Know Your Father

It’s a right of passage. You are first a child, and you think like a child. Your parents are simply there, providing everything you need, or you cry louder. Later on, your parents become people, but they are so ignorant. Somehow, even later on, they become brilliant, and sometimes wise. It makes you wonder if they were the same people.

My father was different than my brother’s father, and both of us never even met my oldest brother’s father. It was the same man, but ten years difference between the first two boys, and then seven years difference between the last two, this made quite a difference in personality and energy.

I was shocked to find out that my father was a jock, a five sport athlete. He was an outstanding baseball pitcher, played in the minor leagues all over the Midwest. He once pitched three games against Satchel Page, won one. He was pretty constantly batting .390’s, sometimes in the middle .450s. He also boxed, he had massive heavy hands, I don’t recall his record but, I would not want to receive a punch from those hands. He had a college scholarship for football, but the Depression hit right after high school, so he looked for work. He was an good bowler. When I was growing up I remember only one plaque on the wall, it was small, maybe3x5 inches, metal, engraved with the score of his “Eleven in a Row”. He liked it because the first frame was a spare, and the next eleven were strikes. He never gave up. And then, lastly, there was/were horseshoes. Pretty big things, more popular when there were still horses around.

I did know about the bowling, I was raised in a bowling alley. My father was always in at least two leagues all the while I was growing up. That meant most Friday and Saturday nights we would all go to the bowling alley for a few hours. It was fun hanging out, peeking in the adult pool parlor, reading comics, talking with my mom. We could always tell when my father was ready to bowl. He had this technique of standing at the line, staring at the pins, then he would raise the ball with both hands over his head, step forward to swing the ball back, another step forward to release the ball about an inch from the floor. He had a gentle curve, but it went right in the pocket, and the sound of ten pins flying in the air, the ball hitting them, the pins hitting each other, everything bouncing off the three walls of the alley… it was deafening.

He never taught me to bowl, or to box, or to play baseball (maybe a few games of catch), and definitely didn’t teach me to play football. I did toss some horseshoes but they were massive, and heavy. I tried to imagine the size of horses that they would fit.

It wasn’t that I was deprived, my father was simply done with these things. He taught me camping skills, tried to teach me fishing (boring), he really taught me archery, and we would go out to courses often. I still have the first bow that he bought me. The biggest thing was that he taught me sailing. He never sailed a boat larger than 12 feet. Mostly he would convert some old rowboat with matching side-keels, and a makeshift mast with a tarp. Finally, my oldest brother gave him a sailing dinghy from Norway. That was the boat I learned on. I did take him out on the 30 ft. Yankee. I think he liked it.

So, back to the beginning, who was this man who was forty years old when I was born? He was pretty well read in high school, but read mostly dime novels when I was home. He didn’t talk much, and played solitaire a lot. There is a family joke that he wore the spots off his cards because he played so much. It isn’t a joke. He had a deck that he liked so much that the ink was gone. He could only tell the cards apart by the faint indentation left by the printing press. Ghost cards!

Most people define themselves in social situations by the careers that they choose. Except, most people rarely choose their careers, unless they are very lucky, or extremely driven. The average persons falls into something, then stays because it isn’t too bad, and the money is good. My father was a welder. He came west to build ships during WWII. I think he learned something about welding, working for the Conservation Corp for a few months in the middle 1930s.

When the war ended, he applied for a job at Chevron Standard Oil, as a boilermaker. He made, and repaired boilers. They boil a lot of oil at Standard Oil. I went to Richmond Union High School, our mascot was an oil can. We were “the Oilers”.

Apparently, my father was a master welder, and could weld any size pipe, connecting to different sizes of other pipes, and at any angle. He would cut the ends of a pipe, with a matching hole in the other, then seal it with a single matching bead. I learned this from one of his co-workers. He didn’t teach me welding either.

I know he had a hard life, his father left the family when he was young, and he had several step-fathers that were a disaster. Another family story is that he hid in a flour barrel fearing for his life. His final years in high school he lived with his older sister, and that was fairly common in large families.

I knew a little about his former work life before he became a welder. He found a job at a meat packing plant in Fargo, North Dakota. The Armour Meat Company had a large plant on the west side of town. I asked him what that was like. He said it was okay, he rose through the ranks and became “the Hammer”, the guy with a sledgehammer, hitting cows between the eyes. I may have been ten years old at the time. I don’t think I talked to him about that for at least another ten years.

When I did talk to him again, he said he thought it was far better, and more humane than using a pistol. They had changed policies after a while, and gave him a .22 pistol. Every now and then the cow would not die, and it was a mess. For years he had hit them with a hammer, and no problem. He finally asked for another job.

Apparently he had also started to pitch baseball for the company team, and they were winning! He negotiated a raise, and a position on the company’s police force, or he would leave the team. The police force also provided services to the city. He rose through the ranks pretty quickly, and with those massive fists, he became Chief of Police for Fargo, ND. He never saw the movie Fargo.

So my dad was a LEO (law enforcement officer) for a time. I remember playing with this huge badge that he kept hidden in the garage.

All this, and I still say that I have a hard time knowing my father, I’m not certain that it’s anyone’s fault. It was just a different time, and a different generation.

This blog started because I recently received a gift of some old documents from family members. Lots of old newspapers, and there were three certificates with my father’s name in impressive Old English letters. The certificates were from the Armour Meat Company in three categories; Beef, Hogs, and Sheep. In each category there were eight or nine skill areas that actually had a numbered ranking, supposedly out of a hundred points. My father scored mostly in the 90’s, but none lower than an 85. He had 98 in hog curing, 97 in hides.

The skill areas were killing, skinning, offal, coolers, pelts, casings, sausage, curing, smoking, and cutting. I was grossed out like I was ten years old, but I knew him a little more.

About johndiestler

Retired community college professor of graphic design, multimedia and photography, and chair of the fine arts and media department.
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