Commentary: Still waiting for a talk with my dad
WEST FAIRLEE, Vt.—Father's Day conjures up memories of a father I never got to know. He died when I was young: 16. He was young: 41. He never got to know me. He never saw me succeed as a journalist, spouse and father. He never met my wife or his grandchildren. They know of him from my stories, but never knew him. With my mother and sister gone, and members of his generation long since dead, I am the only living repository of the record of his life; and the record is incomplete.
Our short time together influenced me in ways he could not have anticipated. By the time I was making life-changing decisions, he'd been dead for several years. By the time I spurned his blueprint for me, his admonitions had become footnotes.
A child of the Great Depression and World War II Navy veteran, my dad had a trade that was valuable in his era. He was a Linotype operator. Owning that hard-earned union journeyman status guaranteed a good-paying job. Had he lived, I would have trod in his footsteps to trade school in New Britain, Conn., mastered the Linotype typesetter and joined the International Typographical Union, the ITU. His experience in the economy of the 1930s had convinced him a union trade was job security; that's what he wanted for me. He could not have known in 1961 that in only a decade Linotypes would be relics, and the ITU would fold as the need for his skills evaporated.
I dismissed his wishes and I opted for academic studies in high school. My dad was not a scholar, but he was well-read and intelligent. He was of a generation and place that valued a trade more than book learning. I understood why he felt that way. My hometown was a manufacturing city that generated thousands of jobs for skilled workers: tool-and-die makers, vertical turret lathe operators, pipefitters, draftsmen, electricians, pressmen and more. One of my grandfathers manned a sheet metal stamping machine; the other muscled a brass polisher. Sons routinely followed fathers into the factories. Dad believed I should do the same with the trade that had worked so well for him at the local newspaper, and for his young family.
I went to college, a first in my family. I got a university education, stumbled off to North Dakota, created a family and earned a rewarding career in a great state. I'd made the right choice.
I think dad would have approved, but the hell of it is, I don't know. I wish he and I could have talked about it. I wonder what our conversation would have been like. Last time I was in my hometown, I visited St. Mary's Cemetery where dad, mom and one set of grandparents are at rest. I talked to dad, told him about my life, his grandkids and great grandkids ... and waited. Save for a summer breeze playing in the great oak that shades the graves, silence. Even today, Father's Day, silence. Guess I'll wait a little longer.