by Peter Marcantel
My father has accomplished a lot in his 90 years of life so far, but above all he is recognized by his family and his community as a good man. And that, I believe, is his most important legacy. As I reflect on Father’s Day, I realize that is the inheritance I wish most to pass on to my own children.
In a few short weeks, on July 14, my father will celebrate his 90th birthday. I will be there in Louisiana with him and my sister and two brothers to honor him at a party, along with a number of extended family members, friends, and well-wishers from the community where he lives.
My dad has buried his mother and father, his three brothers, an infant daughter, two wives, and countless friends and relatives. He’s had triple bypass surgery and is now on his fourth pacemaker. Yet his thirst for life goes on.
He still maintains an active role in his law practice, where he not only serves his personal clients but also provides his younger associates with legal expertise and advice gleaned from over six decades of civil and criminal practice. Although his body requires more maintenance work than is convenient, his mind is as sharp as ever.
Outside the office, Dad always has something new going on—whether it’s supervising the re-roofing of his beloved riverside camp or stocking his fishing pond or attending a law school reunion with his dwindling number of classmates. On my weekly calls home, I can always look forward to hearing about the next thing on his ever-expanding horizon that keeps him moving forward.
Like any well-developed person, Dad is a study in contrasts. He describes himself as a naturally shy man, yet he’s been in positions of community leadership all his adult life. He can be irascible, stubborn, and abrupt. But he can also be funny, charming, and surprisingly tender. A brilliant and highly educated man who can cite obscure legal precedent when necessary, he always seemed happiest when building a duck blind or tinkering with a balky outboard motor.
My dad and I fought the usual battles between a parent and child. As a youngster, I demanded attention that he was often too occupied by the business of life to give me. As a teenager, I rebelled against his authority and inflicted wounds of grief and embarrassment on him with a power I only recognized once I became a parent myself, and suffered those hurts at the hands of my own children. And as an adult I have struggled, and still find myself struggling, to win his approval—approval he has expressed often but that I somehow can never accept as final. I’ll make no apologies now for the battles. They taught us both many lessons, and perhaps helped each of us to accept the other for who we were, rather than who we thought the other should be.
Of all the things I learned from Dad, I believe the most important is to live a life of integrity. I can never remember my father actually sitting me down and lecturing me about ethics. He never told me that I should always try to do the right thing. These things I learned by observation and osmosis. He never said, “Look at me!” But I was always watching.
It’s not my intention to whitewash my father’s personal and political life. I’m sure he made mistakes. And you can’t be a public figure for fifty years and not make a few enemies. But I do know this—after being elected as the youngest District Attorney in Louisiana, Dad went on to serve twenty-six years in that office and then nine years as the city judge without ever being opposed in an election. He must have been doing something right to gain the public’s trust for such an extended time.
And trust in our home was never an issue, either. Dad didn’t always act the way I wanted him to—thank goodness—but I always knew where he stood. He believed in being honest and fair in his dealings with others. He paid his bills on time. He did what he believed was right, even though it wasn’t always easy. He was strong, reliable, and a good provider. But most importantly, he is a good man.
And that, I believe, is Bernard Norman Marcantel’s most important and enduring legacy. I see his strength of character in my brothers and sister who have each given much of their adult lives to the service of their communities and their families. And I hope I see a little of it reflected in my own mirror.
I will be the first to tell you, and my family will readily agree, that I am far from perfect. But I do believe that as long as I try to do the right thing in any given situation, I won’t stray far from the path my father blazed for me. And as I follow him, I hope my children will follow me—not because I tell them to, but because they see in me a guide they can trust.
Happy Fathers’ Day, Dad, and may we celebrate many more together!