Remembering My Dad

I’ve spent the last 10 days digging through my disloyal memory and my well-guarded subconscious for memories of my Dad. They’re there, but being they are not as numerous as they would have been in a more normal father/son relationship; they needed to be searched for. Now to write them down for posterity.When I was four years old, my Dad came home from work (he was a career Navy man) wearing his normal leather flight jacket. It was zipped all the way up to his neck. He called my brother and me over and said “Look what I found”. We got up close; he slowly unzipped the jacket, and he pulled out a tiny, fuzzy black and white puppy. My brother, who was five years old, somehow came up with the name “Kelly” (since we have no family and no friends with this name, we still to this day don’t know where he came up with it). Kelly was the greatest dog ever, and outlived my childhood, adolescence, and early manhood. She also outlived my parents’ marriage by a good decade or so.

When I was in kindergarten, my brother and I had a traditional greeting for my Dad when he returned from work. He would walk in the door, stand there motionless, and wait patiently until we ran from where ever we happened to be playing and simultaneously ran full speed into his belly. He took this daily collision with his typical good humor, and I suspect it was the high point of his day as it was the high point of ours.

My Dad was a talented trumpet player. Indeed, in his youth he appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show with the Gardner Guards, a drum and bugle corps from Altoona, Pa. When I was a boy, I remember lots of weekends spent going with my Dad to hear him play Taps at funerals, Memorial Day ceremonies, 4th of July ceremonies, and the like. He could play Taps in a way guaranteed to bring tears to your eyes. I’m glad to remember that he spent so much of his free time in those days honoring his fellow veterans.

It was sometime during my junior high or high school years that my Dad taught me the all-important “gig line” rule. Listen up, young men, this is vital. When you’re wearing a button up dress shirt, the right edge of the button hole side of the shirt must line up with the edge of your belt buckle and/or the right edge of the buttonhole side of your pants (or simply the right edge of the left side, if it’s a clasp or some other contraption). The straight line resulting in this alignment is known as your “gig line”, and if you ignore it, you look like a slob. I’ve never had a misaligned gig from that day on.

When I was in college, my dad came up big and bought me a car. It wasn’t fancy or beautiful, it was a 72 Datsun 1200 with a rusted out floorboard and a passenger seat that was in a permanently reclining position (imagine picking up a date in that). But it ran and ran and ran and I loved that car. It was actually the second car he bought me, but the first one blew up on the way home from the dealership. That’s another great story, but doesn’t qualify as a fond memory, so it is disqualified from appearing in this post.

The day before I left for Air Force basic training in 1987, I went to see my Dad in Virginia Beach. He seemed a little more subdued and serious than usual, and later I found out why. We went to a local Chinese restaurant and had a few drinks, and I could tell he wanted to have what would be the first serious man-to-man talk we’d ever had before (or, sadly, since). The thrust of his message was this: Don’t ever be fooled by the false notion that there is anything romantic about war. It’s nasty, and people shoot at you. He then went on to tell me a story about being pinned down by enemy fire in Vietnam and having to crawl a good fifty yards to safety. He NEVER talked about Vietnam. It was hard as hell for him to say all this, but he made himself do it, because I was his son and I was going off to the military. I’ll always love him and honor him for that act of courage, as well as all the acts of courage he performed for his country that I’ll never know about, but that I’m sure took place during his time in the war.

That’s not a bad collection of memories. In a perfect world I’d have a million more because we’d have spent millions of more moments together. But it’s not a perfect world, and I’m lucky to have the memories I have. Sure, there are surely some more hidden back there in the recesses of my increasingly addled brain, but this is a pretty good start.

Thanks again, Dad.

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