(That’s my dad right there in the center of all the kids. My older brother David has his hands up.)
My dad was a cool guy. Everyone said that. The neighborhood kids who came to our house. The students that worked with him at the university bookstore he managed. My brothers’ bandmates. My cousins, my girlfriends. You name it. Dad was a cool guy in just about everyone’s eyes–but his.
Dad was a private person. He didn’t talk about himself very much or his many accomplishments. Always self effacing–he played it cool.
And yet, my father was multi-talented. He grew up and helped work the family farm. He helped put himself through college. He taught English and Music at the high school level. He sang over the radio out west in Wyoming when he was working on his uncle’s ranch and feeling very homesick. I wish I had a recording of that session. That would be super cool.
Later, dad joined the army and was promoted to staff sergeant. He was promoted again and entered Japanese Language School as an intelligence officer at Yale and the University of Michigan–where he met my mother.
When the war ended in 1945 and he was married to my mom, he worked at Cohn’s Music store in Detroit where he waited on Harpo Marx of the Marx Brothers who came in to have some instruments worked on.
In the midst of raising four children, dad decided that he didn’t want to work retail the rest of his life and led an ambitious attempt to study medicine. Alas, with four children at home and his job’s responsibilities it was all too much and he had to drop out. He would have made a great doctor. He had the patience of a saint and a gentle, kind soul. I could see him being a pediatrician as he was great with kids–especially his.
He had a dream to be a university professor. But when he applied for a position at Eastern Michigan University, he was informed that there was an opening as the university’s bookstore manager and that he would be perfect for. He took the job and stayed there until retirement. I sometimes helped out in the bookstore during school rush and observed firsthand what a cool boss he was.
Dad used to smoke cigarettes. We never saw him do this. He didn’t smoke much–maybe one or two a day. Snooping around one day I found them hidden in a shirt pocket in his closet. It was cool of him to not smoke in front of us. I know he did it in moderation. He was an ‘everything in moderation’ type of a guy and we never had to worry about him going over the edge and not being there for us. He was always there.
If I had a bad dream, dad would come in to my room, kneel at my bed, talk to me until I fell back asleep. He never complained–even if he had to get up early the next day which was usually the case. I know he did this my brothers as well.
My oldest brother, Scott, even wrote a song about it called ‘Top Of The Stairs’ about him doing the same thing for my brothers who shared a room on the second floor. That means even more nights he didn’t get enough sleep. On those nights his cool could calm you right back to sleep.
Later he allowed all my brothers bands to practice in our basement. Not a lot of parents would have put up with that or with the neighbors who could lose their cool over all the loud ‘noise’. He never did.
Dad was a dapper dresser. With his English background, he was the picture of neatness. I loved the old photos of him in his smart suit jackets, his round, tortoise shell glasses, perfectly pleated trousers and argyle socks. He had one of those portable shoeshine kits and his shoes always had a spit shine to them. He took an interest in the way he looked his entire life. He was fashionably cool–like a million bucks cool.
Dad was 36 when he finally got married to my mom who was 28 at the time. And, although eight years older than mom, he worried and took care of her while her health was failing–even though it probably took a toll on his own-unbeknownst to him-deteriorating health. More than anything he loved family–he loved us. And, to have had him around for 92 years I consider myself very lucky.
I cry when I think of how he told me in later years that he had lived an unfulfilled life and never accomplished anything. He had been a vocalist, teacher, musician, medical student, intelligence officer, bookstore manager, cowboy, soldier not to mention an exemplary father. Friends and even cousins envied how he was always ‘there’ for us kids. ‘Your dad is so cool!’
Yeah, he was cool alright. He was the epitome of it. He could have taught it. He lived it. I hope even a smidge of it rubbed off on me. But he was more than cool. Some would say he was part of ‘the greatest generation’. All I know was he was my father.