Here’s my ‘Happy Father’s Day’ to what father I had.
I have no proof who was my actual biological father and otherwise do not know his true identity, so I shall do my best to that man whom I did call ‘Father’, for better and worse.
Both my father’s father and my father’s mother were immigrants from Chernovitz, Ukrainia. They each travelled to the USA on their own as teenagers. They each crossed Europe and took a boat across the Atlantic Ocean. They each entered through Ellis Island, New York. They put themselves through a scarey ordeal not uncommon for their day; millions of others also endured as they.
My father’s father was a house painter. My father’s mother was a nurse.
The father I experienced was born in late-1920s in northern New Jersey. He was the youngest of three children; he had an older brother and an older sister.
They did well until the Republican Great Depression hit them. They lost most everything as did many Americans beginning in the 1930s.
The family got lucky. My grandmother found work for a doctor she identified to me as Dr. Jacobs.
Good people help each other in mutual regard. Dr. Jacobs made an offer; he provided living space for my father’s family. Dr. Jacobs and my grandfather converted their basement into an apartment where my father’s family resided for many years. My grandfather did home maintenance and painting in exchange for rent payments.
My father turned age 18 at the beginning of 1945. The military took him in the draft right from high school, sent him to boot camp, and trained him for his role in the war effort – as cannon fodder in the War in the Pacific of World War II. The military assigned my dad to work tanker supply ships traveling from the Persian Gulf to the Pacific war theater. He was essentially riding a bomb of petroleum, oil, aviation fuel, gasoline, and whatever combustibles existed. Anything loose, any stray spark, any attack would have made his ship explode to bits. Tough work for an 18-years old kid to face.
My father survived his duties during WW2. The military assigned him to serve in the occupation force stationed at Japan. The picture buff that he was, he bought an 8mm movie camera and an SLR camera (back then, the most any family owned was a Kodak ‘Brownie’). My father took pictures of his time and service at Japan. My father was among those GIs to whom the US military awarded ceremonial Japanese swords for their meritorious service during the post-War occupation.
My father returned home from his service to his nation and found civilian life. His brother and he opened a family bar at his hometown in New Jersey. They ran that for a few years.
Then Uncle Sam came calling again – another written invitation to join the Army, this time to see Korea. They did not exactly direct him to the vacation line. Nope, he saw heavy combat action. Soldiers who fight the battles rarely talk of war stories as much as the jerks who got sent to kp duty. I knew nothing of the true details of his service until I found my father’s DD-214 last year; I discovered that the military awarded the Bronze Star to him during his tour of Korea.
The Bronze Star is the third highest military award following the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Silver Star. He did not collect his award slacking off enduring hot water while peeling potatoes; he must have experienced heavy combat and performed feats of heroism to get that Star. He said nothing of it to me. It was his secret that he kept hidden to his private self.
One can only imagine the gawd-awful experiences of war that twice came upon him and surely affected him the rest of his days.
He bought his cameras to take pictures and home movies during his tours of Japan and Korea. He allowed me to open the boxes and look at the picture slides of his military service. There he was at Japan and Korea. He did not answer my questions; I learned to merely look and ask nothing to him.
I presented many events about my dad here at this site following his military service. He returned home to attend college on the Korean War GI Bill program. He took a job as a city police officer.
He and my mother had my sister Kathy; as far as my mother was concerned, Kathy was her ‘one and done’.
My father wanted a male child – probably to continue all the things a father wants of a son. They went to the baby store and got me in 1956. Wasn’t I the find of a lifetime! Meant to be groomed his son – his male heir – instead, this child who sought her family’s love in return for her love, turned out to be his daughter.
By 1958, the family moved west.
My father studied mathematics; eventually an aerospace company hired him as a drafter to design and draw spacecraft. You know, as in prototypes that would later be known as the Space Shuttle. He brought home the company magazines to show me what aircraft he was creating.
Our family eagerly watched all the space launches and splash-downs of the day. My father took me to see a Mercury capsule; that capsule appeared quite small and crampt even from this child’s perspective.
My father attended night university classes and eventually received his teaching certificate. He taught 12th Grade history classes for his first year. One of my chores at home was to help him grade school papers; no, not with the answer key, I had to know his exam papers with the knowledge to grade them on my own – me, a 3rd Grader had to know high school history curricula.
Politics, history, current events – common topics of debate at my home growing up. Allow me to make the point that I read ‘Black Like Me’ and ‘The Jungle’ while my classmates read the Bobsy Twins.
My dad and I watched the NBC ‘Today’ show each morning, we watched Huntley-Brinkley each evening, we watched local news, we read newspapers and news magazines. My father quizzed me throughout my childhood and teen years and into adult years.
As I wrote here, I have clear memories of the days when President John Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, and Senator Bobby Kennedy were assassinated. I recall watching the Beatles perform on the ‘Ed Sullivan Show’. I recall the politics of ‘Laugh In’ and ‘The Smothers Brothers Show’. My dad made audio recordings of ‘Meet the Press’, ‘Issues and Answers’, and ‘Face the Nation’; I listened to those reel-to-reel tapes for many years. I recall the Kent State Massacre. My father debated these subjects with me.
My dad’s college and career advisors told him that history teachers were a dime a dozen, that he could do well as a high school mathematics teacher, and could apply for grants and scholarships to the National Science Foundation to attend annual Summer sessions at a university of his choice.
- (Summer 1967): My dad, Kathy, and I travelled to New Jersey; my dad studied at a college near his family. He took us (Kathy and me) to see historical sites at New York City, New England, and Philadelphia; he bought tickets for Kathy and me to see that now-curious Monkees / Jimi Hendix concert at Forest Hills.
