The lessons of a father!

Published by The Delaware County Daily Times

The Daily Newspaper of Delaware County (PA)           

Thursday, April 22, 2021

By Joseph Batory, Times Columnist

My father died in 1980 without ever knowing that his son would become a Superintendent of Schools. I am sure that the very idea would have delighted him, but he never got to see it happen.

Early in 1984, I was the newly appointed and at the time, the youngest Superintendent of Schools ever in Upper Darby.  My chief assets for this new position were the wisdom and influence which came directly from my dad. Indeed, these values and ideals became my tools for work.

Ben was a very private man. By America’s superficial materialistic standards, he was not too successful.  He started as a maintenance man and pipe fitter at the General Electric factory in our Southwest Philadelphia neighborhood and ended up in the same position 35 years later. But he never missed even one day of work in all those years.

Ben was not highly paid for his work. In terms of worldly possessions, our family never had much. Nevertheless, I received some real riches from my father. At night, he was usually dog tired and went to bed early. But every morning, he would rise at 5:30 AM and brew coffee and cook whatever was in the house for breakfast. I would smell the coffee on schedule, wake up, and wander down to the kitchen to be alone with my dad before he went to work, and I was off to school.

And did we ever talk. During those early morning hours, my dad was no longer that simple GE worker. For he had the strange ability each morning to mutate into some wonderful combination that was partially a brilliant professor, a sermonizing priest, a perceptive news analyst, and an all-wise Supreme Court Justice.

Those mornings were super special times when a father and his son were remarkably close.  Incredibly, we would hold philosophic conversations about the rightness and wrongness of things, about decency, about honesty, about courage, about caring for people less fortunate, and about trying to improve the world in which we lived.

Like some learned guru, my blue-collar father highlighted principled behavior with examples he picked out from current events, politics, sports, and things that happened at work or in the neighborhood.

So, there we were!  The maintenance man in Southwest Philadelphia who had transformed himself into an all-knowing philosopher… clarifying, moralizing, and giving meaning to life like some great sage. He may not have been Aristotle, Socrates, Gandhi, or Confucius, but he was kindred spirit with them, supplying philosophical wisdom to a willing pupil, his son.

When my father died, he left behind no lucrative will to change the life of his wife and five children. But he bequeathed to me an invaluable legacy. For what is the price of the altruism, thoughtfulness, morality, and ethical conduct my father instilled in me?

Here are the most important ideas of this prophet, my father:  

  • You stand up for principle regardless of the consequences.
  • You do your homework; Then you speak out for what is right.
  •  Always laugh at yourself, and people will laugh with you, not at you.
  •  Integrity is like virginity; Lose it and it is gone forever.
  •  Prioritize concern for the less fortunate; Underdogs need a voice.
  • Power corrupts; Your soul is not for sale to the rich and famous.
  • It is OK to be afraid; That’s what true courage is all about.
  • Always fight for what is what is morally correct.

Indeed, these “lessons of a father” became the guideposts of my life!


Joseph Batory was the Superintendent of Schools in Upper Darby from 1984 to 1999. This article is adapted from the first book of his autobiographical trilogy (Yo! Joey! — Published by Scarecrow Education, Rowman and Littlefield, Lanham, MD and Oxford, UK, 2002).

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