Fathers sometimes just do what they must…

June 19, 2011

It’s not easy being a father.

When I was ten my father lost his job. He was fired. He quit. It was a misunderstanding and he was offered his job back after being let go. I don’t really know what the truth was.

But I do know he worked hard to support his family.

The job he lost was that of a news photographer at a small daily newspaper. It was certainly a job well below his journalistic skill level and experience, but that was of his own making.

I guess he had taken the job with the idea that he might go into business for himself as a private studio photographer.

A studio photographer in town offered him a deal in which he would set up shop in that man’s studio and do what was called commercial photography. My dad spent many hours building his own office in the large back room of that man’s building, which was as big as a small warehouse. He constructed a frame and installed insulation and nailed up drywall.

I think maybe he neglected to do any market study and soon found out there really was no market for commercial photography in that area. A businessman my dad was not.

He worked for a time at another newspaper in another town, having to stay in a ratty hotel while the rest of the family stayed put. But that job did not work out. He was in the employ of one of the most notoriously bad newspaper chains for working conditions.

He tried work as a traveling salesman for a time, but, as far as I know, made no sales.

And then he finally got a job as an editor for a small weekly newspaper in another town.

We moved there. He toughed it out for three years working for an ill-tempered owner.

Quite by chance, on a trip to another town, which he liked, he walked into a newspaper office and inquired as to whether they needed anyone and they did. They hired him as a reporter for their six-day per week newspaper. Eventually he became the managing editor.

There’s really more to this story. My dad worked at quite a few jobs, mostly newspapers, big and small, and for the Associated Press news wire service. But as far as I can gather, for one reason or another he was not satisfied with any of them. And he may have quit some or have been fired. But he always found other work and supported his family.

We always had a roof over our heads and never came close to missing a meal. And we went on vacations, and I don’t recall actually wanting for anything.

And to some limited degree I, a father myself, I have lived his life, having worked in the past in journalism and not being happy with it much of the time, and working at other jobs and not always being happy with them, but knowing I had a family to support. And, yes, I quit a few along the way.

Henry David Thoreau wrote:  Most “men lead lives of quiet desperation…”

Happy Father’s Day!


Okay, for those who know me, maybe I wasn’t always so quiet.

P.s. P.s.

And of course this is not really limited to male parents, but this was for Father’s Day and maybe harkens back to the time of my childhood when the burden of breadwinning usually fell near totally on the father.

East to Eden to a Father’s Day memory…

June 20, 2010

He was dressed in high-laced working boots, khaki trousers, a wool shirt, suspenders, and a felt hat with the brim turned slightly up in front and back.

That was my father, ready to take my middle brother and I on a hiking trip into the Kern Wilderness area of California, just east of the High Sierras.

This was in the early 1960s. I don’t know where he got the idea for that get up, but I suppose it was his idea of how you dressed in the woods. He often told of the summer he spent as a youth working in a logging camp as a smoke chaser, making sure conditions were safe from fires. The loggers at that time, at least where he was, were still using hand-powered cross cut saws and axes.

Dad was already in his late 50s when he took us on this trip. As I recall, I was 12 and going through a pudgy time of my life and not quite in shape for the hike, and that would have made my brother 16 — he was in much better shape.

And my father must have been in fairly good shape, even though he had a rather sedentary job at the time as a newspaper editor.

We spent the first day hiking up a steep mountain side on a switch back trail. This was not a bit easy for me, and I am sure I complained much. My father was patient about this.

We made camp at the end of the day, and after dinner, cooked by dad on an open fire, he hoisted our food supply up into a tree in a canvas bag to keep it safe from bears.

As I recall, the three of us slept in two sleeping bags zipped together on the hard ground.

In the middle of that night I heard a commotion and I heard my dad yell something. But I went back to sleep without knowing what was going on. Come morning I found out that a small bear had got into camp and dad chucked a rock at him.

