Most of the following blog was something I tried to publish in early April because it was my father’s birthday and the anniversary of his passing. But it just kept getting longer and longer. I didn’t want to stop but I didn’t want to post it if it wasn’t done yet. Now that father’s day is here, I figured I would try to get it done as part of my celebration of his influence in my life.
I think about my father a lot. More than anything else, I try to remember what he would have done in my situations. He was a man of acute, practical wisdom and I miss having him to talk to about the things that matter in my life today. He wasn’t much of a talker, but when he did speak about important things, he was almost always right.
Anyway, so here are my random thoughts. I have a lot more thoughts and memories than what I’ve written here, but I think these that I’m sharing paint an accurate picture of the man I see in my mind who I called “Daddy.”
I always think about my father during this time of the year. Early April is both his birthday and the anniversary of his death. But what prompted me to actually write about my father now, on a blog post, was that I just got my hair cut. One of the stories he loved to tell so often was about the time when I decided I was going to run away from home.
He Thinks He’s Sampson
I was a high school student by that time and all of my friends had cool looking, 1980’s style haircuts. I, however, was allowed to only get my hair cut on base by the military barber. If I’m remembering this correctly, the barber had two cuts, the boys’ cut and the men’s cut. The boys’ cut was only a little longer than the men’s. Not cool! Not by 1980’s teenager standards.
Well, one day I had decided I wasn’t going to get my hair cut. I was going to let it grow long like my friends’ hair. We argued. My father won – quite simply as a matter of fact. When I threatened to run away from home, he laughed at me and asked me “where do you think you would go?” He was right. I was just a kid and there was no way I could survive on my own. I wasn’t street smart or anything like that.
But the story doesn’t end there. After giving in and going with my father to the barber, sitting there in the chair, I cried as the barber cut my hair off. Today, I think I can see this better from my father’s perspective. I was his eldest son, a teenager, crying in the barber’s chair like a baby. I think that probably hurt him as much as what he said in response had hurt me. He laughed at me and looked at the other soldiers in the room and said, “He thinks he’s Sampson and he’s going to lose all his powers.” All the guys laughed and I was humiliated.
To be completely honest with you, as much as that memory tormented me when I was younger, it has become one of my fondest memories of my father. He had normal, healthy concerns about me. He wanted me to grow up to be a man, not a cry baby, not a wimp, not a girly boy. He wanted me to be the kind of man who could take care of his family, provide for them and protect them. What he wanted for me was already unpopular at that time, even more unpopular today, but I’m glad he instilled those values into my life. I admire and appreciate him for it.
Support Your Habit
As I was growing up, my father told me time after time that the most important thing for me, as an adult, would be to “put a roof over my family’s head and put food on the table.” He explained to me that those things come first and anything more luxurious must come later. He told me this over and over and over again. He said it so often that I can’t help but to remember it today.
I believe that the reason he shared so much of this kind of wisdom with me was because he knew I was going to become a musician. He thought I was going to ruin my life chasing after pipe dreams. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying he discouraged me from becoming a musician. Not at all. He was always supportive and even enthusiastic about my playing. But he often told me that I needed to find a job to “support my music habit.”
Another one of my fondest memories of my father was the time when my parents came to visit me in Houston. It was the first time they had come to visit since I had begun working as a pro player and I took him to a couple of my gigs. Back in those days I played regularly with a cumbia/ranchera band called Promessa. I remember coming home from a flea market gig when my father said to me, clearly trying to reign in his tears of joy, “I have never been so happy to be wrong. I never thought you could make a living as a musician.”
To my father, making a living and providing for my family was top priority. He didn’t want me to become one of those stereotypical musicians who not only wastes his own life away but also ruins the lives of his family. When he saw that I could make enough money to pay the bills playing my horn, that brought him great joy.
Do What You Like To Do
My father was stubbornly principled, almost to a fault. I started thinking about writing about him this way months ago because I find myself going back to his wisdom often in my daily life. So much so that I’ve begun keeping notes as I remember these things.
One of the things he always used to tell me about choosing a career is something you would sort of expect from a caring father. I have heard other people say it as well, but to me it always meant something different from what everyone else thinks.
