Longing for Way back When


Meet my Dad.  You may have already.

[Eulogies are laudatory and personal, so I am writing deep praise of someone no one reading knows, or will know.  The benefits of not having any advertisers or subscribers, I can do no wrong, well, almost.  I still think this is an enjoyable read...

My Dad died today, 8/09/22, at the age of 92.  The finality of this has not sunk in yet, and I am a bit afraid of when it does.  His health kept deteriorating.  Several months ago, we watched soccer every night.  Last week, at the nursing home, he was able to remember a favorite story from 1974 that I had forgotten.  Remember, he was 92.

My family went for a week-long vacation to Paris, France.  At one point we couldn’t find the subway, and I asked a gendarme, a police officer, where an entrance was to the Metro.  He gave a rather detailed explanation which had us all befuddled.  So I said, “encore? (again?)”

My father was so praising with how apropos that was, I must have been thirteen years old.  Dad could make you feel so good with his praise.  Geez, he was one of a kind.  I told him so: “You’re the best, ever.”  I’m pretty sure he heard me right.  8/09/22...  9/18/22...]

My Dad’s life is one for the books.  In fact, he wrote a memoir.  I read his autobiography, and I wonder, am I really living life to the fullest?  His story involves all this early family tumult, then traveling back and forth between, and living in, two nations, America and Canada.  This is followed by his life’s pièce de résistance, his story book romance with my mother.

He is appreciative of life’s bounty.  He finds revelations within his daily routines and then without the necessities upon which the 21st Century depends.  Necessities like having enough money to buy milk, or having electricity which the family homestead did not have in rural, circa 1940, Canada.

I wish I was more like my father.  He was a very, very strong man, both physically when he was young, and later as an engineer where on a major contract, he once put in twelve weeks without a weekend off.  We were much alike in some respects.  We both have advanced degrees.  Both of us very ethical, we couldn’t stand by as others suffered.  We were very involved in sports as young adults, me at soccer, him at boxing, of all things.

Dad boxed in the Army, he had has nose broken in the ring.  As a welterweight, he fought a light heavyweight, who landed his first punch of the bout.  Dad went through all three rounds with a bleeding, broken nose.  He wouldn’t quit.  He never did.  Except eventually, at the nursing home, he only ate chocolate shake, and pudding.

He gave up on life when his body had given up supporting him.  The catheter and the adult diaper may have been too much for him.  But man oh man, when he smiled goodbye at the end of a visit at the nursing home, it was as though god had just blessed me, and maybe he just had.

My Dad’s father, was born in 1883 in Chatham, New Brunswick, a dilipidated logging town.  He reached Boston via a Maine logging camp as an early teen.  My grandpa gave my Dad several rules to follow:

  1. Learn to box; to defend yourself.  Well, this was 1946.
  2. Learn a trade; get an education, at least until age 21.
  3. Buy land; they aren’t making any more of it.
  4. Avoid alcohol; his side of the family is Boston Irish — “Cheers!”.
  5. Do not lend money; people who need money cannot repay.  Give it, do not lend it.

In his memoir, he said he was the only one who followed all five of these.  I followed these life guidelines as well.

I try to shoulder the responsibilities that he always accepted without any complaint (somehow, he was able to work three months without a weekend off).  Dad has always been rock solid, he never erred in working his tail off to get out of hardscrabble South Boston.  He’s the man — the one, the best — and the bar has been set fairly high — actually, unfairly high.  Long hours are not daunting to me, but they weren’t at all to my Dad.

I am not jealous of his Roxbury to Dix Hills ascent.  He could not sing, or dance, for beans.  He was not a creative.  A two-step, and holding Mom close, was as much dancing as he wont to do.  He went to a script workshop, and they laughed at his reading: He is just not cut out for theatrical anything.  (I’ll never live all this down.)  Dad told this without rancor, his was so good-natured.  He was a good sport.

My Dad held three degrees.  Our family of four held ten degrees altogether.  Like Jews, we believed in education for advancement, use of our intellects, and life enrichment.  Anyhow, Dad received a Bachelor of Science from Saint Francis Xavier in Antigonish, Nova Scotia.

Dad told of a fellow student from Nova Scotia Technical College that traveled home after graduation via most every transportation mode.  First was the train, then the bus, then ferry (to Cape Breton Island and across the Gulf of Saint Lawrence), then a lift by taxi, and lastly, to reach his home in Newfoundland, he took a dogsled!

The one he is most proud of, is his Master of Science in Electrical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), class of 1957.  He was not entirely prepared, and a few courses were real slogs.

He told of a group of fellow students discussing a MIT course offerings, and one told the other that he liked one course in particular.  This student was then told that he was already enrolled in the course.  This wasn’t my father, Dad better understood his syllabus.

But my Dad did learn the material thoroughly, there was no way he could screw this up, it was a huge investment.  So, along with a three-year Army stint where he actually taught electronics, Dad was well-prepared for a career at Sperry Gyroscope in Great Neck.

