Wednesday, June 1, 2011

My Dad Would Be 84 Today

My father was born 84 years ago to a modest-income family in Buffalo, New York. He grew up with his father away much of the time, during the depression. H was taller than everyone else in his family. He was a "nerd," being interested in technology, science and books--but didn't wear glasses. Then, he lost both parents as a teenager, to different illnesses. Not a great start in life.

My father served briefly in World War II at age 17, but a friend accidentally shot him through the middle (luckily, missing everything), so home he came. The 6-foot-3 overweight kid came home a slim, handsome 6-5 man, and things started to move. Dad went to college on the GI Bill and then through dental school. This began a career that included private practice, teaching at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and later the University of Southern California, and finally, a series of lectures. The University of Buffalo, his alma mater, has an annual award in his name. That, by any measure, is professional success.

As an increasingly successful professional in his 20's and early 30's, Dad got interested in British sports cars, and ended up owning and racing a number of them, including three Austin Healeys and a rare (and tiny) Berkeley. The latter was recently restored in the Midwest and is pictured above. Dad's love of cars was passed on to me, but I'm a writer, not a racer or a wrencher.

My parents' marriage was not successful for either of my parents, but they both made good connections later that lasted many years.

My father died suddenly the day before he was to have surgery to repair an abdominal aortic aneurism--a life threatening condition. I think he knew the risks going in. He and I had great, long phone chats on his birthday (June 1) and Father's Day (mid-June). In my adult years, we became close in spirit, if not in distance.

I'm sorry he's missing out on his great granddaughter and seeing his grandkids become adults. I'm used to him not being nearby, but I'm still unhappy he's not around. He knew how to fix anything, had a lot of interesting things to say, really cared about me--and celebrated my successes. I sent him every auto story I wrote during his lifetime (hundreds) and a number of books in my car library are signed gifts from him.

His car, in my mind, will always be an Austin-Healey. Someday, I may even get to drive one.

From Dad I learned to be honest, to work hard, that focusing your attention leads to great results, that it's important to spend some of your time doing what you love and much more. I wish he was still on the other end of the line.

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