When I was a kid, I thought my father was an important man — and that made me feel really good.
I spent a lot of time in his various offices over the years — in Birmingham; Atlanta, Washington, D.C.; Knoxville, Tenn. and Meridian, Miss. — while he worked for Southern Railway. I liked to go to the office with him at night, on weekends, on holidays. And every time the railroad promoted him, we were transferred to a new city. In his last job before he left Southern, he was a division superintendent for the Safety Department.
He did a lot of training throughout his division. He had a lot of meetings. When there were derailments on his division, he had to go to the site to supervise the safety procedures of the clean-up, which meant he was sometimes away from home for weeks. I saw people at the office treat him with respect and take his instructions.
For a little boy, all of this seemed really important. I was proud of him. I used to like to look at his business card — back when most men in business still used initials — and think that I would one day have a business card of some sort that said “D.M. McElroy.” (As I grew older and learned to dislike initials, I rejected this idea. I’ve always just been David — and never “Dave” under any circumstances.)
About the time he and my mother divorced, everything changed about his work. I never again had the child-like belief that he was important, but I never got over wanting him to be someone I could be proud of.