I apologize for bringing a moment of sadness into the holiday season, but I want to take this occasion to commemorate my father, Joseph C. Dodson, who died this morning at the age of 90. He had broken his hip and badly fractured his elbow in a fall last month and never really recovered. Fortunately, he was able to spend his final weeks in a place where he was cared for both lovingly and professionally; he was in no pain, we were able to say our farewells while he could still take them in, and at the end he drifted into a final nap. There are worse ways to go.

Dad grew up in small towns in eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas; his father was a schoolteacher, and they moved around a fair amount. It was a large family by today’s standards, and he and a brother slept out on the porch because the indoor bedrooms went to the older brothers and sisters. The Depression hit while he was in high school, and he had to work hard to put himself through college. He had thought of going into journalism but wound up going to grad school in agricultural economics, where he met my mother (who was a department secretary—her family was also large, and they could only afford to send the boys to college, so she went to work). After his service in World War Two, he got a position on a commission supervising elections in Greece (a country he always remembered fondly) and then, through the good offices of a friend, was invited to join the occupation staff in Tokyo, where my mother joined him and I was born.

He had a good career in the Foreign Service and could have had an ambassadorship if he’d wanted it, but he didn’t enjoy the kind of socializing that would involve. He gave his three sons not only a fine education but exposure to life in several countries in Asia and South America, a rare opportunity to see the world with a wider perspective than most people get (and doubtless the impetus for my love of languages). As much as he enjoyed traveling, I’m afraid he often didn’t enjoy life very much. He was given to depression and insisted on peace and quiet when he was home, which could be hard for three opinionated boys to live with; he had the psychology typical to men of his generation, with their strong-but-silent ideal, and was never comfortable with intimacies. Only towards the end of his life did he learn to say “I love you” to his sons and begin to talk freely about his past. But he was a good and generous man, and he never tried to impose his ideas of how life should be lived on his children. No matter how many times I went off in directions incomprehensible to him, dropping mathematics for linguistics and that for poetry, quitting grad school for a feckless life earning minimum wage in bookstores, no matter how many Christmases I brought home entirely new women for him to accept as a temporary part of the family, he was tolerant and good-humored about it. He let me feel that life was a good thing to be taken as it came, and that is perhaps the greatest gift a father can give.

I’m playing Benny Goodman in his honor, and “After You’ve Gone” has just come on. Listen to the joyous sweep of that clarinet! He may not have been able to articulate it, but he was drawn to the abandon of that music, and Mom always said he was a wonderful dancer. I like to think of them dancing in the ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria, still young and as carefree as you could be in those wartorn times, looking forward to a life of unpredictable adventures. I hope he was pleased with how it all turned out. I’ll miss you, Dad.


  1. There is no need to apologize for this post. My father just turned 88 and I will need to post the same kind of eulogy one of these days. My father is a natural linguist, and I inherited his fascination for language. School was only available through the 9th grade for out village at that time, so that is as far as he went. But his intellectual curiousity has taken him much father.
    Condolences to you and may your memories of your father bring you comfort in this time of loss.

  2. My deepest sympathies on your loss. I lost my dad last year; he was 92, but somehow as lucky as we were to have him for so long, I wanted him to live forever. May the memories and good things he gave you keep you in his spirit all the rest of your own long-lived days.

  3. My deepest sympathy and condolences. Your tribute to your father here is moving — and a testament to memories you have to cherish.

  4. I’m so sorry for your loss, Hat. At least it sounds as if the circumstances were not too bad. Your filial tribute is most moving.

  5. This has not been a good year for people. I’ve noticed a heavier-than-average concentration of people passing away around me, and it’s quite upsetting.
    My condolences go out to you and everyone else who has experienced a loss of late. There are all too many of them…

  6. My condolences, too, and thank you for the post.

  7. Sorry for your loss, and that was a beautifully-written tribute.

  8. Please accept my condolences.

  9. I’m very sorry to hear about your dad– my deepest sympathy for you & your family. That was a beautiful post.

  10. aldiboronti says

    A fine tribute. My warmest condolences to you. My father died seven years ago at about the same age, 89. I never knew just how much I’d miss him until he wasn’t there.

