Now that I have over a year’s worth of writing this blog under my belt and close to 100 stories posted, I wish to pull out an occasional favorite from the archives to share with readers. This updated selection has little to do with travel. It is a personal story about my father and a little about me. Although I typically focus on places, please permit this rare indulgence to share something more personal.
Dad, what are you doing?
I never thought I was much like my father, but I will admit I see more and more of him in me as I get older. I was the child who favored my mother’s side both in looks and temperament. Over the years, however, I took on this look. It was not so much a scowl as it was a deadpan expression, neither approving nor disapproving. That’s my dad. (My mother constantly scowled, so this is not about her.)
My father (his name was Clyde) had a sense of humor that was quite dry. He and his clan used to sit and tell whoppers all day and never so much as smile. I remember a family reunion when I was a young boy listening to my grandpa and his brothers tell whopper after whopper, and I was captivated. After one particularly outrageous fish tale, I asked in all seriousness, “Really?” That got a smile out of them, and unbeknownst to me at the time, I made their day.
My father was kind of a loner. That is not to say he didn’t have a lot of friends. It was more like he did not connect deeply with others. The one exception in his life was his mother. My grandma was the most caring, nurturing woman I knew growing up, and my father was absolutely devoted to her until the day she died. Other than that, he was typically kind of distant. And more than anything, I wanted to impress him. I think I did in some ways, but he never came out and said so.
I remember one time coming up to him in the basement workshop where he was running the table saw. I was in junior high school and I approached him with my report card, my first one with straight A’s, and I said “Hey dad, what are you doing?”
“I’m building some shelves. What’s up?”
“I got my report card. You want to see it?”
He took the envelope and pulled out the slip of paper with the column of A’s, read it over briefly, and gave it back to me. Then he said, “I’m glad you got all A’s. I just wish it wasn’t so easy for you.”
When he saw the stunned look on my face, he said, “Mike, I would rather you had to work your butt off and got all C’s than to see you get all A’s without putting out much effort.”
To say my father was stoic would be a tragic understatement, although in fairness, he was a product of his upbringing. He never got anything without effort, some might say superhuman effort. He was born in 1919 and grew up in Selah, a rural farming town in central Washington, now a bedroom community to Yakima. He graduated high school (barely, from what I’ve been told) in 1937. There was no work except picking fruit in the summer, which he did. Later, he took a job with the Civilian Conservation Corps, one of the federal work programs during the Roosevelt years. Then, in 1939, he joined the Army to get out of the middle of nowhere.
My father was always well-read. He knew war was imminent. I think he knew before anyone in the country was even speaking about it. He landed a desk job as a clerk at the Presidio in San Francisco because he was the only one in his unit that could type. He could have remained there and prospered in this role, but that was not my father. He wanted to see the world. He told his CO he had applied for a post in Manila, which he got. Anyone who knows a little history will know that was a bad decision. It was just over a year later that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Japanese troops next invaded the Philippines, and my father was on the island of Corregidor when it fell. Atrocities like the Bataan Death March followed, of which my father was a part. He always told me, “The lucky ones died first.” I did not understand that until years later when I read numerous accounts of the war.
My dad did not talk about the war until he was in his 70’s. His whole life was about living and getting the most out of each day. For him, every day not hiking and climbing in the mountain wilderness areas so near to our Seattle home was another day lost. He signed up for swing shift or graveyard shift as much as he could during his thirty years at Boeing in order to get up and take a day hike before heading to his job. Vacations were for weeklong mountain expeditions, and he retired at the age of 60 in order to spend all the days he could in his beloved mountains and traveling to far off lands. As it turned out, he outlived most of the POW survivors from WWII.
He gave up skiing at age 82 when he learned he had Parkinson’s disease, which he determined was what caused him to keep falling down. He still went for day hikes with his pet beagle for a few years until it became too risky to go alone. Both he and his wife, my stepmother, began displaying signs of dementia, and my stepsister moved them back east somewhere when he was 85. There was no love lost between me and my stepsister, so I lost track of him when he moved, and I have no idea when he passed or where his remains are. It does not really matter because he would not have remembered me by that time.
I remember on a four day hike in the Cascade Mountains I found an unspent .45 caliber bullet, which I picked up. That evening around the campfire, my dad said, “Let me see that bullet you picked up.” I handed it to him. He inspected it, and then tossed it into the campfire. “Dad, what are you doing?” I hollered. We looked at each other wide-eyed for a moment. Then we both jumped up and dove behind a log. About thirty seconds later, BOOM! We looked up and the entire campfire was blown out. We quickly ran to extinguish coals that were burning holes in our tent fly and the clothes we had laid out to dry. He never offered an explanation, and I never bothered to ask. It was the most spontaneous, goofy thing I ever experienced with my father.