I‘m not sure that was such a good idea. But we all survived and our food stayed secure.

Next we climbed up an even steeper trail to what is called Franklin Pass. I really had a tough time with this. Dad patiently waited while I rested. My brother went on ahead.

But eventually we were all at the top where there is a notch in the high range, Franklin Pass. Via a camera with a self-timer, dad made a photo of the three of us with a sign in the background. I think it read that we were at 11,000 and some feet above sea level.

We spent the next day or so hiking down the other side and through a semi-dry, but forested Rattlesnake Canyon.

I remember when at one point after we had made camp, nature called. There were no flush toilets and not even outhouses out there. I went some distance from camp to take care of business. With that done I walked the wrong way back. I eventually found myself at a point that looked at lot like the terrain we had been in earlier in the day. I was lost and terrified. In not too long a time I saw my dad standing on a rock yelling back at me. Thanks dad.

Eventually we came to what is a shear drop-off into the Kern River Canyon. Below we saw the magnificent stream lined with a verdant jungle.

Once we made camp down there, dad had us gather the abundant dry leaves and we made a much more comfortable bed for us all.

Each day we got up early and my brother and I would fish in one spot and dad would go off to another and fish by himself.

The water was crystal clear, and you could see the trout swimming around.

I was using salmon eggs for bait, and at one point I saw a good-sized trout, and to get his attention, I let the egg bounce on his head. The fish snapped it up. I caught the biggest fish of the trip. We all caught a lot of fish down there.

Dad cooked fish in a frying pan every night and fixed pancakes every morning.

One day dad was lying down prone at stream side with his hands cupped to drink some cold stream water. I noticed a small rattlesnake slithering next to his leg. I told him. He said, no it was just a lizard. He had seen one before he got down. But he did stay still until it passed. As it turned out it was a rattlesnake after all. I save dad.

We all enjoyed the trip immensely. But toward the end of our time there, my brother and I got lonesome for the comforts of home — to include candy bars and Coca-Cola as I recall, not to mention our own beds.

No offense mom, but dad did not want to leave. He loved it there. I think one of the reasons he liked it so much was that at the time he had a distasteful job, putting out a small weekly newspaper for an ill-tempered publisher.

But another reason was the place with its dense growth of trees and ferns and its beautiful and fish-filled stream was like a Garden of Eden.

I think this was the happiest I ever saw dad in my life.

And I know my brother enjoyed the trip.

As for me, it was difficult at times, but I think it may have been what led me to start trimming down and to be in somewhat better physical shape.

And for my brother and I it is a good Father’s Day memory.

No Father’s Day breakfast for dad, instead a new beginning…

June 22, 2009

My eldest daughter was supposed to take me out to breakfast on Father’s Day.

She didn’t. She became a little busy.

Instead she presented us all with a brand new baby boy. That makes grandchild no. 3.

She and her family live not quite three hours to the south of us. The baby was supposed to be born at a hospital near home but when a child arrives three weeks early, plans are thwarted.

My daughter was visiting her parents when she realized it was time. And why does it so often become time at four in the morning? I was still saying, what? huh? now? when wife and daughter left for the hospital. I followed soon after, though.

Actually, she had been informed the baby would be early – she just didn’t think that early.

There’s something about pregnant women that seems to put them on the move shortly before birth.

Maybe it all started with Mary, mother of Jesus of Nazareth. Did she not take an arduous journey to Bethlehem and on the back of a donkey which resulted in her giving birth? And she had no hospital, not even any room at the inn.

My own mother recalled that she had taken car trips before the birth of at least two of her children and a long walk before the birth of another.

The new grandson was born the afternoon of Father’s Day and at last report mother and baby were doing fine. My wife has been pulling long hours of duty helping daughter both at her home and now at the hospital. The new procedure is that the baby stays in the room with the mother – no nursery. Meanwhile, I’m doing what I usually do, blog.

