I’ve been thinking about my dad a lot today. Why? Simply put, he’s the greatest guy ever. My dad has been a huge factor in my discovery of everything I love about this world, and in learning how I wish to live my life. I don’t think he realizes how much he’s influenced me.
(click any picture to see it in Big Retro Glory!)
When I became old enough to move out on my own, it took me a long time to settle down and to get my head screwed on straight, I’ll freely admit it. But I like the person I’ve finally turned out to be. I’ve realized that I embrace the Do-It-Yourself lifestyle. I’d rather make something than buy it, I’d rather grow it than grocer it. When I see an amazing device, I can’t help but wonder how it’s made. My lifelong love of reading books has finally pushed me to the point of joining those who call themselves authors. And everything I’ve just mentioned can be traced directly back to things my dad taught me or encouraged me to try.
I feel lucky to have had the good fortune to grow up when I did – my childhood was sandwiched into the years between a war in Korea and a war in Vietnam. I firmly believe I had more freedom as a child than could ever be possible today. My freedom came with a price, however. Now and then something truly awful would happen and I had to face the consequences, but that’s okay. It’s how you learn to make future decisions and live your life. My childhood world contained liberal layers of lead paint and probably asbestos. But I had no fear of rolling balls of mercury round in the palm of my hand, or playing with sharp pointy toys, or of wielding woodburning tools. I rode unsafe at any speed bikes and shot down hillsides on flexy flyers. I scampered around semi-dry river beds filled with stagnant pools of water and unstable rocks, sped around public racetracks in motorized go-carts, bounced on big public trampolines, rode in cars without seatbelts, and spent lots of quality playtime in the middle of the street. In spite of, actually I’d even go so far as to say BECAUSE OF my ‘dangerous’ childhood, I’m still standing – and still fairly healthy.
I feel the era I grew up in was absolutely wonderful for exploring science, nature and the arts. We didn’t yet have computers, but guess what we did have? Big boxes of old radios, given to my brother and I by Dad, along with screwdrivers and pliers. There is NO better way to while away a warm afternoon than taking stuff apart and rebuilding the bits into something new. Often accompanied by my little brother (who made a great sidekick), I continually dove into silly, fun and oft-failed experiments, but that’s all right. We formed memories, learned skills, scared the neighbors, and laughed a lot.
Here are some of the areas of my life that simply would not be the same without the guidance and influence of my dad.
Sounds – The strong yet subtle sound of wind whiiiishing through a wiffleball as I smacked it around the yard with an old golf club. The strangely satisfying crisp-clink sound of poker chips in play during Dad’s weekly game. The lawnmower – which was often not-so-subtly pushed RIGHT up under my bedroom window on many a Saturday morning. (I have never been a morning person, ever.)
Exercise – The muscle of my upper arm tightening as I spun a psychrometer to measure the air’s relative humidity. Trying to get the hang of a pogo stick built out of metal pipe with a garage door spring inside of it. Sifting river rocks through a screen to clear the dirt that would eventually become our backyard.
Mad Science – Carving balsa wood nose cones for our homemade rockets, firing them in a nearby field, and watching them parachute back to earth. Or explode. Whatever. The Christmas I opened a beautifully crafted wooden box to gleefully discover it contained all the accompaniments to the microscope that was my main gift that year. Among the items in the box were some AMAZINGLY sharp scalpels. I was twelve and got scalpels for Christmas. Did I mention I grew up in more relaxed days?
Competition – Crafting slot cars to take down to the local hobby store track where I felt accepted as a racer, NOT mocked as a girl. Conversely, I was awful at team sports at school. Softball, dodgeball (the horror!), volleyball, all of those school sports left me scarred in more ways than one. But my Dad loved golf, and gave me a few easygoing lessons in how to hold the club, stand, swing… never with any pressure put on me. As a family, we often went miniature golfing, and I think those lessons are the reason I was a TOTAL STAR at miniature golf.
Patience – The utter tedium and mess of wet sanding the black primer on my dad’s 1929 Model A pickup truck restoration. Trying to learn to cook on my own. I believe the first meal I ever made my dad was a hamburger patty and creamed corn. The corn burnt to the pan, the patty was raw inside and black outside, but I do not have any memory of him complaining.
