Monday, February 2, 2009

R.I.P Dad

My dad was a lot of things to a lot of people. First, he was a son. Born in Black Earth, Wisconsin in 1918. He was a brother, with 3 brothers and 3 sisters. He was a husband, married to my mom for 68 years. He was a father with three children. He was the grandfather of 5 and the great-grandfather of 2.

He was a World War II combat veteran, fighting in 5 major battles including D-Day when he drove an ammunition truck up onto the shore of Omaha beach. He was a gifted craftsman working for the Gisholt Machine Tool Company for many years. He was an adventurer, moving his family to California and starting his own business.

And he was a friend. If you were one of his friends, then you held a special place in his heart. You know what I’m talking about. You needed someone to come pull your car out of a mud bog at 2 o’clock in the morning? He’d be there. Oh wait, that was me. But I’m sure you all have your own memories of him and how he treated friendship as a special bond.

My dad was an active hobbyist. Maybe active is too passive of a word. Maybe “obsessive” would be more appropriate. He just didn’t do things in a small way. When he got into model railroading back in Wisconsin he hand-built his own trains, even casting many of the parts himself. The track’s layout eventually took up most of the basement. His obsession with airplanes led to some incredible giant scale models and even a national championship in that hobby. When he got into slot car racing he was factory sponsored and raced multiple nights a week, winning championships and even a motorcycle as a prize.

Ah, motorcycles. That became the thing for a lot of years. But he wasn’t content with just riding around in some dirt lots. We got a motorhome and went to the desert to race, eventually competing in the legendary Barstow To Vegas race several times. Along the way he decided to recreate the ’55 Thunderbird that he had back in Wisconsin and restoring classic cars became the object of his passion. He couldn’t just build a nice one and drive it around. No, he competed on the national level and started his own local club so that he could hang around with others who had the same interests. And then there was the dirt track stock car. He built and maintained it, I raced it. It was really the only hobby that put us on equal footing. We each had mutual respect for the other’s abilities.

So let’s see….planes, trains, automobiles, motorcycles. Did I miss something? I’m sure that he didn’t. He did what he wanted and he never forgot to provide for his family.

The last words my dad said to me were “We had fun”. How perfect was that? I only hope that when it’s my time I can say the same thing.