My father used to tell me that you should do for a living what you enjoy doing best. But he would ALWAYS follow that up with a caveat. He would say, “I just happen to be one of those people lucky enough to enjoy doing almost anything.”
Ha! The only thing I ever heard my father say he didn’t like doing was sitting behind a desk. When he was working for D.E.C., he was offered several promotions that would have put him behind a desk and taken him out of the field and he didn’t want that.
But other than that, my father was content to do any kind of job. I remember he used to be in the Army and working two or three part time jobs at the same time. I asked him about this many years later, asked him if he liked working the floor for Two Guys. He said he loved it. Here we are talking about a man who was trained to fix complex electronic equipment. He had a great talent for electronics but didn’t feel like working the floor at a discount store was beneath him. He enjoyed something that most highly qualified employees would have thought was a waste of their time and talents.
What I took from the wisdom my father shared with me was that it is my attitude that matters most, not the work that I’m doing. In scouts we used to swear to be cheerful no matter what kind of work we were doing. THAT was my father! If I am to follow in my father’s footsteps, I need to “enjoy” every kind of work I ever need to do. I need to seek reasons to like and enjoy my work instead of finding reasons to complain about it.
In my line of work, there are a lot of complainers. Musicians love to complain. I think my father is one of the reasons I never did much of that.
What’s Wrong With Church?
As I said previously, my father was stubbornly principled. I remember one morning, back when I was in high school, that my casual tennis shoes had gone missing. I had searched the house for them but they were gone. All I had left to wear to school were my black church shoes. I was adamant about not going to school looking like Bowzer from Shanana. But when my father asked me why I wasn’t going to wear those shoes, I told him it was because they were church shoes.
His response was one of the only times I remember that he ever became angry at me. With veins bulging from his forehead, eyes almost popping from their sockets, he asked in a very controlled, very angry voice, “what’s wrong with church?”
I stuttered and didn’t have an answer. Certainly there was nothing wrong with church. Now that I’m older and understand how to communicate better, I know what I meant to say. Church shoes don’t match with the genes and casual shirts I could wear to school. Ha! Not much of a better excuse for not wanting to wear dress shoes to school, but if I had said it differently, if I hadn’t called them “church shoes”, he probably wouldn’t have become as angry as he did.
To my father, this was a serious offense. It was serious enough to make him very angry with me, this from a man who I had almost never seen become angry. That gives you an idea of how serious he was about his faith.
Another memory I have about my father in the context of church was something he used to talk about all the time, but we never found out what it was all about. Our family always sat in the second pew, left of the isle. My memory may be failing, but the way I remember it, we sat in these same pews no matter where we lived or which church we were going to (we went to a LOT of different churches because we lived in so many different places).
When we lived in El Paso, we were members at Center Chapel One on Ft. Bliss. Every Sunday as we walked back down the isle towards the exit, this Asian woman always stopped to bow at my father. She didn’t bow to anyone else. Not any of the other men in the church nor anyone in our family. There was something about my father that prompted her to venerate him this way.
That’s how my father was. It’s almost ironic because you wouldn’t have known how serious my father was about church, and his faith if you only met him casually on the streets. He was the kind of guy who enjoyed hanging out with the guys (and was quite capable of communicating in that language – if you know what I mean), wasn’t opposed to a casual drink or two, and always enjoyed watching his “bloody movies.” He was also the kind of man who could fight if he had to.
In fact, that’s one of the things he used to talk to me about. My father believed that you should avoid fighting at all costs, but if you did end up in a fight, then you should fight dirty. He believed that you shouldn’t be fighting unless it was completely necessary and there was absolutely no alternative. So, if things had become that serious, then you fight to win. It’s not just a couple guys in a pissing contest. He didn’t believe in that kind of machismo male stuff. But if it was a matter of life and death, he told me to grab a two-by-four, one that has nails if you can find one, and take care of business.
Fortunately, I’ve never had to fight in my adult life. Not once. (I did come close once, but I think the guy could see that I wasn’t afraid of him) But if the need were to arise, I would probably do as my father suggested, and I would do whatever was necessary to make things right. Of course, I have no fighting skills now, but I think that’s the whole point he was making. If you are not a fighter, then you don’t have those skills. So yeah, if it comes to it, don’t rely on skills, just do what needs to be done.