Humor – Making fun of those old Lee oil filters my dad loved to use – the ones that required a roll of toilet paper for the filter. That old ‘elephino’ joke dad told that took me years to finally get. My dad’s frequent and easygoing laughter at whatever was funny at the moment. Our mutual love of Charles Shultz and Peanuts led to frequent mutterings of “I got a rock”. My ever-shrinking nickname, which he’s shortened over the years from punkinhead to punkin to just punk. But dad also still calls me his Big Girl.
Flying – My dad built wonderful radio-controlled model airplanes and helicopters, and was a private pilot himself! I have clear memories of Pearblossom Airport. I’d watch dad in his engine-less sailplane, being towed up to a release altitude by another plane. Then he would enjoy a long, lazy spiraling trip back to earth, dancing on the air currents, while I lay on the grass watching him. Once we flew up to Big Bear in a little 4 seater plane, and I was so relaxed and happy, knowing with confidence that my dad had full command of the aircraft.
Technology – My dad built Heathkits. 🙂 Those of a certain age know what I mean. If you’re not familiar with Heathkits, they were the cutting edge of technology in their day! Dad was nerdy in the good ways. He worked as a draftsman and designer in the land of transducers, and at one point worked on some widget for JPL in Pasadena… I wish I could remember more about that. I’m also proud to say that my dad knew how to use a slide rule quite well. He was the Sultan of Slideruling. And his natural inclination towards machinery has a creative outlet, too! He loves clocks. Dad has built and fixed up quite a few of them, and being in his home at the top of the hour is an experience that will definitely ring your chimes.
Animal Rescue – Long before rescuing became socially trendy, I had a passion for animals. My parents fully supported this by accepting into our family whatever lost creature came home with me. Dad built elaborate, sophisticated hutches, with attics and shingled roofs, for our ever expanding furry family. He grew very fond of Bosco, a Flemish Giant rabbit I found in the field at the end of our street. He also allowed space for two tame-ish Dutch rabbits and two completely wild jackrabbits that my brother found (those didn’t work out so well, but we were allowed to try to help them). And the guinea pigs! Lots and lots of guinea pigs! Those were my first love and Dad made sure they had every luxury. A large desert turtle named Yertle roamed the backyard and occasionally escaped for a slow walk down the sidewalk, but the neighbors always brought him back home to us. Sam the Siamese was one of the best cats I have ever known. Many of our pets were rescues. All of them were loved and given the best of care, thanks to skills I learned with the help of my parents.
Nature – We took vacation road trips to the desert to see meteors and petrified forests and caverns filled with stalactites. Sometimes there would be a Sunday drive up to Big Bear, where occasionally I would see actual SNOW. This was a big deal for me, growing up in Los Angeles county. I was allowed to collect and raise polliwogs to frogs in coffee cans, pull the tails off lizards (and keep the tail to scare my friends), and hypnotize horny toads (yes, I did). I found it relaxing to drag magnets through sandboxes and sand piles to collect the iron filings. One of my odder memories is of getting excited to see the ‘sewing machine’ oil pumps off the highway – that meant we were very close to the beach, and I loved the beach so much.
Art – Now this one he will probably deny, but my dad is an artist. I think it’s a natural offshoot of his technical drawing skills. The best showcase I can remember for his art was his design for the city of Sierra Madre’s rose float one year. His concept was the Kon-Tiki, moving through the waves, father wind blowing into it’s billowing sails, being led by three dolphins. I enjoyed being able to help build that float, and I learned a lot about hardtack glue that year.
Writing – In grade school, I discovered I loved words a lot more than numbers (I sucked so badly at math). I know my dad often wished I was better at math, but he balanced his feelings with a LOT of encouragement and praise for my writing. I was ‘published’ in our grade school’s annual creative writing booklet nearly every year. As much as I loved being included though, my dad’s praise for the work (mostly poetry) meant more to me.
I love you, Dad. Thanks for EVERYTHING!