  11. My condolences. And thank you for this lovely tribute to your father.

  12. Thank you for posting this glimpse of your father, and of his influence on you.
    All my siblings gathered for my father’s 80th birthday last January 1. I hope he too makes it to 90.

  13. My deepest condolences to you in this time of loss, LH. Ditto what Chris said: thanks for this lovely tribute.

  14. Sorry to hear about your loss. The best advice I’ve heard was that mourning has its seasons. That’s great that he left you a good legacy.

  15. Dirk Van de putte says

    My sincere condolences. And a really moving tribute…

  16. My condolences as well, and I think you can be sure that your father would be proud of your post.

  17. Suzanne McCarthy says

    My mother died many years ago in November and no November has been the same ever since. My father at 88 mourns her every day. Thank you for writing about a sadness we all share.

  18. Condolences on your loss.

  19. I’m sorry about your dad. 🙁 My thoughts and prayers to you and your family.

  20. You’ve really touched me. I hope the days that follow will find you with some peace of mind at least. I lost my father some years ago, so I understand some of what you’re going through. You have my deepest and sincerest sympathies.
    Hang in there.

  21. Very sorry here, too.

  22. Dear languagehat, I am so sorry to hear this, but pleased to read that you have such good remembrances of him to keep with you. Long life.

  23. I’m very sorry to hear about your loss. Please accept my deepest condolences.
    And thank you for such a fine tribute to your father.

  24. Deepest sympathy.

  25. Please accept my condolences to you and your family.

  26. Dear Hat, my deepest sympathy. I’m sure your father would be proud just to know how many people you make happy with your blog.

  27. R.I.P.
    My sincere condolences.
    Br23.net from Minsk, Belarus

  28. I am so sorry to her about this. Thank you for writing such thing and share with all.

  29. I’m so sorry to hear this news, Language Hat. May he rest in peace.

  30. Sounds like a great man. Take care.

  31. My condolences, and thanks for the remembrances that you shared with us.

  32. My heartfelt sympathy and condolences.

  33. What a shame, and at this time of year as well. I’m very sad to hear that.

  34. Thank you for sharing your dad and his life with us. Sounds like he was one of a kind. My condolences to you and your family.

  35. Please accept my most heart-felt condolences. May your memories warm you and may your father rest in peace.

  36. The memories of a good father are the best legacy he could leave you. With regards to mine, 34 years gone now, I can use Hammerstein’s words, “All of my memories are happy.” May yours always be so. God bless you and yours.

  37. I’m sorry for your loss.

  38. May his memory be for a blessing, and may you know no further sorrow
    זאָלסט מער נישט װיסן פֿן קײן צער

  39. michael farris says

    My deepest sympathies. Even when a loved one’s passing is relatively easy, it’s not so easy on the survivors. Take care of yourself.

  40. Horrible news. Please, accept my condolences.

  41. I’m very sorry to hear of your loss–by which I mean that I sympathize with you, not that I am sorry to read such a lovely tribute to such an admirable man.

  42. I’ve been away and have just seen this. My condolences to you; it sounds like he was able to give you a lot, both early or later in your life.

  43. Every passing affects us in different ways, but the death of a parent is hard to bear because it forcibily reminds us that we’re now the last link with the past. Condolences from this side of the Pond, Steve.

  44. Take care of yourself, Steve, and thanks for sharing.

  45. Deepest sympathies and thank you for posting this.

  46. Вот бы мои дети написали так обо мне, когда меня не станет…
    Не напишут. Я плохой отец. Больно.

  47. Sympathy from me too, belated because I have been travelling around Australia till last night. Of course we all would want to be kept informed of such things, dear LH.
    Thinking of you.

  48. Gag Halfrunt says

    My condolences on your loss.

  49. I’m so sorry to hear this. My condolences to you and your family.

  50. I hope his memory brings you comfort and relief from sorrow.
    Incidentally, where in Arkansas did he grow up?

  51. In the northwest corner; they spent time in a number of towns whose names I don’t know.

  52. Jesse Sheidlower says

    Very sorry for your loss.

  53. My condolences to you and your family on your loss. I hope that when my father passes that I can be as eloquent. I hope that I will someday inspire such eloquence in my sons.

  54. A wonderful tribute. Could he not be pleased? Much love to you.

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