Saturday, June 20, 2009


Some years back I read a book by Chuck Palahniuk and a sentence from a diatribe on religion struck me -  he wrote:  " If you're male and you're Christian and living in America, your father is your model for God."    I realized that, for me anyway, this was pretty accurate.  
On a cold, rainy March day in 1978, my father dropped me off at school.  We sat there for a second or two in his green Volkswagen Bug  as we always did and he said I love you and kissed me goodbye.  At eleven I remember I was beginning to feel uncomfortable with these public displays of affection, especially within clear site of my middle school classmates.  I'm glad now that we still had those moments, as two hours later my father, the center of my world, collapsed and died of a cerebral aneurysm.   He was 41 years old.  
From my perspective, my father seamed infallible.  He was kind and gentle and loved us unconditionally.  He was smart and alway knew the right answer, and more importantly, the right thing to do.   He was a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School.  After a stint in the US Army as a Lieutenant he worked in the finance departments of the Budd Company, Mannington, and a few others.  When he died, he was the Vice-President of the fifth largest insurance brokerage in the country, Frank B. Hall.    Outside work, he was a Deacon at the Pleasantville Presbyterian Church, the Cubmaster of Hawthorne Pack One,  and a leader in the Indian Guides.   His hobbies included woodworking, electronics, model building,  boating, and model railroading.  
These hobbies are what I remember and are how we spent most of our time together.    In one corner of my bedroom stood a 4' tall model Saturn V rocket that he built for me.  On my shelves were pirate ships, Columbus' three vessels, the Mayflower, and numerous battleships and aircraft.  My favorite was probably the Visible V-8 - a clear model of a working V-8 engine - all the cams, cranks, and valves operated, with flashing lights for the spark plugs.   In our guest room he built a large two level diorama that had all the Aurora Dinosaur Kits from the 70's built and painted, their bases designed to interlock with each other to form this prehistoric world.  Everything was built with a precision and attention to detail that I aspired to growing up.   
The warmer weather we spent a lot of time outside, whether it was traveling in the station wagon, spending time down at the Jersey shore, or working in the garage.  I remember handing tools to my Dad while he worked on the engine of his old Bug.  Thinking back, I'm sure he must have taken some flak at work over that - certainly not a vehicle befitting an executive at a major corporation.  My Dad loved backyard railroads, and I suspect at some point he might have built one, but to sate that desire he built a boxcar, gondola, and caboose that he would tow in a train behind his tractor and we, along with kids from the neighborhood, would ride in.  
But the basement was the hobby command center.  About 75% of it was taken up by a large HO scale layout.  My dad had been working on it since before I was born.  I loved sitting at the control panel running trains through all the tunnels and over the bridges.     I would help him with the structure kits.  Shortly before my Dad died I had been helping him wire lighting for the layout and he had explained the differences between running the lights in parallel or series. My Dad was also a big fan of Heathkit electronic kits - we had Heathkit televisions, stereos, organs, weather stations, garage door openers,...etc.    A television kit would come with 10 manuals and thousands of components.  Every circuit board had to be built one resistor at a time.  One of my tasks was to organize resistors, capacitors, diodes,...etc  by their colors or markings into trays.  Every time I solder something the small reminds me of those times we spent together in the basement.  
My Dad liked real trains too.  In fact, a portion of his childhood was spent living on the second floor of the Swathmore, PA train station, where his father was stationmaster.   On trips we would stop at every tourist railroad we could find.  One year taking the Autotrain to Florida, another riding the Cog Railway up Mt Washington.  
In someways I am fortunate in that I have this positive image of my Dad.  It was untarnished by what I'm sure would have been teenage rebellion and disagreements.   I had yet to let him down with bad grades, trouble at school, ...etc.    On the other hand the bar was set high for me.  As my children grew up into teenagers I find myself more and more asking what would my Dad have said or done, and constantly feeling I could do better.   I also am saddened at times that he isn't around to be my children's grandfather.  My daughter Emily no doubt would have been the apple of his eye, and my son, Jimmy would have taken over for me as his model railroad assistant.    I do miss him so,  and not a day goes by since that rainy march day that I haven't thought of him.   

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