But I did see the new human two times today. Cute as a button as they say.

And if you are not moved by the miracle of birth and the thought of the need to work for a better world in your own way at such a sight, then something is missing.

Looking back at my father and his strange ways and seeing myself…

June 21, 2009

I wanted to write something inspiring or respectful or even nostalgic for Father’s Day, but the only thing that comes immediately to mind is that I am thankful I had one and one who took his duty as a father seriously. I know a lot of people are not so fortunate.

Fathers can provide wisdom. I know mine did. He gave me all kinds of excellent advice. And I followed very little of it and wished that I had.

I’ve spent a large part of my life trying to figure the man out. He was such a puzzle to me and seemed to have strange ways at times and often seemed to be out of place or out of sync with society. Some people would think one way and some the other and then Dad would think a third way.

He was generally gentle with his criticism. While he was a good home carpenter, once I built something and he said: “well I’ve never seen it done that way before”.

Dad was a newspaperman and as such used the telephone extensively as part of his work – and that is about all the use he had for the infernal machine. He had some strange dislike or phobia for it otherwise. He did not believe in telephone conversations outside work, except for short messages (but Twitter would have seemed a waste of time to him, I’m sure — I have to think he would have thought this era of instant communication to be a terrible mis-use of communication). He had a habit of hanging up with no warning – not so much as a goodbye (actually Mom used to do that too, but seems to not do that so much nowadays).

About being religious, Dad was consistent – he wasn’t.

When the hospice lady asked him what his religious preference was for his funeral he said: I’ve resisted religion this long. I’m not going to start now (that’s okay, my oldest brother supplied the religious aspect for the funeral — you really can’t control your own funeral and he would not have objected anyway). A little secret, though, he once confided in me that he like most humans pondered over whether there is a God and what might come after life and said that he really could not say.

And I will say this: I have known or seen a lot of people in my life who greatly professed their belief in the almighty and the tenets of the good book and by their actions it was obvious that they neither believed nor followed the path of righteousness.

Dad did not need a book to convince himself to treat others as he would want to be treated or to generally follow the rules of life laid down in the scriptures.

And yet he always taught me to be respectful of the religion of others.

Dad did not push his belief or non-belief on others, even in his family, at least far as I know.

I did follow his attitude for much of my life, but have struggled for some time, you know, especially since I was diagnosed with cancer – but even well before that.

There was dignity in Dad’s demeanor, but little pretense. He was a country boy. He was the first in his country neighborhood to go to high school. He eventually went on to college and earned a masters degree in political science.

In my puzzlement over my Dad, I often wondered whether he had not suffered some terrible disappointment or disillusionment in his life. Maybe it was the fact that while he obtained his masters he never ended up making the most of it, at least in a monetary way.

But Dad was a man who may have worried about money but had no use for the stuff by itself. He liked life. He loved the outdoors, but had no need or desire for the expensive toys so many seem to consider necessary today. He loved to work at home carpentry projects. He watched very little television. He had a sense of humor, but it was often hard to detect. Things that seemed funny to most people, often did not to him.

He was not perfect, but he was a perfectionist. He could not shortchange any task he did. It was not in him.

There are so many things I don’t know about Dad. But I think I do know one thing. He had no sense whatsoever of business (not that I do). I can’t picture him gaining advantage over someone else, coming out on the better side of the deal. I think he would have felt ashamed to do so.

But he was fair and good and respectful of other people.

Perhaps too late in life, I have tried to adopt some of his better attributes and take some of his advice.

And maybe one of the things that bugs me more than anything is that as much as some of the ways of my father gave me fits, I see so much of myself in my memories of him.

I also have to admit that I am more fortunate than he was.

I had a father to raise me. He did not (although an uncle substituted to some extent). His father left home when he was but a young child under what after all these years are either unknown or forgotten circumstances.

And as I said to begin with, I know I am fortunate to have had a father to raise me.