to her Dad! Thru Diane’s writing I got to know her dad and the life she lived as a child. Looking forward to July and reading her new book. Happy Father’s Day to all Dad’s out there…those here on earth and those in heaven.