Happy Father’s Day, Dad!
I am fortunate to have been blessed with a wonderful Dad. And on this Father’s Day, his special day, I want to pay a special tribute to him.
Dad, who turned 80 last month, grew up in the Depression years. It was kids from his high school class year of 1943 who joined the World War II efforts in places like the Battle of the Bulge, although the effects from an earlier bout with rheumatic fever ended up disqualifying him from serving.
He went on to become the baritone soloist in his college choir, touring parts of North America. That was one of the earlier experiences in what has been a passionate lifetime love affair with music. Whenever music played at home during my childhood, I remember Dad often losing himself in the music – a practice made much easier by his deep knowledge of most classical music compositions. I also remember many years later, when the Three Tenors were first hitting it big with the general public, calling home to ask him the name of a certain piece they were performing on television, which he rapidly identified after I held the phone in the direction of the TV. Few things brought him more pleasure than attending musical performances at the Music Academy of the West when they lived in Santa Barbara for nearly 20 years or attending first-rate musical performances in downtown Los Angeles over the years by the Los Angeles Opera or Los Angeles Philharmonic. He has had the pleasure of seeing many of the great performers and conductors.
As a family, music was an active part of all of our lives and we had a number of particularly memorable musical traditions. One of my favorites was visiting the homes of numerous friends on Christmas Eve and singing Christmas carols as a family to those friends.
I will always remember the look of horror (or was it just outright disgust?) on his face over 30 years ago when, as the oldest child, I introduced Deep Purple records into a house in which Dad’s definition of modern music was Brahms – with only a few 20th century exceptions! I was convinced back then that riffs from Ritchie Blackmore’s guitar or Jon Lord’s organ were far more interesting than Mozart or Beethoven. In response to such youthful moments, it seemed like Dad would just smile. Now, with the perspective that comes with time and some maturity, it was probably more of a pained grimace!
Dad, a retired Presbyterian minister, met Mom when they were both attending Princeton Theological Seminary. They will celebrate their 53rd wedding anniversary next week.
I remember how supportive he was nearly 25 years ago when Mom began to develop what became a passion in her life, a love for art. That love has led her to be an active docent first at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art and, more recently, at the Huntington Art Collections in Pasadena where she remains active today at the age of 78.
Dad has always loved nature. He maintained a garden at our homes and yardwork brought him great satisfaction – a concept I cannot comprehend even today! To this day, he can tell you the names of all sorts of trees, plants, and flowers.
Dad and Mom moved out to California in 1955, with the entrepreneurial charge to start a new Presbyterian Church in La Mirada, a then-small town of just several thousand people surrounded by orchards near the border of Los Angeles and Orange counties. Ever modest, we kids only found out many years later how Dad helped the Jewish synagogue get organized as he was building up his own church, including providing a meeting place at the Presbyterian Church until they had their own site. Or how, when his building was the only non-school public building in town, providing the first meeting place for the Boy Scouts. Dad built the church to over 600 members in his eight years of service in La Mirada.
Dad was a pastor’s pastor. Kind, empathetic and always willing to help others. The helping of others took various forms ranging from assisting individuals with a variety of needs, speaking out for civil rights in the early 1960’s long before it became politically fashionable, and being one of the original organizers of the Hospice of Santa Barbara – the second oldest hospice in the United States – where he subsequently served as Board member and President of the Board. To this day, he still provides counseling to others as well as periodic seminars focused on providing helpful tools to others in need.
Dad’s work schedule created numerous logistical challenges, to say the least, for our family life. We did not spend a lot of time together when I was growing up. His busiest times of the year were Christmas and Easter – when we were out of school. His work week peaked on the weekend – when we were out of school. He had Monday’s off – when we were in school. And he often had evening meetings at church on Tuesday through Thursday nights – when we were at home.
Nonetheless, we always had dinner together as a family where active conversations were a given. Whether discussing the activities of our individual days or discussing current events, some of the happiest memories of my childhood were from those times around the dinner table and afterwards when we moved into the living room.
Dad had the month of August off for vacation and some of the other happiest memories of my childhood happened during that month. We took two driving trips across the country. Whether it was seeing the grandeur of our great country – like Washington, D.C. or Colonial Williamsburg or Philadelphia or Cranberry Island in Maine or Route 66 or the Smoky Mountains or Utah – or just locking the keys inside the car at our Wyoming hotel, we always had fun. We still chuckle about that one scenic view stop which consisted of looking out upon acres and acres of corn fields. Mom used to read books to us during those trips, books such as Cheaper by the Dozen and the Trapp Family Singers’ story.
We got lost a number of times on those driving trips and it was Dad’s good humor about it that made experiences such as being lost in the warehouse district of Chicago – after dark – or in the heart of Boston – on a Friday afternoon – both memorable and a source of ongoing delight. To the point that we almost looked forward to getting lost again.
Other vacation trips included driving to Victoria, British Columbia and taking annual treks to see one set of grandparents in Northern California. It was on the latter trips where I discovered the majestic physical beauty of that great state and fell in love with its characteristics that have now, unfortunately, been largely lost forever.
Dad taught me some important personal values, usually by example and sometimes by explicit coaching. For those lessons, I will always be grateful.
A particularly happy recent memory was a weekend the two of us spent together several years ago in the Bay Area. Whether it was walking through Muir Woods, touring Napa Valley or having lunch in the beautiful City of San Francisco, it was an experience I will cherish forever.
Over ten years ago, he was able to overcome complications following prostate cancer surgery. He now has what is called smoldering (asymptomatic) multiple myeloma, against which his treatment regimen has been successful so far.
Last month, the L.A. Times did a wonderful article entitled These Retirees Have Centuries of Service to Faith, which was “about people who live at Monte Vista Grove Homes, a Christian retirement community in Pasadena in the shadows of the San Gabriel Mountains. It’s an unusual center for 130 veteran Presbyterian leaders and their spouses, including many of whom have worked around the world.” One part of the article briefly mentioned Mom and Dad:
Even in retirement, many of these Presbyterians are busy. They volunteer at local churches, schools and nonprofit groups.
At home, they deliver mail, staff the reception desk, stand security watch at night, and help frail residents in the assisted living and skilled nursing facilities that are open to nonresidents.
For example, on Thursday, when residents gathered for a presentation of Mark Twain’s “The Diaries of Adam and Eve,” residents in wheelchairs from the assisted living quarters also were in the audience.
After a prayer and a hymn, the Rev. Donald Hawthorne — also known as the whistler of Monte Vista Grove — and his wife, Lee, an art historian, set the tone for a contemporary adaptation of Twain’s commentary on the first man and woman. She read the creation story from Genesis 1. And he did a “musical overture” by whistling such Broadway hits as “Some Enchanted Evening” and “Wouldn’t It Be Lovely.”
Then the Rev. Jack Lorimer, who served 40 years as a missionary in Egypt, and Nancy Macky, a retired English professor from Westminster College in New Wilmington, PA., stepped on stage to read from Twain’s diaries – with gestures and all. They’re no amateurs; both taught drama in college…
Oh, the whistling. He is good at it and, when you know music well and have a bounce in your step, there is much to whistle about!
Dad, I am proud to be your son and to share your name. Happy Father’s Day!