All About My Father

Dad was born in Erie, Pennsylvania in 1917. He was an only child and his parents were older when he came along. Childrearing books had begun to promulgate the idea that we ought not to spank children but allow them to express their anger or discontent. So Wes was allowed to do pretty much what he wanted. And I imagine he gave his parents quite a bit of trouble.

Dad as an infant in Erie

As a high school student, his parents moved into the Rocky Grove in the small town of Franklin and he started to a new school. It may have been hard for him to make friends. He was good at sports and excelled in basketball which made him popular around school.

I’m sure he’d had many other girlfriends before he met my mother. They were both seniors when he pulled up to her and another girl who were walking home from a party. He offered to drive the girls home in his Dad’s model A. He dropped the other girl off first, of course.

He had a reputation for being “fast” so my mother didn’t want to go out with him, although another part of her was excited at the thought. He came to visit often and they would sit in the parlor long after her parents were in bed. Things took their course and in April of their senior year, they eloped.

Wes_Portrait 3_damaged

My parents didn’t live together until after graduation. Then Dad was off to college and chasing other girls. My mother was raising two children when they separated and finally divorced. My father was living in Baltimore when he one night ended up in church. What the preacher said must have hit home as he went forward, knelt at the altar and gave his life to Christ. The first thing he wanted to do was make it up to my mother.

After my parents remarried to each other again, my brother Steve was born and I came along 16 months later. There is a big gap in age between their first family and we two younger ones. We lived crowded into my Grandma Smith’s house. I’m sure it was hard for mother,  living with her mother-in-law and not having a house of her own. The wringer washer was in the musty-smelling basement and she was up and down those steep stairs many times a day, doing laundry for a family of seven.

Being an only child, my father didn’t have good people skills, at least until much later in life. He wasn’t good with children. He probably related to the three boys better than to  me. He had no clue how to treat a little girl. I can recall him opening my bedroom door when I was playing paper dolls with another little girl and telling us to be quieter. Our giggling was not something he was used to nor could easily tolerate.

family2

I never remember him playing with me or sitting on his lap. He was stern and seldom spoke to us. Nevertheless, my childhood was a happy one and I am grateful for many things my father did right, too. We took a vacation every summer, and one year he was intent on visiting all the Native American ruins in New Mexico and southern Colorado. We camped in a tent and traveled in a yellow Ford station wagon. Mother would heat soup using a Coleman stove set on the tailgate and make bologna sandwiches.

Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings, Colorado

That year we saw the ruins and foundation of the great kiva at Chaco Canyon, the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde, and the ruins of the Aztec civilization at  the Aztec National Monument. As a child I was particularly impressed by the mummified remains of “Esther” who still had hair on her head and skin clinging to her bones.

Dad with Rainbow Trout

Dad with Rainbow Trout

Dad taught me to fish in the streams at Rio Honda in New Mexico and later on near Boulder, Colorado. I can remember catching my first “lake” trout in the Grand Tetons one evening  just after we set up camp and went out to try our luck. Boy, was I excited! I must have been about twelve.

Dad’s hobby was photography and he’d set up a temporary darkroom in the garage. He could develop black and white photos and was occasionally asked to shoot a wedding by someone who couldn’t afford a “real” photographer.

I recall how humiliated I was when Dad lay down on the grass at UNM campus, all 6’2″ of him, to take this picture of a totem pole. Now I’d admire him for not being self-conscious and having the guts to do it.

Dad was an excellent Old Testament scholar, self-taught. He taught adult Bible classes at church and his classes were very popular. I listened to some of his taped lessons once and realized he was very personable. He’d ask questions and listen to people’s comments and ideas and never respond negatively. No matter how far-fetched the comment, he’d say, “That’s very interesting. I’d never thought of it like that. Thank you.”  This certainly encouraged participation. Why I seldom saw that side of him, I don’t know.

We had family  devotions from the time I was very small. Sitting around the living room, Dad would read us one chapter of the Bible every evening. H’d get us into it by starting with  quizzes and games about the Bible stories. The only part I hated was the lengthy prayers at the end. We each knelt by our chair and prayed in order of age: me, then Steve, Mom, then Dad. The adults’ prayers tended to go on interminably until one of my feet would fall asleep, but I still had to keep quiet in that position while pins and needles were shooting up my foot and ankle.

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

Religion and my father. How can I explain the effect he had on my life? I am a Christian today because he taught us the Bible as children. I am grateful and I respect what he stood for. Now that I am older, I can accept that Dad was flawed as we all are. But while I was growing up, his “spare the rod and spoil the child “policy planted a deep anger inside me. After he “spanked” me with his belt, red welts would rise on my legs and buttocks, and … but these wounds festered inside of me, somewhere deep where no one could see. I hated him.