To know my dad was to know and love the outdoors, which I did from a very young age, something I tried to pass on to my own children. I was 15 years old when I completed the Mountaineers Basic Climbing Course with my father. I climbed Mt. Rainier for the first time that summer of 1965, a milestone for any outdoorsman in the Pacific Northwest. And that was the legacy my father passed on to me.
More than anything, he taught me to survive. Granted, on Maslov’s hierarchy, survival is pretty basic. There is much more to life than surviving. On a higher level I believe I acquired some of my father’s sense of humor. And often to my surprise, I find myself quoting my father – some of his philosophy, as well as some of his brain farts. Here are a few that come to mind:
“Show me a man who plays good pool, and I’ll show you a man with a wasted youth.”
“Humility is something you have until you find out.”
“A good loser is someone who loses consistently.”
And whenever I asked where we were or where we were going, my dad always said, “We’re taking a shortcut.”
Looking back, I can recall sort of smiling when my daughters asked me, “Dad, what are you doing?”
Gosh Mike, a year of blogging under your belt. I’d love to hear what you’ve learned about blogging in that time. I know you’ve got lots of interesting stuff to write about, but I’d love to read about your blogging do’s and don’ts someday. Cool post about your dad! Celeste 🙂
I thought you covered blogging do’s and don’ts quite well in one of your recent posts. If I have a writing style it is ‘Get to the point!’ That would be my main advice to any writer. I rarely look at a blog with over 800 words. When I hit 500 words I start editing.
Mostly, I have become more efficient in using WordPress. I have a format I like using 3-5 photos to accompany my stories. Someday I may change the color scheme and font, but for now I am fine with it. Thank you, Celeste. – Mike
I still feel I have a lot to learn about blogging Mike. I may know a lot, but there is more that I don’t know. Anyway, “get to the point” is certainly a blogging tip I agree with. Sometimes I open a blog post that I’m curious about and scroll down to see how long it is. If I have to keep scrolling, I don’t bother reading it. I’m not sure why, but it just makes me lose interest.
So if I’m remembering right, you should be off to Croatia soon (maybe even today). So exciting! I hope you guys are able to find some yummy plant-based food there.
We leave Monday night on a sleeper coach for London and a Tuesday flight to Zagreb. We are excited! 🙂
This is a very touching tribute to your Dad Mike. My Father’s life has many similarities to your Father’s. He never had it easy, grew up hard (born in 1918), went to the Army, and unfortunately, died in his early 60s. He wasn’t the perfect parent (who was in those days), but over the years I find that I remember more and more of the good stuff, and less of the not so good. My Dad was a child of the depression, and consequently, nothing was ever thrown out. In addition, he had the wonderful skill of problem-solving with whatever was at had. I didn’t realize it at the time, but was he was an early McIver. He was a character, and I miss him. ~James
Our fathers were about the same age, James, so I can understand there being similarities in their lives. Like your father, mine was also quite clever at solving problems and fixing things.
I remember during one of the layoff periods at Boeing when my father alluded to the possibility of getting laid off to his supervisor. It was then my father learned that it was likely everyone including his boss would get laid off before he would. The story was he had saved someone’s life at work and the higher ups had all but guaranteed his future with a special letter of commendation in his personnel file which he never knew about. He never shared the details, but apparently he was willing to risk his own neck to save someone else’s. It always made me wonder about the things I never knew about my father. Thanks as always for your comments, James. – Mike
I cannot imagine a taciturn father, my own was so “over the top” and openly wept while reading Erich Segal’s “Love Story” book. I feel for you, the distance is there in your words, there is also respect and love. I hope that you will find out pictures of him through his living relatives. I also feel serving in a challenging war, with his experience of being a POW influenced his reactions and also, his way of handling things. He was a wonderful and very good providing father. You have a lot of positives in this post, too. I just feel for you a little, I was so blessed with a father who “invented” his way of parenting with no role model, for which he could have not proceeded that way at all. Sharing this again, very special and a tribute too.
You know how we all grow up thinking our family is just like everyone else’s family and we are all normal? I thought that until I was invited to stay for dinner at my first girlfriend’s house. I never wanted to leave. I guess we made up for it by going mountain climbing together. I think that made it possible for my father to confide in me in his old age. Thank you for your kind words, Robin. – Mike
Glad you reposted this one Mike! One of my favorites, now! Just wonderful…
Really hard to imagine not knowing when your father died… that part really got me. Ouch. There is so much pain and beauty in this post, all stirred up into a complicated man. Your dad. Clearly you turned out a bit more connected, and for that, I am happy. 🙂
I captured some of the duality of my relationship with my father in this story – the happy/sad. He taught me how to survive, but there is so much more to living. I hope I did a better job in the father role than did my father. Thank you my friend, for sharing your considerate thoughts. – Mike
It’s some powerful writing, Mike. Something tells me you did a very good job, and quite different than your father.