Glenn Huff (1922-2011)
My father was born a century ago on March 10, 1922. I knelt at his grave on this bright and sunny Thursday afternoon, and I cried from deep down in my gut. It was not a sad cry, but one of joy and gratitude. Nothing brings tears to my eyes as easily as being on the receiving end of kindness, or observing someone’s act of kindness toward another. I observed my dad’s kindness for many years. He gave away all he had in his giant love cup, and it came back to him in infinite refills.
Glenn was a model for what a man could be: selfless, authentic, generous, responsible, confident, and playful. He was intrigued by the minds of children. When they entered his orbit, they saw a grownup who could talk their language, and they could make him laugh. He knew that joy and suffering co-exist. He comforted hundreds of people grieving their losses and gave food to people who had no way to pay for it. He took care of my mother through her pain, depression, and dementia. Being her caregiver was nothing more than what a committed partner does, in sickness and in health. That was his way.
My father was incapable of hate. He was more easily hurt than angered. I was a budding teenager bagging groceries one day at our neighborhood market when a customer entered and walked straight to the check-out counter, assaulting my dad with harsh words. This blustering bully had inherited his wealth, while my dad had grown up in a farm family that ate the food they grew. The man feasted on my father while I struggled to relax my fists, and then my dad wished him a good day. I knew he meant it. He wanted no one to suffer, including those who caused suffering.
Like Vincent Van Gough, my father never thought of himself as special. Van Gogh once wrote in a letter to his brother that his mission in life was to show the world what the world looks like through the eyes of an ordinary person. My dad’s habitual response to being praised was humble. “All glory to God,” he would say. He didn’t wish to be glorified, like I’m doing now. He taught his two sons a simple lesson about comportment. We were to live a life of value to family and community and make no big deal about it. I continued to hear stories of his generosity long after he died, stories he never told me.
Dan Hicks wrote a song called, “How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away?” I don’t miss my father because he won’t go away; he’s always with me. He saw my missteps and never abandoned me. Whenever I pass his compassion forward, I want to say, “Glory to Glenn.” Dad was a high school drop-out who co-founded two social service organizations and helped a segregated Black community convert a neighborhood school building into a community center. What is so remarkable to me about those actions was that they were no big deal to him. He simply wanted to do those things and wanted them to be a big deal only to people who benefited from the services. I know because I lived with him. His orientation to life was my inspiration to become a social worker.
To you, my gentle father, may you forever rest in the peace you’ve given me and many others. May all who knew your kindness and compassion keep passing it along. And to all who missed out on having a nurturing father, may you find the love and respect you deserve. We are one big family, and everyone belongs.