Today would have been my father’s birthday and I would have called him on the phone to wish him well. He wasn’t a talker. His answers were often grunts or a strange chortle which I could once imitate but not since his death.
My early memories of him were brutal. He could not tolerate weakness. Thus, we were never given the option to quit on any project we started. We didn’t have to be the best but we had to finish. And generally without taking a break. For this reason, many hobbies other people enjoy, such as skiing, ice skating and camping I hate. Illness was also something he attributed to weakness. The only time I remember him going into a hospital was when he dropped a hammer on his big toe and it swelled up so badly he couldn’t put on a pair of shoes which meant no skiing or hunting. As he got older, whenever he said of a medical procedure “that wasn’t so bad” I vowed to never go through that particular procedure while conscious.
Because he was a hunter and hung his dead animals in the garage to bleed out, all three of his kids ended up practically vegetarians. When I refused to eat any animal whose sad eyes had stared out at me, I got slapped and sent to bed hungry. My younger brother and sister managed to choke down the venison and rabbit on their plates but only because they didn’t want the same thing to happen to them.
JFK is the first president I remember and he was young and charismatic but in my house, he was the Anti-Christ. During the Nixon years, one of Dad’s hunting buddies was profiled on the news show Sixty Minutes because as sheriff of a small town in rural Nevada, he locked up black folks and long-haired hippies just for the sin of driving through his town. Dad still went hunting with him. On the other hand, he always treated African Americans, jews, and asian people with respect and worshipped the Native American culture. As I mentioned in a previous post, he often said that when he became a burden to the tribe, he would disappear into the desert just like an Indian warrior.
When I was a young adult my parents split and my father quickly remarried. By that time, my mother had quit the Republican Women’s Club and was veering back towards her working class upbringing. A few years after my father’s remarriage, his new wife threw a sixtieth birthday party for him and called it “Equal Rights for Whites.” Apparently she wanted to air her displeasure that a black man (albeit Martin Luther King Jr) would dare to be born on my father’s birthday. I did not think it was funny. I did not attend.
But, because we were denied a television until I was around fourteen, I have a fair knowledge of classical music and, if given the title of a Broadway song, can tell you what musical it is from and probably sing all the lyrics. That was a great gift from my father. I also obsessively complete tasks ahead of me. I almost never leave something undone.
RIP Carol Channing, my favorite Dolly.
But what I will remember most as I careen towards senility is the time we got lost in a ghetto in downtown Oakland and some homies in a lowrider next to Dad’s car tried to provoke us whiteys with middle fingers and curse words and Dad looked over at the car and said calmly, “those are probably some of my students.” It was a joke. He was the dean of mechanical engineering at the University of Nevada, a primarily all white school at the time. Perhaps I owe my oddball sense of humor to him.
I don’t think I’d want to relive my childhood but he raised us the way he was raised. In fact, I suspect his life was far tougher. Anyway, I’ll miss calling him today.