His memoir chronicles his wild times, and difficult early years, abetted by drinking, which his family generally had to gave up.  Dad is fifty years AA.  Anyhow, the Army was where he hoped to straighten out his life.  He would always say how stupid it was for an engineering grad to join the Army, but it paved the way for a very in-depth understanding of engineering.  He was stationed at the Redstone Missile Base in Huntsville, Alabama.

He also has a Master of Science in Mathematics from New York University’s Courant School of Mathematics (class of 1965?)  He had two anecdotes from that experience he would recount.  My Mom would give him 50¢ to buy supper at the cafeteria.  We were a new family on a strict budget.

The second anecdote: The Courant School had very big names in science.  My Dad was in the elevator with a professor, a woman, who worked on the Manhattan Project (that Manhattan Project, the atomic bomb!)  He noted to her that the elevator did not include a thirteenth floor, which may be a common practice in New York.  The professor looked at him like: “Geez, aren’t you a genius?!”  He was eternally mortified.

Dad died in his ninety-second year at a nursing home.  His diet the last few weeks had consisted of chocolate shakes and vanilla pudding.  I kept hoping he’d bounce right back, and become the Dad from way back when.

I will never forget how he was a kind, caring father; all he accomplished in life, and the endless, happy memories we shared as a family.  He was sports-Dad, vacation-Dad, fishing-Dad, car mechanic- and handyman-Dad.  My Dad used to say that his favorite store was the hardware store.  This was pre-Home Depot, before most projects were pre-fab, prefabricated; and before everyone got a handyman to come to the house to do the work.

My father tackled projects that most fathers today wouldn’t even think of doing.  He ran wires outside to outdoor speakers, snaking them through the attic.  My Dad put a six-foot-wide television antenna in the attic, then distributed coaxial cable throughout the house to get an acceptable UHF/VHF signal.

I know how to put up shelves with angle irons.  I know how to find the studs, the two-by-fours in a wall — with and without a sonar stud-finder.  Without, you just tap until it sounds deadened.  Studs are mostly sixteen-inches apart on center.  I know to drill pilot holes before putting in a screw in the house (and rub the screw with soap, so it’ll turn).

I can do a tune-up on a pre-electronic ignition car, including replacing wires, and (spark) plugs, as well as setting the gap on plugs, and points on the distributor’s rotor.  The rotor arm is set top-dead-center on the ignition gap.  Turn the key slightly to the ignition until the distributor cam rests the arm at maxiumum gap.

The only way I know this stuff, is because my father taught it to me.  Everyone must be thinking: “You make my dad look like a lazy moron.”  Okay, granted, my Dad was an engineer, but regardless, he met family needs without spending lots of money, yet expending a great deal of effort (still economizing on hours spent).

His passing is all very sobering.  His message has always been: My life is his gift to me, do not waste it.  He admired that us kids were constructive.  My Dad made tremendous use of his time allotted on this Earth.  His life is in Horatio Algers territory, very close to being a rags to riches climb.  7/06/22...  8/06/22...  8/09/22...

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Given the complexity of life, is an afterlife so impossible?

When a loved one gives up the ghost, can there be any happy ending without the ghost joining the final congress of the spirit world?  Yet, the here and now has its own personal rewards.  Everyone tries to carve out a life, there is closure, completion, with passing, with death.

That said of a lifespan, Creation has evolved to a form so far removed from dust.  Even The First Book of Moses, called Genesis, tells of an Earth evolving, and initially, “without form, and void,” one without the most basic element, light.  It was transfigured from this dust into life that can: Think and problem-solve; possess memories; feel love, and enjoy romance; reproduce biological facsimiles to ourselves, without any guidance from us; convert sugar into energy; transport oxygen and sugar via capillaries, along with a beating heart; and on and on.

Just as a for-instance of how incomprehensible life-from-dust is: We problem solve by coaxing a lump of gray matter to provide us appropriate answers to questions.  Life is just so involved, yet why can it not provide for the spirit beyond life within the corpus, within the body?  In a sense, it would be surprising — given the immense capability of what was once dust — for nothing to transpire at corpus terminus.

Death is the end?  So much of the visible is possible, not corpus energy into spirit energies?  Isaac Newton posited that energy can neither be created or destroyed, then what of the energy posited in Creation?  Evolution’s storied accomplishments are only from simple happenstance, and random molecular collision, followed by survival of the sexiest?

I asked my Dad about the hereafter on occasion, and he said that time spans to eternity, and all manner of life (or Creation) combination can occur over such a span.  That was his “official” explanation, which I am not so sure he stood by, but it did get me to think more on the topic — and this may have been his reason for so closely toeing the Darwinian line.  7/07/22...  8/25/22...

Taking the opposite tack, part of the problem that I personally have with religion, is that it reveres life, when oftentimes there is next to nothing to revere.  Is life best viewed at face value, without any embellishment about powers much greater than ourselves, who are never seen?  Or even, if these dark powers suspected, do actually exist, are they so kind, and loving, or more judging, testing, and correcting?

Okay, you could hold evil, but ultimately love brings us back into the fold.  That one emotion keeps the whole show in this universe going.  Without passion and love, we cannot reproduce (rape babies are for the pro-lifers to love).  8/09/22.  8/25/22.

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