Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father's Day - A Tribute To My Dad

Happy Father's Day, Dad!

Robert Leroy Wallen 1921-2000

Son of William Jesse and Iva Illinois Townsend Wallen

My brother Bob wrote the following newsletter article for an Internet health web ring not quite two years before our dad passed away. 

"When I was in first grade, we were all given little paper medicine cups in class, with our doses of the new oral polio vaccine. I don't know why I remember that, but I also remember seeing the posters about polio, with photographs of people being kept in iron lungs to keep them alive. At that tender age, I didn't see the connection, but my father had contracted polio when he was five years old. He was relatively lucky. He lost a lot of strength in his legs, but he could walk alright, with a bit of a limp. I can only remember seeing him run one time, when I crashed my bike in the street at the age of six. 
I never thought of my dad as being "handicapped", because he never thought of himself that way. He pretty much did what everybody else did, and probably more, with never a complaint. The defining event of his generation was World War II. Dad served in the U. S. Army, guarding enemy prisoners of war at the military prison in Huntsville, Texas. On vacations, he didn't shy away from the little trail hikes in the Smokies, and we went fishing, and to the beach. He even took up bicycle riding. He would get out in the steaming Florida sun and cut the grass with a push mower, when he couldn't find me. When we kids were grown, he and Mom would take off on trips all over the country, and spent a good part of those trips camping. 

Dad was always interested in physical fitness. Some of my earliest memories are of the "muscle man" magazines he brought home when I was three or four. Many (many!) years later, when I finally made up my mind to change my couch-potato ways, he gave me "temporary" custody of the set of York Barbells that he had bought before I was born. I still have them.

It wasn't until Dad was pretty close to retirement age that the weakness in his legs and back began to worsen. He began wearing an aluminum orthopedic brace on his weaker leg. That has helped a lot, but the syndrome continues to slowly progress. He says he probably won't be doing much camping anymore.

I never heard of Post-Polio Syndrome until about 1990, and for a long time there wasn't much available information about it. The internet and the Web have changed all that. The information, although still somewhat scanty, is there. And information hubs, such as this web ring, are busy consolidating sources of knowledge and making it easily accessible to those who want it. Web rings like this are also valuable sources of contact between people of like interests who, before, would have had no way of finding others like themselves. 

Post-polio syndrome is something like the land mines that have been hidden in the earth in so many wars, forgotten for generations, only to be reawakened without warning. If you know someone who, like my dad, has had to re-enter the battle with the ghost of this enemy from so long ago, that has been hiding and biding its time, encourage them to explore this web ring. They're sure to find something of interest, and people to share with. 

Hats off to my dad, Robert L. Wallen, father of three sassy 'boomers', 
woodsculptor extraodinaire, and the man I admire most."

Robert Terrill Wallen - Autumn 1998



  1. William Alex WinnerJuly 31, 2010 at 5:04 PM

    Dear Lisa, Your brothers article says it all. What a wonderful tribute to your very special dad. I've heard of dads like that. I know my grand dad was one of those dads. I'm sure his sons may tell of a stern and somewhat strict father, but that is how he raised his boys to be the good men they have become, but his first grand son saw the other man that he was. My dad left us and went back to Florida when I was 4 months old, so I am clueless. That has left an empty spot in my heart. I don't think that spot can ever be filled. I got over it and have forgiven him. I am so thankful for the good men in my life who helped keep me on the straight and narrow. All of my uncles understood this little boy and did an excellent job helping their sister raise him up. It was still a little tricky raising my 3 boys, after not having a fatherly example to follow. But I'm not so sure that would have been the kind of example anyone could benefit from.
    I tip my hat to your father, and all the men who value their families in the same way your dad did.
    In the absence of that kind of father, I give thanks to my Heavenly Father for bringing me this far.

    Little Bill

  2. Thanks Bill for the comments. My mother and father, against certain odds, were really good parents and were the typical "white picket fence" people. Just good people, good parents, good small community people. They were family people who wanted to do everything right by their kids. I don't think I knew how lucky I was until I married a man who came from completely opposite circumstances. And there's more I'd like to say in reference to your situation and some others in my own family but I'll take that to Facebook messaging! See you over there.