Of course, this is just theoretical. I don’t recall my father ever telling me about any fights he had as an adult.
But that is not what we typically associate with Christian behavior. And yes, my father’s life style did fall a bit outside of the traditional norms of Christian life. That said, he was a fervent Christian, full of love for everyone he met.
To be completely honest, that’s one of the reasons I wanted to write about my father this way. Yes, I did say on my Life Builders page that I will only be writing Life Builders posts about people who are still alive today. But this is not a Life Builders post. This is something all together different. I’m hoping that people who didn’t know these wonderful things about my father will take a different look at his life. He was a very strong Christian but a lot of people may have assumed otherwise because of their own personal prejudices.
There’s a story my father used to tell about when he was applying for jobs after he retired from the Army. He said he had interviewed with one company that he was already trained on their equipment. So he was a shoe-in for them. But during the interview, they told him he would need to stop calling them “sir” and that he would have to stop wearing dress shoes if he wanted to work for them.
This story always fascinated me. The way he told it always gave me the impression that they wanted him to “loosen up” and be himself – just assuming that he was putting on an air, or that maybe he was still too military for them. What they didn’t know was that my father called all adult men “sir.” That’s how he was raised and that’s who he was. It had very little to do with him being in the Army.
I’ve written about this before, but my father still believed in job loyalty. He didn’t believe that you should just switch jobs because you feel like it or because you found a better offer. He believed this so much that he told me it was wrong to take a job if I knew before hand that I would be quitting.
You don’t meet people like that anymore. I think I followed his example and I know my brother and sister also did. But this is not a popular way to live anymore. Our society has decided that it’s most important to look after numero uno. I believe that’s why my brother and sister are so very successful today. Just take a look at how long they’ve been with Intel and Super Cuts! It’s a little different for me because I am self employed, but still, I think this sense of loyalty has made a huge difference in my career as well.
My Father and Cars
One of the things my father was very good at was fixing cars. I remember him teaching me how to rebuild an engine when I was in eighth grade. He had a Corvair convertible, one of those with the engine in the rear with what he called “butterfly carbs.” We used to ride around the island of Oahu in that car, stopping for snow cones and hot malasadas. When the engine needed to be rebuilt, he asked me to help and wanted me to pay attention so I could learn about cars.
That was my first experience working on cars and he thought I didn’t like it. And guess what – he was right! He he he… I wasn’t very interested in it at all. So when I started working on cars, it surprised him. I remember when he took a road trip all the way to Houston to help me with my first valve job. He laughed at me because I was very dirty. He said, “You really like to get all the way in there.”
When we were finished with the valve job, he seemed happy when he said to me, “I didn’t know you liked to work on cars.” Ha! LOL
I told him, “I don’t do this because I like it. I do it because I can.”
Yes, I can work on cars! And yes, I do sort of like it. But not in the way he meant. I like it in much the same way as he said he liked working at Two Guys. I don’t just do what I enjoy….I enjoy what I do. As I already said in this post, that’s something I learned from him.
I used to call my father every time I had trouble with a car. I would explain the problem to him and he would give me advice. He was almost always right. But one time he amazed me when he asked me to put the phone over the engine of the car. I did what he said and he told me precisely what the problem was based on what he heard over the phone.
Daddy had a very logical, approach to fixing cars. I think a lot of the diagnostic skills I use in my teaching are influenced by his ability to use logic to fix things, whether they were electrical or mechanical.
My Driving Instructor
It was also my father who taught me to drive. He believed in learning to drive safely by exploring the dangers in a controlled environment. That was his main concern was safety. While I was learning, with him in the car, he would tell me to drive two wheels on to the shoulder of the road, so that I feel what that is like. He said that people over reacted when they feel the shoulder and over compensate on the steering wheel. I believe that I survived at least half a dozen close calls because of his training.