What do we remember of our parents in the end? Which particular moments are forever frozen in our minds? Memory is so arbitrary. A face reflected in a car window, someone crying in the bathroom, an impassioned face behind the pulpit.

An ordained minister, Dad was pastor of a country church, Warden Chapel, for six years. During that time many people were lead to Christ and baptized in that little white clapboard church. After we moved out West, Dad preached at the rescue mission downtown and also at the state penitentiary. The simple story of his own sinfulness and repentance touched many hearts.

The Strange Incident of the Cat in the Tree

One incident that occurred in California always bothered me. I was 25 and home for a visit with a seven-month-old baby. My parents were living on a cul-de-sac in a quiet neighborhood. The neighbor behind us had a gray cat that would often climb a tree into our backyard. Dad hated the cat it seemed and on several occasions threw rocks to chase him away.

cattree

Why did he have to throw stones at the neighbors cat? That’s something I remember, because of the unexpected repercussions it had.  It was Sunday morning and he was leaving for church before us, to prepare for his class, I suppose. The neighbor behind us had come to the door and I answered it. She was very upset because her cat was missing.

“I saw your father throw a stone at my cat ! He’s done that on several occasions I know of! “. I assured her Dad would never have done harm to the cat…she seemed to think he’d poisoned it.

I was so upset and told Dad about her visit but he only laughed! He thought it was hilarious, a really good joke.

“She actually believes I got rid of her cat!”

To me it seemed so wrong to tell people about  God’s love and then to do something so much the opposite. Not just that he threw a stone at the cat, but that he didn’t care how this woman felt or what she thought of him.

I realize this is a small thing in the large picture, but it showed utter lack of love or concern for another human being. When I am old, my children will also remember my hypocrisies, my lapses of judgment, my moments of hysteria. And that is what they’ll believe I was like. Such moments are one in 100,000 but those are the ones we recall at last.

The Most Patient Man

That said, I realize my father’s strong points. He was the most patient man I have ever met. I remembered how lovingly he cared for my mother when she was bed-ridden and in severe pain from her back. She was often hysterical and at one point addicted to painkillers. She had a hospital bed in the downstairs den. I remember seeing him kneeling beside her bed and holding her hand. He listened to her. Then he prayed with her. He never got angry or showed frustration with her.

Kay and Wes in younger days

Kay and Wes in younger days

People are not immutable objects, but are constantly changing,  many-sided and complex. We develop and change, and hopefully learn as we grow older.

My father disciplined me strictly but he was never unfair or inconsistent. As an adult, I no longer resent the spankings. I know my father loved me though he wasn’t a person who could outwardly show affection. Eventually he came to open up with his grandchildren, holding Kirsten on his knee and reading her stories.

I lived in Japan during the last two decades of my father’s life so I had little time to know him then, but I am told that he was very tender and loving…that he changed a lot. I still have a few tapes he’d made of his Sunday AM Bible class and, listening to his interaction with the class, I sense he had finally opened up his heart to people.

Dad seldom lost his temper. One of my most cherished memories is of an accident I caused when I was 16. I’d only been driving for a few months. I had picked up two girlfriends and we were on the way to a drive-in movie. Laughing and talking while driving, I failed to yield at a cross street. A car was coming from the right. To avoid a collision, I ran into the sidewalk and up into someone’s yard, tearing down their picket fence!

When Dad arrived, he spoke with the homeowner and settled the insurance issues. We girls were nervously waiting outside. I wondered what my punishment would be. Then out came my father, saying “well, you girls have a nice time.. but drive carefully.”

My friends couldn’t believe what a cool Dad I had..and neither could I!

We Can Change

Dad is an example to me in many ways. I think he must have reinvented himself several times. I can recall when he was laid off at 50, an engineer without a college degree in a world that now demanded such. It was just before Christmas, too. Now I can imagine how scared he must have been, what a blow it was. But he was eventually hired by Northrup  in California and his skills and practical experience won respect even from the younger men with lots of education.

His views about people changed too. I remember as a child that he said we cannot marry  people of a different race as this is not what God intends. He opposed my marriage to a Japanese in 1972. But when I brought my 7-month-old daughter home for a visit, he loved her and in the supermarket held her out to everyone, saying,” This is my granddaughter.She is half Japanese!”

My Dad: Slow to Anger

My Dad: Slow to Anger

No parent is perfect, but my father had integrity and I always respected him. The older I become, the more I respect him. He left me a great legacy… my unwavering faith in God.  “Faith is the evidence of things not seen..” he taught me. Sometimes I don’t feel God’s presence and sometimes I struggle with issues, but he taught me that it is faith, not feeling, that we must rely on.

I am immensely grateful that you were my father, Dad. I really look forward to seeing you again someday!

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