My father didn’t sit down with his children often, to have heart to heart talks, however, one night I remember he sat with me in our den that we also referred to as, the TV room. He turned on a movie and sat with me. He suggested we have a brandy together. My father wasn’t really a drinker so this surprised me. I honestly can’t remember how old I was at the time; maybe, I was in my last year of high school or on vacation from college? We sipped our glasses of apricot brandy and proceeded to watch the film on TV. In this particular film there were two men digging a hole and talking. We sat and watched for a few minutes and then my father turned to me and said, “You know any movie that has two guys digging a hole for five minutes…. is a movie that has nothing to say, and is a waste of time.” My dad got up to turn the channel. (Yes, in those days one had to get up off of the couch to change the channel. A person had to turn a dial to change the channel by hand. There was no such thing as a remote control.) A light went off in my head. It was the best basic critique of a film that I have ever heard of before or since. That was my father in a nutshell. He wasn’t a phony or a huge conversationalist. He immediately got right to the point. I never forgot that night. Why? I guess it was one of those moments that my father sat and talked to me. That night he treated me as another adult instead of his little girl. He told me that he didn’t like the taste of alcohol and didn’t really like to drink. He mentioned that he only drank when he had to travel for work. He would stop and have a few drinks in a bar at night before heading to his hotel room. He admitted to being sad and lonely on the road. This shocked me. My father, sad and lonely? I never thought of him as a lonely person.
The first night my parents arrived home after dropping me off at college my mother told me that my father stood in my bedroom for a long time. He told my mother that it wasn’t the same without me. I was so surprised that I made a difference. True, I was the middle child. I had one sister 6 years older and one sister 7 years younger. Somehow being in the middle I never considered myself of having an important impact or role in the family. My first two years in college must have been difficult for my mother and my younger sister because my father was caught cheating with another woman. I tried to keep everyone together calling long distance from my dorm in Iowa. (This was a time before cell phones. We had four pay phones that were located in the hallway of our dorm.) My father got on the phone with me and told me not to worry that he would take care of the situation. He didn’t, but I guess he tried.
The first Halloween away from home my father sent me a crystal ball from Tiffany’s that sat on a crystal post. My father said that I looked like his grandmother who was a fortune-telling gypsy. It was a sort of secret in our house that I had the ability to see the future and I had been known to see ghosts every now and again as a child and later as an adult. The crystal ball was one of my prized possessions that I lost in a move.
My father wrote me long letters while in college, in long hand on the front and back of lined tablet paper, that he must have had on his desk at work. I loved hearing about his feelings and his work and his travels. He often wrote me when he was traveling to the Far East. Many years later I realized that writing me must have made him feel that he was connected to home. In one of his letters he mentioned that he often had to walk down dark very spooky alleys in Korea or Singapore or Hong Kong and he realized that someone could come up from behind him and slit his throat and no one would ever know what had happened to him. This was in 1970 and 1971 when my father would be the only American he would sometimes see in a 24-hour period. My dad did business in all of these countries without speaking anything but English. Ninety percent of the time he didn’t even have a translator with him. He was usually all-alone. In his no nonsense manner he could conduct business probably using pictures that he would draw with a pen or pencil.
Dad had more energy than any person I have ever known in my life. He would normally wake up in those days at 5 A.M. or 6 A.M., even while traveling, in Korea or Hong Kong or Singapore, and dad would put on a pair of white shorts and a white short sleeved t-shirt and tennis shoes and he would jog through the streets of whatever city he was in. This was long before most people jogged in the U.S.A. Dad told me that most people would look at him as if he were running in his underwear. In the early 70’s jogging was an unusual form of exercise in the Far East. If there was a pool or a tennis court in his hotel or nearby he would swim laps and try to get someone to play tennis with him or hire a tennis coach to hit with him. He would work all day and I guess at night he would probably sit at a bar and have a few drinks. Later he would often go to his room and write me a nice long six-page letter. My dad would sign his letters, “Love, Father Norm” When my college friends would glance at the letters on my desk from my dad they all thought that a priest was writing me. No wonder I had a “goody-two-shoes” reputation at college.
Dad had is faults. He was a philanderer. He couldn’t help himself. His good, was really good and his bad, was pretty bad. As a father he was perfect for me. He had what a lot of people would have considered as a difficult childhood. My dad loved telling us stories about his childhood. He was street smart and tough. He looked back on most of his childhood as happy. He sold papers as a kid, he was a small thief. Dad would often take food from large grocery stores. He always got away with it, as he could outrun the police by jumping over fences. He sold Chicago newspapers next to bars at night because drunks give big tips. He was a creative, strong, handsome, hardworking, interesting, positive, man. He was often thoughtful and kind. He built a business from almost nothing to a business that he sold to Pillsbury in mid-1970. We are no longer associated with his business but it still has his name and my maiden name on the boxes in stores all across the country and the world. His former company still sells many of the items he created from nothing. He was proud of his business, he was proud of becoming a Navy Pilot in WWII and he was proud of his three daughters. Miss you, daddy. Happy Father’s Day!
Until Next Week…