I REMEMBER FATHER
Some years ago, I wrote a book of sorts, entitled "In The Foreword Of The Book Of Life", in which I simply wrote everything I could recall. I figured I didn't want all my terrific (and otherwise) memories to die when I did. The Second chapter, after the one describing the title, was about my Dad. In honor of Father's Day, I'm posting that chapter here, along with a photo of Dad as I remember him.
He was a fine, fine gentleman.
My father was not visibly a Christian when I was a child. But he was a wonderful example of manhood, leadership, nurturing, fatherhood, and husband-ship (if that's a good word). He dearly loved my mother and worked long and hard so she could stay home and raise my brother and me.
He was born in 1908 and grew up in very modest means, mostly on the south side of Indianapolis, Indiana. He studied hard in grade school and high school, and when he graduated, he'd obtained a partial scholarship to DePauw University. He went there two years, which was all he could afford, and studied metallurgy.
Not having extensive resources, he didn’t have the money to stay on campus. He’s the only person I know who actually rode freight trains ... to get from Indianapolis to Greencastle ... so he could go to school. The second year, he did manage to join Delta Chi Fraternity, and stayed there. He worked there to pay the costs of being a resident member.
When he was finished with the 2 years, he was 20 years old and got a job with W.J. Holliday Steel Warehouse, in Indianapolis. His story about getting the job had a lasting and important impact on my life. It was in 1929, around the beginning of the "Great Depression". Holliday advertised for a records clerk in the local paper, and scores of people showed up with enough diplomas and resumes to wallpaper the world. And there was Dad, with 2 years of metallurgy and no work experience to speak of. Dad sat near the door and far from the desk where they called people in to interview. When they called him, he told them what he could about himself, then went out and sat down by the door again. When the interviews were finished, around noon (the interviews were brief as the job was only adding and subtracting steel shipments from a record book), the personnel manager told everyone to go home, and await a message from the Company. If they didn't have a message in 24 hours, they'd know they didn't get the job.
When people finished their interviews, Dad would opened the door for them and let them out. I’m sure that impressed the manager with his courtesy, but Dad had a better reason. When the last person had left, Dad went back to the personnel manager. The manager asked him why he hadn't heard the instructions everyone else seemed to have heard. And obeyed. Dad's response struck a real note with me, so much that I've never forgotten his words. He said:
"Look, anyone that was here could do this; it doesn't require a sheepskin. You don't need someone day after tomorrow, you need someone now. I'm here and ready to start. And I brought my lunch." And he held it up for him to see.
The personnel manager told him to wait a minute and called out the President of the Company. He made Dad tell the same story again. This time, the President said "Son, you sure made our job easier."
Dad stayed with the company, and with the conglomerate that bought them out 25 years later, for a total of 42 years, He retired from management with the company in 1971.
I can't help but think that much of his success was shaped the day he took his lunch, when no one else did.
I’ve heard it said that the most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother. While that leaves out the Spiritual aspect, loving your children’s mother is one of the most important things your child will ever see, before the age of self-realization. I can recall many times when Dad would come in from work, grab Mom in a hug, and pat her on the derriere’ with both hands. He’d do that even if we kids were around. That little display went a long way to giving us a sense of security and solidness in the home.
Dad was also fiercely protective of our family. Sometimes it got him in hot water, even within the family. When I was 11 years old, my maternal grandfather died. He’d been disabled with a bad heart for many years, and my grandmother worked as a bookkeeper at Lane Bryant Company in Indianapolis. She’d come home on the bus every afternoon about 5pm and walk into the house, and I think there was a fear that he might have had some sort of episode during the day, and she'd find him dead. At least, that’s what the doctors speculated after his death in the middle of the night. Grandma’s mind “snapped”. She never shed a visible tear, and became increasingly confused over the following few months. Although she lived 2 straight-line blocks from my Aunt Marcella, in Indianapolis (we’d call her the care-giver, now), Grandma would get confused going from one house to the other. She’d forget which way she was going, and eventually, get lost between houses.
My other maternal Aunt lived close to Aunt Marcella, on a nearby farm. The two of them got together and discussed how to take care of Grandma, and then called our house. Aunt Marcella said they’d agreed to keep Grandma 4 months a year, each, in 2-month stints. Mom said we’d do our part, too.
When she told Dad that evening, he simply said “No”. A heated discussion followed, Mom saying she’d already agreed to it. Dad said he’d take care of it, and he called my 2 Aunts. What he told them was something along these lines: He and Mom were busy raising young boys. That was the most important thing in their lives. And having a mentally deteriorating woman in the house with us all would very much change that for the worse.
