Friday, January 15, 2010

A Californian Texan

My dad turns 82 today.  Born in Bakersfield in 1928, he was raised thereafter in the farmlands of West Texas, only to return to Southern California with his wife and two young daughters a few decades later.  As a child during the Depression and within the southern reach of the Dust Bowl, his youth reads like a  John Steinbeck novel.  Like many of his generation, he admired President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the federal government's efforts to help the farmer.  Taking more after his mother, a schoolteacher, than his father, a yeoman, my dad devoted his adult life to secondary education.  After graduating from Texas Tech in Lubbock he became a high school teacher at the ripe old age of twenty-one.  As an educator and Democrat in a conservative area at the height of the McCarthy era, he came under suspicion as a Commie.  He's regaled me with stories from those bygone days, and his mischievous grin and wistful expression always betray a retrospective sense of humor and a fond remembrance.

80, by the way, is the new 60.  Just ask Pope Benedict XVI, George Herbert Walker Bush, or Robert Mugabe.  My dad is healthy of mind and body. His social nature seems indefatigable, and his smile infectious.  If you ever visit Santa Clarita, you might see him chatting someone's ears off in a coffee shop, talking shop with retired teachers at the Unitarian Universalist church potluck, standing outside Walmart with his Democratic friends in support of some candidate, auditing new elementary school teachers for Pepperdine University, or writing a letter to the editor about protecting the environment.  Due to the accident of birth, I didn't imbibe his political outlook and I'm not quite the political animal he is; nonetheless, I attribute my interest in politics in general to him.  To be frank, he's always demonstrated a concern for today's social and racial issues that does not particularly distinguish others of his generation.

I have many fond memories of doing stuff with my dad.  I recall being in Y-Indian Guides back in the Seventies when I was a wee little lad and going to places like Placerita Canyon and Big Bear.  When I was about 17 he took me to my first rock concert.  Can you believe it?  An aspiring drummer in my high school years, I wanted to see a drummer named Carmine Appice whose band was playing at Perkins Palace in Pasadena.  I couldn't find anyone who was interested in going or who had a set of wheels.  So my dad drove me down there and we both got exposed to the crazed atmosphere of a rock concert for the first time (and only time for him).  Marijuana was of course in the air and some dude was tripping out big time in the row next to ours.  More recently, my dad and I visited the grave of my eldest sister, Laura, who died from cancer when I was only five.  On the rare occasions that I return to California, I've gone to the site for whatever reason once I entered my thirties.  A couple of years ago my dad ordered a brick with my name, rank, and country of deployment engraved on it and had it set into a plaza square along with other veterans of past wars. My own view is that only those who died in the line of duty or those who serve in combat (as opposed to combat support like me) deserve such recognition.  But I appreciated the gesture nonetheless.

These memories of a stable family upbringing and a father who was always around, I think, enabled me to grow up a relatively normal person.  Moreover, my dad's lifelong commitment to education and his pioneering spirit had sown seeds within me. Like him, I was determined to get an education and leave the safe confines of my home state in pursuit of opportunities elsewhere.