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Reading leads to father, son bond

I’m writing this just before Father’s Day even though you may be reading it the Friday after. Allow me to celebrate with you some of the life of my dad, who certainly was an interesting character:

It was a surprise for me. It was after dinner in January of 1943. I was 7 years old. It was Dad’s usual time to sit in his easy chair to read the evening Warren Tribune Chronicle. I was trying to read the funnies as I lay on the floor nearby. Lowell Thomas, a news commentator of that time, was giving his report on WTAM radio.

Abruptly, Dad put down the newspaper, reached over to turn off the radio, and asked me to sit on the footstool in front of his chair. He produced an issue of Life magazine (10 cents a copy back then).

He began reading to me.

This had never happened before. He started to read the fascinating survival story of national hero Eddie Rickenbacker’s ordeal and rescue after he and the crew of his plane had been adrift for 24 days in tiny life rafts. Their lost B-17 had crash-landed in the vast Pacific Ocean in October of 1942.

The story was published in Life in three lengthy installments. Nearly every evening for three solid weeks, I sat on that footstool, totally enthralled, as Dad read portions of that story to me.

I won’t go on about the details of that story because, if you are interested, you may wish to look it up. It was written by one of the crew, James C. Whittaker.

The significance of Dad’s reading to me was the bonding that occurred. I think this particular episode in my life was the most memorable and significant part in our relationship.

Dad was a bit of an amateur when it came to rearing a son. His own dad had died when Dad was only 10, and had been ill for the better half of his last decade.

Dad was born when his mother was 45, which was quite a bit past the child-bearing years for her back then. Dad’s eight other surviving siblings (one had died as an infant) were quite grown up by then and had lives and jobs of their own. So Dad had no real role model of what a dad should do with a young son.

I remember a photo of Dad sitting all propped up on one arm at the beach with me near Geneva-on-the Lake. I was playing in the sand with a little shovel and pail. I must have been about 1 1/2 then. If you ever wanted to see a man totally out of his element, you should see the bewildered expression on Dad’s face!

It wasn’t that Dad didn’t really try hard to be a good dad, but he would buy me things that were well beyond my years. For example, when I was 6, he bought me an expensive stick model airplane kit that clearly stated on the box that it was for ages 14 and older.

Oh, well. I guess Dad thought he had a precocious kid on his hands — when what he really had was just an average kid struggling to get along with his peers at Garfield Elementary. I guess they weren’t interested in rebuilding diesel fuel injectors as Dad had me doing when I was 10.

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