My dad was born in eastern Kentucky. He worked his way up from a job at a Sears store to a management job, and then ultimately a job at their corporate office in New York. He had a title like "national fashion director", but we were never sure exactly what he did, except it had something to do with arranging for the right accessories to be shown in photo shoots for the Sears catalog.
During the 70's and early 80's when Sears was trying to be hip by featuring models like Margaux Hemingway and Cheryl Tiegs, dad was involved in those projects. He made it into Studio 54 at least a couple times back in the day. We moved to Chicago when the Sears Tower was built.
Shortly after my dad died in 1997, I learned something about him. According to one of my cousins, as a young man my dad went to great lengths to rid himself of his southern accent. He would stand in front of the mirror doing speech exercises so he wouldn't sound like a hick. I guess it worked. Funny thing is, within a year after retiring, the accent came back as strong as ever. He sounded like a character from a Tennessee Williams play, a courtly red-faced southern gentleman. He wore a lot of khaki and seersucker, and he looked good in a hat.
He was stern, and from the time I was around 10 years old I don't remember having an easy time being in the same house with him. We never came to blows, but we came close, and I moved out when I was 18. He did not care for my night owl habits or my rebelliousness. Think of every classic "father" line, you know, stuff like "YOU THINK I'M MADE OF MONEY? or "SOMEONE HAS TO PAY FOR THAT ELECTRICITY" or "YOU'RE CRYING?!? I'LL GIVE YOU A REASON TO CRY!" and of course, the quieter and much scarier "son, do you think I'm stupid?" and I guarantee he uttered it at some point.
Some time between my coming home from the Army and my getting married to Amanda we'd worked it out and got along fine. I think he credited Amanda with keeping me from being a bum. I can thank him for whatever work ethic I have, and for knowing what it means to be responsible. I know I'm a better man and a better father having been raised by him. If I may pat myself on the back just a little, I think I also learned to enjoy being a father more than he had...but that's probably a generational thing.
In hindsight, I think he very keenly felt the pressure of being responsible for raising a family. The man worked his ass off, and it wasn't until years later that I figured out that all those vacations and road trips were paid for by his weekends running a stall at the flea market, and all the garage sales he used to have. I also found out, years later, that he never made nearly as much money as any of us thought he did. He was just one of those people who gave the impression of having more money than they actually do.
It was wonderful to watch him ease up after he retired. He moved back to Kentucky with my mom. The man stayed busy, though, with volunteer work and travel. My mom doesn't have the travel bug like he did (another thing he passed on to me), so he just went by himself. He traveled all over Asia, North Africa and Europe. The man walked fast, too, and he loved to garden. I found out from my mom that my dad loved to brag about me, and repeated my work stories to their neighbors. His favorite was the one about the guy who walked into a Jewel store and committed suicide by attempting to cut off his own head with a band saw in the meat department. I'm told he had the gurgling sound effects down perfectly.
By the time my kids were born, my dad was very much the way I remembered him when I was a young child--full of surprises, funny and kind. Before he died, my dad gave us gifts for the girls to open on their 16th birthdays, pieces of jewelry. He loved to give gifts, and made sure that he continued to do so posthumously.
I've still got some stuff around the house that reminds me of him every day. Take a look at this shelf:
I gots a lot of my favorite stuff there. Some paperbacks Amanda gave me, an autographed photo of Adrienne Barbeau from Nora, a set of Elvis Pez dispensers from Brian Peterlinz. Just out of frame there's a ceramic alligator head ashtray from Steve Denton, and some beautiful pinup art from Amanda. In the lower left is a fishing knife that my dad gave me after a trip to the Bahamas. There's a bongo drum that he brought back from a business trip when I was around 5 or 6. There's a red wind-up race car (still works beautifully) that's also around 45 years old.
My dad loved toys, and loved games. I still have the Mickey Mouse phone that he kept in his office for years:
I've also got a card game that he used to like to play with us after dinner. The box has fallen apart, but the cards are in good shape. It's an Austrian game called "Black Peter"
So, now it's Fathers Day.
I have been blessed with the most beautiful wife and children I could ever have imagined. My world has gotten bigger and is filled with good friends and adventures. I've had a rewarding and satisfying job for more than 20 years. I am humbled by my good fortune.
Thank you Dad.