In the 1920s, my daddy had big dreams. He wanted to fly airplanes.
I grew up hearing about how he was barely out of high school when he rebuilt a two-passenger, open-cockpit airplane and taught himself to fly above the prairies of eastern Oklahoma. I always pictured him landing and taking off in vast wheat fields, a tiny plane in an immense blue sky.
The days he was flying were happy days for my daddy. But like many other people who endured the double blows of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, he didn't get the chance to follow his dream. Decades later, both my parents still talked of bank failures and families who lost their farms during some of the toughest times for our country.
By the time World War II came along, my mother and daddy already had three young boys. Daddy tried to enlist to be a fighter pilot in the war, but the Army Air Forces (as it was known then) said he was too old, or at least that's the explanation I heard.
So Daddy moved from one job to another: he was a salesman, he fixed cars, he was a janitor. He liked working with his hands, doing repairs around the house. And like a zillion other families, we got by.
When I was a senior in high school, I started thinking about college. I wanted to be a teacher, and that meant I needed a college diploma. But my mother said it was out of the question. She pointed out that we couldn't afford college, that she and Daddy just didn't make enough money. Besides, my daddy had had a heart attack, and now it took both of my parents' paychecks to manage.
My mother kept saying no, and we argued back and forth. Then Daddy surprised both of us, saying: "Let her try, Polly." And I was off and running.
There were lots of bumps and wrong turns along the way. I got married at 19 (it didn't work out). I moved. I dropped out of school. But eventually, I made it.
Whatever I did, my Daddy believed in me. He would say, "That's my Betsy."
In truth, I think he found it pretty miraculous that his baby girl had ended up a teacher. He nearly busted his buttons the first time I was quoted in the newspaper.
I would not be here had it not been for my daddy pushing open a door so that I could have a chance. That is how this daughter of a janitor ended up as a public school teacher, a college professor, and a U.S. Senator. And I'm not the only one. Parents all across our country are working hard to give their children the opportunities they themselves never had.
My daddy is gone, but I want to wish him a Happy Father's Day. And Happy Father's Day to all the daddies who are trying their hardest to give their children a strong future -- and who set the example every day of what it means to care for the people you love.
Happy Father's Day!