First, I really like this picture of him. I have seen a lot of pictures of him but I think this is one of my personal favorites. He was a handsome man his whole life.
The second thing I loved about my Dad…he could laugh at himself. He was often the direct brunt of his own jokes. Self-deprecatory humor came natural and I adopted it from him. We often argued about who was more narcissistic. He often won.
Which brings up the third thing I loved about him – he could make one helluva great op-ed argument in a newspaper. Well into his 80s he would bring in a printout of a potential editorial to the local paper for me to read. Of course the spelling was only decipherable by someone as nearly blind as he was (I will surpass him in a few years easily). No matter. His logic was airtight. I rarely had much to add. I might suggest a ratcheting on a bolt here or there to tighten – but really – he had it down.
My father and I did not agree on a lot of things – but in one thing he was my absolute shining example and moral compass: politics. We had the same heroes (Carter most pronounced) and I attribute my first overt act of civil disobedience to him.
I was 5 in 1962 and committed my first feeble attempt at civil disobedience by trying to peel a bumper sticker off a 1960 Cadillac on my way home from school. As usual I was caught and scolded.
Years later I would research this and hope it had some redeeming quality only to find that I had been trying to peel Adlai Stevenson off the bumper and not Richard Nixon. Lesson number one: “Passion not in accordance with knowledge is foolishness.”
In the early years I rarely saw my father cry. Later on all you had to do was hum “Danny Boy”..and well… But on June 5, 1968 I woke my father up to tell him that his hero Robert Kennedy had been shot and killed in Los Angeles and he openly wept at the side of his bed.
I was 10 and it was interesting because I did not need him to reassure me at that moment. I could feel his devastation and I felt for him. He was crushed and – somehow – I loved him for it.
He was one of the Good Guys.
Now anyone who knows Fred and I knows we often did not get along. It was not anyone’s fault and if it was I would sure as hell say so. No – my old joke is that the “milkman must have been very tall” for other than the massive subtleties there are few men more different.
But I respected him and the differences
At first I was under orders to respect him. God says to respect your parents and it’s not really an option – so I kept coming back to it. In the end he was not going to have to earn it. It just is what it is.
Odd things happen when you do this. God becomes parent and then your Dad becomes – like a normal guy and he gets to be human and there is so much more grace. Later, he gets the “Dad” stuff back. It’s nice.
And when things relax you start to see him as a man and you see that he is better than most men you know – far better. My Dad was far better than most men. I really took a liking to him.
The only thing I need say about the decades we did not get alomng as that we BOTH kept trying in our own way. Years would often go by without a word – but we would try again. Maybe it would fail – but we would try again.
That says a lot about both of us.
The last one was the most doomed. I was certain in 2014 that we were done. Then I was hospitalized. God suggested (for even God knows how to “handle me”- that I do JUST THE OPPOSITE of every instinct.”
“Open your life up and make a family decision with the man who has been most critical.”
“Seriously?” was my first response.
My second was “let it be done to thy servant as you wish. (crazy…geebus…oh yeah..this is gonna work….oh yeah….trails off…)
The Bible says we should evaluate things by one criteria only: fruit.
I had the best year ever with my Dad.
I could have said no and played it safe and told God He was crazy and simply “NO.”
I didn’t. I obeyed.
Last December I came to Monterey to open my life up to Dee and Fred and make a “family decision” about my life and it’s future come what may.
I listened to Dad and to Dee – we looked at all angles, all options and asked every question. I held onto nothing. Together we decided that Oakland was the best course knowing full well it meant choosing Homelessness and hardship.
The end result was a decided move forward.
I imagine if he had ever wanted me to be like him – a scientist? He never laid that on me – in fact one of his few pieces of advice was to make sure I did for a living what I loved.
He let some of his loves rub off. He loved photography and after he and my mom divorced he built and enclosure for a darkroom in the garage at Park Place. I got really good and it fit my natural introversion.
He loved basketball. It was odd. He was a good player but did not coach me. I could have been phenomenal-straight end player but ended up a street-ball player
I know this – It is not how a man begins that defines him because we all start as “unearthed boys” (my line). It is how we end that defines.
My father ended well.
My Dad never stopped trying – I respected the hell out of that.
What I got was a sweet year with my Dad.
He would call me on an odd Wednesday and ask how I was. Gone was the evaluator BS…we talked. We had long since agreed quietly to not get too deep.
“Well Chris, I dunno about that…” was his signal for me to drop it. And I would.
He was an immensely intelligent man. An inventor whose mind never stopped thinking about creating.
The beginning of his epitaph starts with his being raised by his mother. I relate because I too was raised by Sally. I have no idea why – to this day why that was so.
We lived in San Diego and I had to perfectly good and fit parents in their youth but it was Sally who took me to my “firsts” – first baseball game, first football game – to the horse races at Caliente and even to my first Bond film (From Russia with Love) where I saw people making love for the first time – yep…my Grandma. She was what you would call a Broad.
Where were my parents during all of this? No idea.
It doesn’t matter. Sally was amazing. Dinners at Oscars…or bringing back Der einershnitsel to the apartment and watching TV on the rollout – she adored me and it was only when I crossed the line once that I saw the real world as a child.
I made her cry because I was selfish.
It was momentary..but it changed me.
Years late I would be very thankful that my Dad had Sally and I would mourn that he had not had a father at all. I also realized that despite his flaws he had been given so much less than I had.
We are all just people. The old saying is that “we look at God as just a little bit bigger than our father” –but the converse is true – that we look at our father as just a little bit lower than God – or expect such – which is unfair. They are just people.
In the end I just needed my dad to be the person he was and I liked him very much. He was gracious, interested in my life and future and even proud that I had traversed hardships and forged through into grad school and a new life.
He joked, made sure I ate the sandwich which had been paid for by the hospital, and got to know Laura a bit. When the nurses came in he was opposed to what they wanted to do at first – but a few minutes later felt different. That is what I mean by always open to change.
We had worked out our differences long before so there was nothng to fight about. Niether of us had wanted the fight – it was just the nature of our being so different. The last year was always a iime of peace. I am sure he worried about me on the streets of West Oakland – but he had also seen how resilient I had become He remarked on it often.
(end of part one)