Dad was a strong businessman, and a strong father-figure and husband. The 3 sisters may or may not have agreed with him, but Grandma was put in a nursing home. Very shortly, her mind was completely gone, and it was about 5 more years before she passed away.
He further demonstrated his character in how he handled the biggest problem I ever caused them. I’d breezed through High School with good grades, with little or no studying. I made the National Honor Society and did lots of other good things that made Mom and Dad proud. Then during my senior year, my friend Mickey Meese said he was going to Purdue to study engineering. I thought that sounded cool so I registered there. Mickey changed his mind and went to Illinois to study architecture, but I went on to Purdue.
We went up on Saturday and I sat for the entrance exams. I signed up for the ones I needed for what I would study my Freshman year, and ended up with a one-hour hole in mid-afternoon. Rather than waste it, I took the Chemistry exam, even though I had never studied Chemistry at all.
BIG mistake. I guessed here and there and laughed a lot, and somehow managed to score high enough on that (despite a complete lack of knowledge of the subject) for the powers who be at the University to assign me to Advanced Chemistry. Having had things easy in High School, I had no study habits at all, so I was unprepared for college in just about every way you can think of. Consequently, I was completely lost from day one. In the first week, they were talking about ionic and covalent bonds (something to do with molecules, I think), and despite studying as hard as I could, I couldn’t make any sense of any of it. None. I haunted the Dean of Men’s office a few times, but they said with my IQ, I should be able to make up for it.
I couldn’t. So, after about 8 or 9 weeks, they switched me to basic Chemistry. The first day in that class, they were talking about ionic and covalent bonds. I was completely lost, and simply gave up. In my own defense, I did get really, really good at playing Euchre, (my favorite card game to this day) and also was pretty good at shooting pool and 3-cushion billiards.
When the grades were mailed home at the end of the first year, a few days before classes ended, my Dad showed up at our dorm. Even worse, I was inside in my room and one of my friends came in and said my Dad was waiting for me in the car.
When I sat down in the car, he said he’d gotten the picture from the school, and I knew what it said. He then said he’d discussed it with Mom, and that they were going to put it all behind them; that I would work the summer, as I had in the past, and then would attend Butler University in Indianapolis in the fall, while I decided what I really wanted to do. He showed understanding and forgiveness, at a time when that was what I needed.
Dad was also a clever and resourceful businessman. He had been in sales and sales management at the W.J. Holliday Steel Warehouse in Hammond, Indiana, when I was young. They’d moved there from Indianapolis a few years before I was born, transferred there from the Indianapolis Headquarters where he’d started his career in the Steel business about 8 years before. I can recall going with him to the office on occasional Saturday mornings when he had some work to do. He’d give us pencils and some old mimeographed order blanks and my brother and I would sit and draw on them while he worked. Now and then, he would show us around the warehouse, which was a thrill for a little boy.
Two incidents he related to me, stand out in my mind even now. The first is the time he visited a client and was told that their metallurgist could not successfully harden their steel to the required specifications. That could have forced Holliday Steel to take back a substantial amount of steel and refund a lot of money. Dad asked the owner and the metallurgist to get their best torch welder and a piece of the suspect steel, and come to the plant’s driveway. There, Dad asked the welder to heat the metal with his torch until he saw certain changes begin to occur. The welder did, and when Dad saw just the color change he wanted, he played a water hose on the steel. He then told the metallurgist to go and test it.
He reported that the steel had exceeded the required hardness. The owner apologized to Dad and fired the metallurgist.
Another time, in the 1940’s, one of Dad’s customers had invested several hundred thousand dollars in an injection mold for certain plastic products. The die maker then found several radial cracks in the steel, when the mold was completed. The owner said he had no choice but to present a claim for the value of the steel, and the lost time on the project. Dad asked if he’d be interested in a quick fix, and he said yes.
Dad then had the die maker grind the cracks out a few thousandths of an inch, and then peen soft copper wire into the cracks. He then had them machine the copper down, and polish a few thousandths off all the surfaces of the mold, and then nickel plate the entire mold.
When they were done, later that day, the mold was complete and usable and it worked fine for the entire production run of the product.
Dad was also a steel genius in other areas. He was one of the foremost authorities on spark-trace analysis. He could take a piece of steel and a grinder, turn out the lights, hit the steel with the grinder, and tell from the sparks, just what kind of steel it was. And what the percentages of various components of the alloy were. He could also hit most kinds of steel with a hammer, and tell, from the sound it made, what kind of steel it was. And, he knew weights and sizes, and could look at most bars or sheets or lengths of iron and tell how much they weighed.
When I was old enough to appreciate how much he was admired for his knowledge and expertise, and wisdom in the steel industry, I admired him for that, too.
