Tomorrow, May 28th, marks the fourth anniversary of my father’s death. Every day I miss him. Every day I think of him and the many gifts he gave me. Often, his gifts came hidden in the choices and values of his own good life. He was born in Michigan, in 1918, of parents who immigrated here from Sicily. His given name, Silvestri Seminara, would later be replaced, like his father’s, with Sam Ross. He graduated from Otsego High School in Michigan and that would be the end of his formal education.
He eventually moved to Southern California where he worked in various steel plants. He became an organizer for the United Steel Workers Union and this, in many ways, forged his ethics. He taught us to always see the world: economics, politics, even religion, from the perspective of those who have little power. This ethic informed everything he did. His fierce honesty, his sly humor, and his devotion to his family marked a very good life. As a union organizer, he did some rough stuff. Southern California’s steel industry was hard to organize but the United Steel Workers were committed to a just and fair wage– as well as job security– for their workers. He talked of strikes, dealing with strike breakers, flipping over cars, fires. Union organizing was not easy.
After Pearl Harbor was attacked, he joined the Army and served in the Pacific. He didn’t talk about those years much because they were painful. But his time in the Army, like his years organizing union workers, formed him. He saw the world as a place where the powerful get what they want. He hoped for a world where the powerless get their share more often. He assumed his lack of education would limit his work with the union so he threw himself into his family. His wife of over fifty years, Vivian Carey Ross, was his constant companion. They both gave everything they had to my sister and me. They never went out, they never took trips that didn’t include us all.
My father was the last of a generation who could, on a laborer’s salary, own a home, raise a family, and retire securely. I don’t think one can do this today without more education or family money. My father built his life on the risks his parents took leaving Sicily during the First World War. He earned every dollar he made and he saved most of them.
His example, especially of hard work and persistence, forms me more than I know. As I get older, I discover him, his values, even his humor, in myself. This is the greatest gift. His presence in me. This is easy to say and hard to live. Loss devastates me sometimes. But that’s another reflection. Today, I want to honor my father’s life. Perhaps I can best honor him by imitating his persistence and his faithfulness. Keeping my word. Laughing every chance I get.