StoryCorps
9:16 am
Fri June 6, 2014

From Father To Son, Life Lessons Passed Down Through Generations

Originally published on Fri June 6, 2014 11:09 am

Melford Williams, a World War II veteran and tribal leader with the Caddo Nation, raised eight kids during the 1950s and '60s. He died in 1978, and his grandson, Kiamichi-tet Williams, never got a chance to meet him.

On a visit to StoryCorps in Denver, Kiamichi-tet asked his dad, Thompson Williams, about his grandfather.

"He wasn't the biggest guy, but people reacted to him like he was [a] giant," Thompson says. His father was a kindhearted man who wasn't afraid to cry, Thompson says.

"When I was young, I came home one day and I said, 'Dad, I was told men don't cry.' He looked at me and he said, 'Son, that's a lie. If you don't cry, you don't get rid of that poison that's in your body, that hurt, that pain. That's the only way you can truly be strong.'

"That was one of the most powerful things that I've learned from him," Thompson says.

Thompson recalls another powerful lesson he learned from his father at a young age: the importance of kindness.

When he was in grade school, Thompson says, he knew a child with intellectual disabilities. "One day, there was a bunch of us and we started throwing bottle caps at him," Thompson says.

"I picked one up and threw it — it smacked him in the head. I turned around and my dad was standing there. And I thought, 'Oops, I'm really in trouble now.' But he looked at me, tears in his eyes, and he said, 'Maybe I didn't teach you how to look after others. That's my fault.'

"You know, he could've stabbed me in the heart and it wouldn't have hurt as much. I don't know, maybe that's why I became a special ed teacher," says Thompson, who is now the coordinator of Indian education for Jefferson County in Colorado. "He had a lot of lessons that I hold onto to this day."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Jud Esty-Kendall.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Friday means StoryCorps - traveling the country recording conversations between loved ones. Kiamichi-tet Williams recently spoke with his dad, Thompson Williams. He wanted to know more about his grandfather, Melford - a World War II veteran and Native American tribal leader with the Caddo Nation, who raised eight children during the 1950s and '60s.

K. WILLIAMS: I actually never met your dad - my grandfather. What was he like?

T. WILLIAMS: He wasn't the biggest guy but people reacted to him like he was a giant. He could swear with the best of them. It sounded like music but he never used it to be angry with somebody. I remember my mom telling, your dad tried to spank you once and he cried instead. He had a kind heart and I remember in grade school there was a little kid, he was mentally retarded and one day there was a bunch of us and we started throwing bottle caps at him. I picked one up and threw it and it smacked him in the head. I turned around and my dad was standing there. And I thought, oops, I'm really in trouble now. But he looked at me, tears in his eyes, and said maybe I didn't teach you how to look after others. That's my fault. You know, he could have stabbed me in the heart and it wouldn't have hurt as much. I don't know, maybe that's why I became a special-ed teacher. He had a lot of lessons that I hold onto to this day. When I was young, I came home one day and I said, Dad, I was told that men don't cry. He looked at me and he said, son, that's a lie. If you don't cry, you don't get rid of that poison that's in your body, that hurt, that pain. That's the only way you can truly be strong. That was one of the most powerful things I have learned from him. And that's how I'll always remember him. The way I would want to be remembered - as a good man.

GREENE: That's Thompson Williams with his son, Kiamichi-tet, in Denver, Colorado. Thompson is now the coordinator of Indian education for Jefferson County - the largest school district in Colorado. Like all StoryCorp interviews, their conversation will be archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress and you can hear more of Thompson's interview at npr.org and also on the StoryCorp podcast on iTunes. This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.