Sunday, June 17, 2018

"When I See a Broom ...": About Fathers and Integrity

"When I see a Broom, I see integrity."

My father and I were in an antique store in the tiny town of Kinmundy in southern Illinois, about four or five miles north of the farm, just east of (the even tinier town of) Alma, where Dad had been born. It was the fall of 1999. I had traveled back east to visit my dad and to attend a family reunion of his six brothers and one sister.

Grandpa Broom was a fruit farmer. Word is that he had a sixth-grade education. When he became a young man, he went off to Chicago to attend telegraphy school, after which he got a job as a telegrapher for the Illinois Central Railroad. Later, he became a station agent. He met my grandmother in Kinmundy, then he took a job as station agent in Alma after they were married. 

Grandpa and Grandma Broom--John and Nellie--with their oldest child in 1909.

Grandpa's father-in-law, A. V. Schermerhorn, had been a fruit farmer and active in the Illinois Farmers' Institute, serving as president in 1905-06. It was no doubt due to his influence that Grandpa Broom, while working for the railroad, bought his first piece of property and planted his first orchard. 

Great-Grandpa and Grandma Schermerhorn at their farm east of Kinmundy, about 1893.

After ten years, Grandpa and Grandma bought a farm--the "Homeplace," as it was only ever known in the family--and the family moved from town out there. The property had existing orchards: pears, peaches and apples. Grandpa quit his job with the railroad shortly before my dad was born in 1925, and for the next twenty years, he continued to acquire property in the area.

The John and Nellie Broom family, about 1937. My dad is in overalls standing in the center of the front row. 

Eventually, Grandpa's fruit harvest became so large that, in addition to seasonal workers who came through every year, Grandpa hired local boys and men to help bring in the peach crop. On that day in 1999 in that antique store in Kinmundy, we ran into a local man who had been one of those boys. I can't recall now how the conversation was struck up, but when the man learned who my dad was, he immediately started talking about his memories of working for Grandpa during the peach harvest. 

Sorting peaches in my grandfather's packing shed during harvest.

"I thought a lot of your dad," the man said to my dad. He looked away for a moment, as if in thought, then added, "Of course, I knew your brother Walt. Fine man. And your brother, Ernie, too. Also a fine man."

It was then that he added an additional thought which I will always remember. "You know ..." the man said, looking toward the street outside and down the corridors of time, "when I see a Broom, I see integrity."

My Great-Grandfather, John Millard Broom

Of course, I was proud at that moment of my heritage. But, in a way, I wasn't surprised to hear this man say that. I had been raised with an ethos that I knew sprang from my grandfather, and from other fathers before him. My dad had been raised to value integrity, to be a man of his word. He had been taught by his father, among other things, that if he ever borrowed something from someone, to always return it in better condition than he had received it. To do quiet acts of kindness, never expecting recognition. That there was a right way and a wrong way to do things, and it was always worth doing things right.

Dad when he was in college at the University of Illinois.

I had heard Dad say these things from my boyhood. Then I saw how my father conducted his oilfield equipment business, and I knew that he had the respect of his customers. Integrity.

Dad holding me, my brothers Danny and Mike looking on.

Me with Grandpa and Grandma Broom

Me with Grandpa.


I've thought a lot, over the last 7-1/2 years since I came out, about what that man said in that antique store in Kinmundy that day almost 20 years ago. The definition of integrity encompasses a number of qualities, but surely one of them is "being true to oneself." For most of my adult life, it can certainly be--and has been--argued, that I wasn't true to myself. That I was living a lie. That I deceived myself and those close to me. 

That's one way of looking at it.

Another way of looking at it is that I was trying, desperately, to be true to what I *thought* I should be. I was trying to live up to, to be true to, an ideal: the Mormon ideal. I tried extremely hard to be a good Mormon, a good husband, a good father, a good provider, a good person. I was true to that ideal to the best of my ability. As for my latent, hidden homosexuality, that was unwanted--a quality that I never thought I could be, nor wanted to be, "true to."

That all changed when I, unexpectedly, came out. Since then, I have gained a whole new perspective on "integrity." Primarily, I have learned that, among its other definitions, integrity means living authentically. True integrity can never spring from desiring to live one's life according to someone else's definition of what that life should be. True integrity must radiate from within, rather than be imposed from without.

And so, on this Father's Day, I have thought about my dad, faults and all. I have thought about my grandfather, about my great-grandfathers. I know, now more than ever, that they weren't perfect men. But I am grateful, now perhaps more than ever, for their legacy, a legacy--enhanced by the events in the last ten years of my life--that I have tried to pass on to my own children.


  1. Dear Joseph, happy Father's Day. You have always been a man of integrity. Like all of us, you have come to know yourself better over time. Thank you for this post.