Men Who Helped Shape Our Lives

Francis Bowman JC Bowman

My dad would have been 87 today. Strange how dates become milestones. They say memories fade. Some should never fade. Over time I have learned to reflect on the good in people. My dad and I had a tough relationship, to say the least, but one thing I know because of him I literally have no fear of facing tough situations in life or difficulties. He was a self-made, often stubborn man, who died too soon. That stubborn trait was passed on to his sons. I fear no challenge in life, not even death itself, because I watched my dad take on life’s difficulties with a laugh. Here is to the men who helped shape our lives, imperfect as they may be, may we always remember them and be grateful for their influence. Thank you, Francis Bowman, Happy Birthday in heaven. —- JC Bowman

Christmas Memories


My dad was not a man of grace and refinement. He was, and I can correctly describe him this way, a bona fide tough man. I can only recall seeing him cry twice. Once when his mother died, and once when I told him I had joined the Marine Corps. He was also never afraid to share his opinion on the issues of the day that interested him.

I have written stories of my dad, as witnessed through my eyes, numerous times. Most versions are probably incomplete, but it was my perspective at that time in my life. That perception was based on my age, my knowledge at the time, and my interaction.

When someone moves out of your life, either through relocation, separation, divorce, or even death, we tend to leave that person frozen in time in our minds. For example, as a former teacher, when I interact with former students, they still come up to me and call me “Coach” or Mr. Bowman. I think back on them as they were, but now see them as they are. The challenge we have as we get older is to let our perceptions change as we often reflect on the people and the times that shaped us without complete information.

Growing up we embraced the concept of Santa Claus, yet we kept our focus that the season was about a miracle in the birth of Jesus Christ. My dad and several of his brothers had played the role of Santa Claus in holiday festivities. My Uncle Ed played Santa Claus for the city of Baltimore. My dad donned the suit for the United States Navy at an orphanage in Korea. A little girl asked Santa for a Daddy. It impacted my dad to such an extent that he never played Santa Claus again.

One Christmas, my dad decided we would be that one family in the neighborhood who had all of the holiday lights on their house. While not to Clark Griswold’s level in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, it was not far from it. We lit up the neighborhood. Other neighbors also joined in with decorations that year.  As my dad looked at his handiwork with the Christmas lights, he noticed the gap in the huge window in the front of our house.

My dad disappeared into our utility room and retrieved some lumber.  On our carport in the cold, he started measuring, cutting and crafting something. What was it going to be? My brother and I were not certain. He painted the ends, then wrapped it in thick aluminum foil, to which he wired lights to it. He had made a perfect cross. My dad had built a giant wooden cross. The amazing thing was we were not a particularly religious family, yet he wanted an illuminated cross to shine through the darkness for all to see. It was at the center of our house. The message was not lost to me.

At Christmas, we reflect on a baby in a manager. It is the picture in our minds of a simple manger, a feeding trough out of which livestock would consume food from that the Savior of the World rested in as a newborn baby. It is an amazing story to consider. From the meekest of women, in one of the most unassuming of small towns, in modest accommodations, Jesus Christ was born. In fact, he was laid to rest each night in the most self-effacing of cradles. However, we are reminded it was His death, not just His birth that truly changed the world. That was why my dad focused on the Cross as a proclamation of our faith.

While the faith aspect of the holiday is often lost on many people, it is the central part. We should take the time and discuss the importance of faith in their lives, and share stories and traditions with their family and friends, lest the stories are lost. Yes, as children we still expected a white-bearded man to show up with gifts between Christmas Eve and Christmas morning and bring prizes as rewards for our good behavior.

From that Christmas on, at least in my house, we started placing a greater emphasis on things that were more important and had a more significant eternal value. I had discovered that my dad, unbeknownst to us, had also been purchasing hams for people every Christmas—People who had influenced him or who he knew had no money or were less fortunate. He did that in secret. The only reason my brother and I knew that fact was that he sought our help when he was no longer physically able to do the task himself.