He also believed in practicing driving in the snow or on ice. If you don’t practice those skills in a controlled environment, how will you be able to use them when you need them in an emergency? So long after I had gotten my license, the first time it snowed in El Paso after that, I did what he told me to. I went out to drive in that weather just to practice my skills.
My Father and Drugs
I am a completely drug free man because my father raised me to understand the dangers of drug addiction. I will never forget the day that my father had us kids sit down so he could talk to us about the guy who used to come over and hang out with us. My father said that he wouldn’t be coming over again because he had been caught by the MPs with pot. He said that they stopped tank maneuvers and pulled the guy from the tank and threw him in jail. Then he told us that this soldier’s life was now ruined because of the drugs.
He was extremely opposed to recreational drug use. He believed that it destroyed people’s lives. And you know, I don’t think he was just talking about the physical effects of the drugs. I think he was talking about all of it. He was talking about what it does to your ability to get a job. To keep a job. He was talking about the legal side of it and what happens when you get caught. When you get down to it, there’s nothing good that comes from drug use.
You see, I think my father was a selfless man. He put our needs, my mom’s needs, me and my sibling’s needs, first in his life. Just like he taught me to live, he made a priority of providing for his family. And I believe he recognized that drugs was a selfish thing that ruins the lives of the people around us. No, he didn’t say it that way. I’m a lot more geeky than he was. But you can be certain that that’s what he meant. When he said that drugs will ruin your life, he wasn’t saying that they will make you feel bad about yourself. No! When you look at what he used to say and apply that to the context of the rest of his life, it’s easy to see that he was talking about your ability to work, your ability to care for your family, your ability to care for other people. Drugs take that away from you because drugs are all about you feeling good and nothing else. It’s very selfish and very addictive, causing you to become increasingly MORE selfish as the drugs dig deeper into your life.
If I’m wrong about why he didn’t like people to do drugs, it changes nothing. The fact is, he didn’t like it at all. As a soldier serving in both Vietnam and Korea, he wasn’t ignorant about drugs. He wasn’t stupid. He had good reasons for believing what he did.
Corny Sense of Humor
Okay, one last memory before I close this vignette marathon. My father had an almost annoying and corny sense of humor. He was constantly “teasing” and joking and kidding around. He enjoyed to have fun and often at our expense. 🙂
There’s one thing he used to do that I actually tell my students about because it helps me to make a certain point. He would poke us real hard with his finger and ask us if it hurt. If we didn’t answer right away, he would poke harder, laughing as he did it. When we said it hurt, he would tell us, “then don’t do that.”
I also remember that he would always say, when he was doing an U-turn, “I’m doing a sick bird, I’m doing a sick bird” – which meant that he was doing something illegal….get it? “sick bird” = “ill eagle”. 🙂
And what would he say if we asked him where our mother went? Always…..”She’s driving a bus.”
What would he say if you ask him what he’s doing? “I’m driving a bus.”
And then there was Micky Mouse. My father always used to say, “Micky Mouse is the bad guy” because he knew it would start something with one of us kids.
He loved to “torment” us kids. And we loved it when he tormented us.
You know, I used to think that sometimes he went overboard teasing and tormenting us that way. But you know, when I look at how fragile people are today, how easily they fall apart just because someone looked at them a certain way, I thank God that my father teased me the way he did. I thank God that my father had enough practical wisdom to know that practicing social skills in a controlled setting was just as important as practicing driving in the snow.
I don’t know if he knew what he was doing when he teased us. I can’t know if he was doing it for our benefit or if he genuinely got a thrill out of it. But the bottom line is that we did benefit from it. We are not overly protected, overly coddled brats and I believe that’s one of the reasons all four of us kids have been successful in life.
My father was not your ordinary man. He wasn’t just old fashioned, I mean, he liked a lot of the new ways. So it wasn’t that. He was, as I had already put it, stubbornly principled. He believed there was a very clear difference between right and wrong. And no, that’s not popular today. It’s even more unpopular now than it was when he was alive.
But his moral and ethical values were at the center of his being. His beliefs defined who he was as a man and I cling to my memories of him because he was the last of a dying breed. I want to be like he was, more now than ever before. But I have no living role models to follow. All I have is my memories of my father and my Bible.