Dad was a man of few words. If he were giving this elegy, it would end right here.
But unfortunately for you, he is not.
He was born in 1918 in rural Utah. He lived his first years without either indoor toilets or electricity. I have often marveled at the level of change he experienced – although, truth be told, he cut off technological progress with the electric typewriter. And at my age, I too no longer welcome technological progress, but instead bemoan that I need to learn new worthless things such as that the proper spelling of your is u r.
Dad was the Historian of the Naval Air Systems Command – here is the story. From when he was 7, he would from time to time just pass out. I saw it this last December – and it was absolutely terrifying – it drove my mother crazy. He was a Naval Officer in February of 1941 when he passed out. He was immediately thrown out of the Service. In February of 1942, he was drafted – as an enlisted man. He spent the war stateside in Texas because of the medical question working as a chemical engineer. He saw a notice on the Navy’s bulletin board in 1946 asking for an engineer to write the history of the air war in the Pacific. He went to the interview where the interviewer allowed as to how they were actually looking for an aeronautical engineer – as aircraft design was thought (correctly I might add) to be very significant to WWII vs. Japan. However, my Dad was the only one to show up. He parlayed a three month assignment into a 30 plus year career as Historian of the Naval Air Systems Command.
One of the things which Dad did was to place a value on decisions made by men during WWII. Young men in the heat of combat with limited time and intelligence and under enormous pressure make choices which they later come to realize were the most significant choices which they ever made. Dad – not having been there-- may have made a good person to tell people that they either chose well or, sadly chose poorly.
And when he retired, there were several dozen PhD.s from Ivy League Universities competing for his job.
I have never been entirely clear as to his religion. He left the LDS when he hitchhiked from BYU to Texas A&M. When the ward teachers would call on our family to pull him back or to convert us kids, he was always extremely cordial. He would always offer the ward teacher a beer and a cigarette. He never did this for other visitors to our household. It was not until I was in my twenties that I figured out why he did this. Yet in all of my life, I have never heard him say a single negative word about the Mormon religion.
He went to church with his wives – a Methodist and a Presbyterian – but you always felt that he was accommodating more than believing. The one religion for which I ever saw him show enthusiasm was the transcendentalism of Ralph Waldo Emerson. I have never had much use or sympathy for transcendentalism because I feel it has a far too optimistic view of human nature. I believe in Original Sin. But Dad was a truly innocent man.
There was a neighbor of ours when I was a boy who had trouble holding down a job. In Washington in the 50s and 60s, everybody worked for the government and could not get fired. This man was a great father and an all-around good guy. He came to Dad and asked him for $50. Dad lent it to him, and it was repaid in a few weeks. A little later, the man returned and asked for another $50, and Dad lent it to him again. When he came to repay, Dad refused the repayment. This was wrong; it robbed the man of his pride.
As a result, the Man could never again ask Dad for money. Years later, Dad said to me -- and Dad rarely used foul language (but always to great effect) and here he used a barnyard epithet in place of “worst” – “One of the worst things I ever did was to refuse to accept that money .”
Question – and not looking for a show of hands – how many of you people (and only asking people over 20—it takes a while to make really bad mistakes)could truthfully say that the worst thing you ever did was to refuse repayment of a valid debt? Dad was a truly innocent man.
Dad was a smart guy. Back from before when I could walk or talk, I understood that people generally respected Dad’s intelligence. So where did that intelligence lie?
One form of intelligence is fine speaking, but the guy could barely speak a word. My cousin Marilyn says that he wrote well, and his writing is clean and spare, but I thought it less than incandescent.
Another sort of intelligence is mathematical-spatial. When I owned this vast hulk of an apartment building in Baltimore, my Dad would help me lay pipe. When you retrofit pipe into an old wooden structure, you build as big a tree as you can outside so as to maximize the joints you can fire all of the way around and to minimize the amount of fire you lay against the joists of the building. Dad would say, “ do it this way;” and I would say “ do it that way;” and I would defer to my father. I actually have fairly good spatial intelligence, and my course was always correct. At the third time, my father said, “Let’s do it your way the first time.” It is a truly intelligent man who understands what he does not know.
I do know that my father was a great lover. Both of his wives adored him. His three children utterly adored him. Is this intelligence? Either that or something better.
Dad died three months, ago and I still do not feel that I can put my finger on the nature of his intelligence; and I will be grateful for any clues from this audience.
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