Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Dad and I

My Dad and I rarely spoke to each other especially after Christmas eve 1968, and he wasn't much of a talker to the rest of the family, only to his personal friends we hardly knew, but as told to me by my Mom my Dad and I had similar lives for a short period in our youth that defined the rest of our life. Except for the times and places, he and I were the same.

When Ace, my Dad, the nicknamed he got somewhere in his youth - short for Alva Clyde, not a name you want to be known by - graduated from high school in Valley Falls, Kansas, a small town about an hour drive northwest of Kansas City, he worked in his Dad's store, the only general store in town, until he went to the University of Kansas. It was 1939. We all know the history that was about to be bestowed on this country.

After his first year he returned home to work in the store and start his sophomore year, or so he thought. You see Ace was the third child of three and the second son, Kermit his older brother. My Dad's father came to the United States from England about 1908, moved to Valley Falls, set up his business, built a house a few blocks away, married Elfreda Anna after she immigrated in 1910, and spent the rest of his years raising a family.

I never knew what Ace's relationship with his fatrher was, but from what I've been told it was a mixed one as his Dad apparently favored Kermit and his older sister. Kermit got four years of college and went on to a properous insurance business in Kansas City never venturing far from the family home. I don't know about the sister except she married young and left for Colorado. My Dad and his father had a falling out about colllege.

He never spoke about it, but from tales from friends and relatives, he apparently didn't use college so much for learning as for enjoying life and the world away from home. And I gathered that his Dad didn't offer to put him through another year of a life away from home, so he stayed working in the store, and in the spring of 1940 Ace enlisted in the Army.

All I know is that my Dad's father "invited" him to leave to make a life for himself, just not there sometime while at home. He did just that serving 23-plus years in the Army and Air Force, eventually settling in Denver, Colorado when he retired, to work for the US Bureau of Land Management. He retired a second time in 1984 after 43-plus years with the federal government.

My Dad was a very private man. While he was generous with friends, as Mom would later know after his death to find a drawer stuffed full of iou's to him for money he had loaned to friends over 50 years behind her back, he was barely generous with us kids. Only later did I learn it was about the same his Dad treated his kids. A solid middle class upbringing and nothing too much or too fancy except for the special occasion.

What bothered me the most throughout the life I knew him after leaving home, was that he never spoke of his past. Never about growing up in rural Kansas, never about his service in World War II (non-combat), his military career (much in secret commands), or his retirement. He never wrote about it either, despite all of our attempts to get him to talk. He never did, and took all his experiences to his grave. Lost forever.

When I graduated from high school in 1967 I had plans to work but the draft made it clear I had to go to college too. I wanted to go a Colorado school out of the Denver area but Dad decided I should attend the same university my brother graduated from and become a mechnical engineer. My brother was the favored son, as with Kermit, got his full college paid. I, on the other hand, had to pay a third of my tuition and all my books.

After the first year, where I barely passed, I was put on academic probation. After the first quarter of my sophomore year I was released from the College of Engineering, and as explained in the Christmas eve story, my Dad said to me, "Son, I want you to have a life, just don't have it here."

Less than 3 months later I enlisted in the Air Force and left home, rarely returning, and rarely speaking to my Dad. We had another falling out when during my enlistment and facing a disciplinary hearing my Dad criticized me for not be a good soldier. I hated the military and the Vietnam War, but I loved my country to serve. I never forgave him for his words then as he never apologized for them.

Nearly twenty years later after my brother suddenly died of a heart attack, my Dad didn't even talk to me whole the time in Kansas City for the week of the funeral and cremation ceremonies. My Mom had to speak for him. He had lost his, in his mind, the only son who mattered to him. In the years in between my brother's death and his death 3 years later, we rarely spoke. He had lost his sons and was wrestling with his own demons.

He died shortly after his 75th birthday. My Mom's only advice a few years later was, "You and Dad are so alike it's scary, but please, for the rest of your life, don't be your father." The best advice I ever heard from my parents and am still living it.

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