Remembering Dad

It’s oft been said that nothing ever dies on the Internet. That’s why I immortalized my late Mom in my Mother’s Day blog and now do the same for my late Dad in this Father’s Day posting… as follows…

One of my earliest childhood memories involves my waking up in my crib at night… seeing the streetlight’s steady, pale glow on the bedroom wall… listening to the steady rainfall on the roof above me… all that interspersed with frequent flashes of lightning and crashes of thunder.

The reason I had not felt fearful and cried was because I could also hear my Dad snoring… and just knowing he was still nearby had allayed my fears and lulled me back to sleep.

From that point forward I grew to better understand my father. Dad had parlayed his multiple college degrees (the sciences, math and education) into a distinguished, four decades long, teaching career in the public schools of his native Minnesota and in Michigan. He was multilingual (speaking Latin, German and several Slavic tongues). And this consummate educator’s devotion to all things intellectual hadn’t ended when the final school bell of the day had rung.

His lesson plans for Sis and me focused on a rock-solid preschool experience inclusive of educational toys, mathematical flashcards, children’s literature, etc. And he kept on supplying us with other knowledge-enriching materials from K – 12 and throughout our college years.

Countless hours of quality family time / recreation involved us gathering around our piano to play our duets and solo pieces. We’d also sit at our dining room table to play Scrabble and card games like 500 Rummy and Cribbage.

I also fondly remember Dad teaching me how to ride my bike, pitch a baseball and fly a kite. I would’ve likely given up trying had he not shown me how a kite’s “tail” (not provided in the kit) is what actually stabilizes it. He also showed me the fine art of hammering nails when we teamed up to build a doghouse and picket fence.

He also stood in my corner to figuratively nail school bullies… bring them to the attention of the school principal who had the power to do something to end my sorrow… but did nothing. So, that task was left up to my Dad, who actually had to verbally confront our newspaper delivery boy, no less… order him to stop teasing me or else we’d cancel our subscription. Shortly after that, that tyrant quit his paper route. Well, at least, momentarily, that kid did suffer a financial setback.

Dad’s Christmas 1963 gift to me was a Lionel electric train set. For the Christmases to follow he bought more trains and related paraphernalia. Eventually, I wound up with the best possible track layout (multiple routes, featuring a triple looping spiral, trestles, 45 degree crossings, switches, lights, accessories and, eventually, the ability to run two trains at the same time). Doubtlessly, Dad and I wiring up all the necessary circuitry to make everything run properly is what had later spurred my interest in Electrical Engineering.

Of course to help pay for everything, Dad had to supplement his meager earnings by coaching his school’s sports teams, running the football scoreboard and being the basketball scorekeeper/ public address announcer. He also served as the school newspaper’s advisor and wrote a weekly science column for our hometown’s weekly edition.

He covered the school sports beat for a much larger publication, too. He once told me how, while apologizing to the sports desk staffer (for being late in phoning in his story), he had casually mentioned the reason… his inability to use the phone due to a police investigation of a breaking and entering at the school.

The sports desk immediately transferred his call over to the main news desk so he could report the known particulars. Well, for his news exclusive my father got to see his byline in print and his name filled in on the “pay to the order of” line of a bigger paycheck.

Dad had become aware of how his nation’s international dealings could localize problems for him. During WW-II he had made the tragic mistake of publically speaking with an acquaintance… in German. Someone reported them both as suspected Nazis, but after a brief interrogation, Dad and his friend were cleared and freed.

Dad also made me the Democrat I am today, too. He had high praise for all the good things President John F. Kennedy had been doing to end discrimination and poverty… as well as for his lofty plans to actually send a man to the moon! Of course, on Friday, November 22, 1963, there we were, our family of four sitting together with the rest of America / the free world… in deep mourning over the tragic loss of our assassinated leader… watching JFK’s dreams for a better global society get buried with him.

With the arrival of the mid-sixties, teachers had no sooner won the right to bargain collectively for a living wage and better working conditions, when they discovered negotiating toward that end was easier said than done. Prior to meeting with their school board, Dad and his colleagues would meet, sitting right at our family’s dining room table.

I was allowed to observe and I became privy to how unions work… and how the school board would not work with them… flat-out refused to bargain in good faith. Long story short, after their six-day strike, complete with picket lines, the teachers wound up winning most of what they had hoped to gain. However, one of the teachers’ concessions was that they promised to never discuss this union / management dispute with their students. Hmmm… what ever happened to free speech in America?

Well, true to his educator roots, Dad had made use of this labor / management dispute to privately tutor me… to make me aware how unionization and fighting for a living wage is essential. He also taught me to never, ever cross picket lines… for any reason… and, over the years, I have had several occasions where I’ve fully respected / honored striking workers.

Well, once that strike was history, our family dinner table once more became the place where we’d sit down to consume Dad’s “to die for” hamburgers. They were heavily seasoned with black pepper, smothered in browned onion rings, and slathered with mustard and dill pickle slices… everything piled high between lightly toasted buns.

That, too, was the same table where Dad and I would spend many a hot, muggy summer evening, talking about life while listening to Ernie Harwell’s play by play of Detroit Tiger baseball games on our radio tuned to WJR 760 AM. I can still remember the subtle fizzing sounds of my can of cold cola as well as the June beetles pinging away at the screen door… and later on in the season… the chirping sounds of thousands of crickets while we waited for our team to get those base hits and home runs.

The 1968 season was the first time, in then recent history, where our Tigers had made it to the very top… thanks to a great team effort, inclusive of two pitching aces, the regular season, 31 game winner Denny McClain and the three World Series game victories turned in by Mickey Lolich.

Time wise, it was a couple of years “down the road” when Dad had taught me how to safely drive a car… briefed me on the finer points not always mentioned by my driver-ed textbook. After I had earned my learner’s permit, he had, somehow, managed to summon up the courage to sit in the front passenger seat sans wearing a crash helmet. But, the hours I spent behind the wheel, with him at my side, made it all possible for me to ace my road test and get my full driver’s license on the first try.

Within the next five years, I got to twice see the pride on Dad’s face on both my High School and College graduation days… in spite of my opting for a more creative than analytical career path. He had been correct to warn me that radio / TV broadcasting jobs were hard to get… as I would soon find out while doing my 30 years worth of hard time in my Retail Hell prison.

Even when I’d sit at our family dinner table griping about a few of my unreasonable bosses (how they were making my life miserable while I was slaving away in their nonunion sweatshops), Dad was there to commiserate / share his own sad stories of his own pre-union days. Some of his strategies, e.g., always turning in top quality work, in spite of the bad work environment, could and did work towards my getting some respect from my managers.

Well, not too long after that, my Dad’s health began to fail. What could be worse than that? Well… the fact that he had done it to himself. He had wrecked his lungs with tobacco and overeaten himself into obesity… his cancers, hypertension, heart / lung disease and diabetes all conspiring to send him, at age 75, to an early grave.

But… even in death… my Dad had remained true to his deep, educator roots. He had taught me the invaluable lesson to never make the same poor lifestyle choices he had made. And I have steadfastly opted in to healthier living. So… will any of that pay off? Will I live past my Dad’s 75 year mark? Well… I guess I’ll find out 13 years from now.

Are there any regrets on my part? Well… as is typical of most males… there are some magic words, which fathers and sons never seem to say to each other often enough. Ergo, my advice to all of the sons and daughters, who may be reading my words… after you say, “Happy Father’s Day”, today, be sure to follow that up with your heartfelt…

“I love you, Dad!”