My perception of my dad was often skewed by personal battles between us, but of this I am certain—my dad understood Christmas and celebrated its true meaning. In his own way, he sought to spread cheer to his family, friends, and neighbors. Even for non-believers, the core elements of Christmas — being good, spreading love, and kindness, as well as giving selflessly to others, are traits worth imitating. It is something we must pass on to the next generation.  I learned those values as a child growing up here in Tennessee. I would never trade that memory of a Christmas Cross.

Merry Christmas to All. And God Bless Us, Everyone. 

JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.

My Father’s Son


I drew back my fist and tried to defend my mother after my dad had struck her numerous times.  I don’t remember my exact age, but I was around 4 years of age.  It is etched forever in my mind and fuels my abhorrence of injustice and deep respect of women. Sometimes I close my eyes and it is as if I am there again.

In high school, it was endless cycle of verbal battles—and I could give much better than I would take. My dad, Francis Bowman, was a tough man. He was the 11th of 12 children of a moderately successful, yet well-respected father, who himself died way too early.  It was hard for me to love him, yet other people told me stories of his constant charity and gregarious nature.  He had a determined work ethic, often working two jobs, and he taught me to never expect to be handed anything in life.  Certainly nothing would be handed to me under his roof.  When I was 17 it escalated and he finally slapped me.  I wanted to hit back at him, but somehow, I knew better.  I yelled the words that I thought would hurt him the most: “I hate you.”  And at that moment in my life, I did.

Hate is a motivating emotion.  Fear, anger, and hatred are all painstakingly linked together.  Much like love, all of them can serve to influence our behavior. My father had served his country during the Korean War in the United States Navy.  So, after high school, I needed to show him that I was much tougher than him and I joined the United States Marines.  I didn’t even bother to tell him until just a few days before I left for boot camp.  It was the only time I ever recall seeing him cry.

It is an ancient ritual of fathers and their children.  The child yearning to grow into adulthood, and a father’s tough love.  Mothers can be demanding, but they have that nurturing and caring side that escapes most men. Fathers try to instill discipline in order to help their children succeed in a heartless, often uncaring, world.

When you become a father, you are reminded by memory and experience or from others and those lessons you pass along to your own children.  The ritual of fatherhood continues.  You will hear the words of hate spewed back at you, and it hurts.  The emotional pain hurts more than any physical pain.  At that moment you realize the hurt you caused your own father.  It is then you start the healing process.

The Christmas before he passed away, my dad asked me to come see him.  He handed me a wad of cash, and a newspaper with the price of hams circled.  He then handed me a list of names and some addresses.  He wanted me to deliver, in secret, hams to all those addresses, including many people I had never met.  I had discovered he had been doing this much of his life for the underprivileged.  I also learned from my Uncle that he had played Santa Claus at orphanages in South Korea while he was in the Navy.  He said he would never play that role again, and he didn’t, because one little girl had asked him for a father.  I started to understand him better.

My mother called me on that October day in 1991.  You need to come home, your father is dying.  I had heard that before.  More to please her than to satisfy him, I went home.  He was dying.  But it would be a magnificent death.  For once all was clear, pain seemingly gone.  For just a few days he was able to apologize for all the wrongs he had committed or felt he had committed.  Words were said that needed to be spoken, and a message was given that needed to be heard.  He held nothing back, sharing a lifetime full of words in a few hours.  His remorse was heartfelt and restorative.

Sitting there watching my father pass into his eternal reward, based on his Christian faith, I reflected on the broken man who raised me.  It was years later when I was truly able to forgive.  I don’t condone many of his actions, but I was able to move past them.  I learned that I am much like my father in many ways.  A strength, a toughness that is entrenched into my being that I inherited.  I remember among his last words: “Life really is simple, we just complicate it. If I had to do it over again I would focus more on those things that are important, like faith and family.”  I am my father’s son.


JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.  Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter at @jcbowman or his Blog at