- (Summer 1968): The Idaho State Youth Training Center hired my dad to teach math. He and I resided at a dairy farm near Yellowstone National Park and Teton National Forest; I helpt with the milking and ranching chores; I hiked a 50-miler to the top of the Tetons as a member of the local Boy Scout troop.
- (Summer 1969): Grambling College accepted my dad. We met many of the famous Grambling athletes of that time at the apartment where we resided; we witnessed the Moon landing on grainy black-and-white TV; we got caught in Hurricane Camille; we toured Civil War sites throughout Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Virginia; we toured Washington, D.C.
- (Summer 1970): My dad attended the university at Ashland, Oregon. We caught Pacific salmon from an ocean charter; later that summer, my dad, Slim, and I took the long way home through Washington, British Columbia, Alberta, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, and Nevada.
We did the above driving in and living in a cab-over camper while on the road and at the Idaho dairy farm. Slim enjoyed riding in the camper watching the view from inside and marking his territory along the way during his Summer of 1970.
You know from my earlier posts here that my dad took a two-years contract to teach for an American-international school at Pylaia, Greece (1971 – 1973); Slim was with me as I attended to my 10th Grade and 11th Grade education there. My dad next took a two-years contract to teach at an American-international school at São Paulo, Brasil (1974 – 1976); I stayed home and began my transition in stealth during his absence.
My father obtained a realty licence (1974); he sold and invested in local real estate as a side career and taught me to do the same. A 16-acres parcel was among his first purchase investments. He wanted to build his retirement home there in the mountains west of Bisbee; he died before he could do that. His 16 acres are now mine as part of his estate; maybe his someday will come and I shall build his retirement home for him.
My dad was employed in public school administration during his next years. He later resumed his career as a mathematics teacher (1984 – 1989).
You read of my dust-up between my father and me (November 1985). At one point during the heat, he referred of himself to me as ‘your old man’. I quickly changed that tone. I tore back that I never – NEVER – referred to my father or called my father that derisive phrase. I told him that I always – ALWAYS – called him ‘father’, ‘dad’, or ‘pop’. I respected him despite times when he held no respect toward me. I do not know if my words sunk in, maybe they did; though he had a difficult time calling me Sharon, he called me Nick with respect.
My father developed multi-site cancer that began taking its toll by 1988; he was silent about it during our last Thanksgiving Day dinner that year as I look back. His illness took full bore by April 1989 – once a 6′ 2″ man of 250 pounds of muscle, I saw a dying man while his brother-in-law pushed his crumpled form in his wheelchair at the airport. Those were days before contemporary security; I had a very real opportunity that day to fly with him undetected as a stowaway on his non-stop flight to Newark Airport. He travelled to Sloane-Kettering for treatment where his medical team diagnosed him terminal with six months to live; not even the worst of today’s hardened criminals get that kind of death sentence.
I travelled to New Jersey to be with my dad for his last weeks; I arrived on Father’s Day 1989. I tried talking with him during his finality, but he refused to talk with me; our conversations weren’t much, but I accepted it. I sat in a chair at his bedside, my feet touching his feet in his bed nearly the entire time to give that life force connection to him that I was there for him; I was awake with him, asleep with him, and ate our meals with him. It no longer mattered what was our heated past; I was there with him all the way and forgiving him of everything.
His medications stole his consciousness toward the end of his days as he lingered until mid-July.
- ‘We die alone. The moment in our life that matters most is the moment we die. If you mean something to someone, then you never die.’
My father made his moment as silence to me, he meant something to me. He did not die alone, I was the one at his side those last three weeks of his life – the only one with him on his last day on this good Earth.
I tried claiming my dad’s belongings that he stored at his sister’s home at New Jersey: his personal papers, our photography – his belongings now rightfully mine through his will and estate. She and her husband told me that none of his possessions were there.
My dad’s sister, her husband, my dad’s brother, whoever, wrote his published obituary. What they wrote was not his life but some unrecognisable concoction; I did not know the man they wrote in their notice.
My father’s family denied to me that his life with me happened – that we never travelled the USA, never travelled to Greece and Europe, that his belongings and my memories did not exist. They could never take my own memories and mementos from me; I present them to you, dear reader, here at this web-site.
My infirmed grandmother told me that she saw her daughter and son-in-law tossing my dad’s belongings in trash dumpsters. She cried; I cried.
Okay. Hate me. Deny that which should have come to me, but why dump his possessions in the trash? You hurt me, but you hurt America and history far more when you destroyed the boxes of his film, slides, and pictures of note of occupied Japan and of the Korean War that he stored at your home – items you destroyed are now lost to the world because of your petty hate against me. You – my ‘family’ at New Jersey – Olga, Richard, Donna, Pete, and CJ – are far worse than I could ever be. You have a sickness of hate festering inside you.
‘Pop’, the man who raised me, we had a tough relationship during our almost 33 years we knew each other on this Earth. I hope you are at a ‘better place’ and can see that I’m doing okay with you and without you, because of you and maybe despite you.
To whomever may be my biological father, sorry that you hated me so badly that you never gave me a chance. You missed a great adventure with this child. Or shall I say that this child is experiencing a great adventure without you.
I was never a son for both of them, though I am their child. To either, I thank both of them for my existence, either good or bad.
Thank you, the dad whom I had, for all you gave. You did what you knew from your life experiences.
Happy Father’s Day to you who are fathers, or maybe former fathers, or maybe new fathers, or maybe new being a father. I learned that being a parent and raising a good child is tough work. Honest fathers do the best they can. Good fathers do not ‘fail as a parent’; you do not raise ‘sociopaths’, as one spirit friend feared she did. You who have good children receive my congratulations. Please don’t blame yourself if your children do not become as well as they should have; they chose their path in life, whether good or ill.
Never shall I be a father.