That does remind me of one other incident that made me feel good about me, as I think it impressed Dad. He’d gotten me into an industrial exhibit at the Coliseum in Indianapolis, and I wandered around looking at various displays. One that he showed me was a company that produced exceptionally strong hex socket screws. They had a steel bar in a vise, and it had a threaded hole in it. They had a torque wrench there and they would challenge people to see how much torque they could put on the screw, in the hole. It was on a little platform, so I got up on it and put something like 250# or 275# of torque on it, much higher than anyone else had done. That made me feel pretty good, and Dad started bragging about his new bodyguard (me).
Even better; about a half hour later, Dad found me walking around and said they needed me back at the booth. The platform the vise was on was only big enough for one man, and they couldn’t find anyone strong enough to remove the screw. When they put guys on the floor to help, it just turned the platform. So I climbed on the platform and took it right out.
I recall feeling pretty good about myself that evening. That was not a common occurrence for me.
All through my childhood, I wanted to be like Dad. I heard later that second sons are much different from their older siblings, since they get half their parents’ attention whereas the older child gets all of it. That was certainly true in my case, and I think the basis for my competitiveness (even when I didn’t know I had any of that).
Dad also showed his leadership in the family on two occasions when I was injured. Once, while Mom and Dad were gone for a weekend, Mickey Meese and I went out to Speedway and played golf. They had a nice course there, in which about half the holes were inside the oval of the track. We were waiting to tee off mid-round when I simultaneously heard someone yelling “FORE” and felt a huge impact just below my left eye. I’d been hit, high on the cheekbone, by an errant golf shot. Mickey had driven, and he took me to Methodist Hospital’s emergency room and they sewed me up. The stitches actually went between the hairs of the lower eyelash. That’s how close it was to my eye.
I’d gotten the name and phone number of the man who hit the ball, and I just gave it to the hospital, and they said they’d collect from him.
That evening, when Mom and Dad pulled up in the driveway, they honked the horn. I went out to lift the garage door for them, and I could see their faces through a narrow set of windowpanes that ran down one side of the door. As the bottom of the door cleared my face, their expressions changed dramatically. I guess I really looked a mess.
I told Dad what happened, and he said he’d pick me up after school the next afternoon. He took me to an eye clinic and they did a thorough exam and pronounced the eye healthy.
Another time, between my Junior and Senior years at BRHS, I was working at the Holliday warehouse. In the process of pulling steel bars out of an upright rack, a 4’ piece of pipe being used as a temporary divider became dislodged and fell. I felt the resistance and looked up. The pipe hit me in the mouth. It knocked two lower front teeth out cleanly, broke one off at the gumline, and loosened the other one enough that it couldn’t be saved. I spit them out in my hand, realized what had happened, and put them back in my mouth. I ran over to my supervisor and spit them all out on his desk. He said “Don’t do that!! .. Go to the washroom!!”. So I scooped them up, put them back in my mouth, and went to the washroom. Right then, Dad walked in. He’d sensed something was wrong and came downstairs to see.
When he walked into the room, everything got OK, immediately. I no longer felt fear; Dad said he’d take care of it and took me to the local Industrial Clinic. We sat there for an hour and they looked in my mouth and said “You need to see a dentist”, and off we went.
As it happens, they sent me to a dentist in the same building I later worked in. He pulled out the 1½ remaining teeth and gave me a shot and sent me home. After my mouth healed, he made and installed a gold bridge, between the two incisors, and glued ivory teeth to it. He did a good job; I still have the bridge, like new, over 50 years later.
As I looked back, later, I realized I couldn’t have asked for a better Dad. And I guess I knew how good he was, too. When he showed up, things were OK. I did not realize what a tough job he had, and what sacrifices were involved, until much, much later.
One of the things for which I’m most grateful, is the success I had in the insurance business. That made Dad proud. For several years, I flew around the country extensively, and spoke before many conventions in a variety of industries. When I’d share those things with Dad, he’d tell me how proud he was of me.
That really came home to roost when our sons graduated from High School. As they walked down the a aisle to receive their diplomas, I felt a rush of blessing and fulfillment in my role as a parent.
As I thought about that, and the pride I experienced as they walked that aisle, I thought Dad must have felt the same thing when he saw me graduate. And the thought that I made him feel good, made me feel good, too.
I thank God every time I think about Dad.
Dad died in 1988, about 6 months short of his 80th birthday. I sang "Beulahland" as part of a quartet, at his funeral (as I did, at Mom's some years later), which probably tops my bittersweetness list. One of the happier memories is that they'd gotten quite active in a church in Clearwater, where they lived, later in life. And when they moved to Alabama in in 1983, they joined FBC Pelham and were most faithful there. It's my sincere hope that my own family's life and the accompanying testimony played some part in that....