Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father's Day

My father, mother and I in front of our home, Van Nuys, California 1952.
Background is the car they called "Snubnose".

My father died three years ago this summer.  He was  98 years old.  He wanted to live to be 100 and we all thought he would.  Perhaps that's why I was so surprised when he keeled over from a heart attack while eating his favorite food, Chinese. 

Dad's family is long-lived. His mother lived to be 100 years and 3 months.  His Aunt Dema, youngest of his mother's eight siblings, was still driving the coast of California into Oregon when she was in her early nineties.  Her husband, a younger man in his seventies, did not know her real age until she passed.    I hear he was quite surprised.

I remember sitting and talking to Dad when he was elderly, trying to glean information about his life.  He was born in 1910.  I'd heard much about his youth because he spoke of it often when we were growing up:  his days on the Ohio River, the old steamships and paddle wheels, the one room schoolhouse, life on the farm. But his single years, while learning the ad biz in Chicago before the war, were not well known to me.   There was so much more I wanted to know.  Did he have fun?  What were radio and ad agencies like back in the 30's?  What was baseball like?  What entertainments and entertainers did he see?

Dad originally worked as a copywriter and print ad designer for Florsheim Shoes.  They had a large building in downtown Chicago.  He worked in the basement probably starting around 1928 or '29.  I know he was there in '29 because he spoke of the Stock Market Crash, seeing a jumper's body on the sidewalk of his building outside his basement window.  He expected another major crash for the rest of his life.

My family circa 1957 in our second home,Woodland Hills, CA.
My little brother is on a hobby horse.

Dad participated in the beginnings of radio broadcasting. He pioneered in an exciting new business,  national radio representatives, representing  stations around the country to the big ad agencies like Leo Burnett and Foote, Cone & Belding.  Chicago was the center of advertising in those days thanks to pioneers like Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Wards.  Dad went to work for one of the early national radio representatives, Howard Wilson & Co.  They sold broadcast air time on radio stations around the country to Chicago ad agencies.  In those days, radio programs ran in fifteen minute segments, also known as quarter hours, and were sponsored by one major advertiser.  He said it was exciting times back then; the business was young, they were young, they lived in a great city, it was all new.

Dad had access to some pretty exciting sporting events too.  He was a lifelong fan of baseball going to both Comiskey Park to see the White Sox and Wrigley Field to see the Cubs.  When I was a kid, he occasionally took my brother and I to Chavez Ravine to see the Dodgers.  I think the Cubs were his favorite team, however. In those days, he said you could meet the players and he was lucky enough to shake hands with Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and the like.  He saw Red Grange play for the Chicago Bears.  He watched Seabiscuit and Man O' War race.  It wasn't the race.  It was after that.  But he said it was "memorable".

Around 1939, he moved to Los Angeles to start his own rep business.  He later gave it up to enlist with the  Army Air Corp at the beginning of WWII.  He worked in several areas including:  transportation manager for supply trains across the U.S., as an intelligence photographer in Europe.  He was a skinny guy, weighing in at 125lbs during the war, making it easy to hand him partway out of the plane to take photos while flying over Germany.

As kids, we would ask him, "Did you bomb anything?" 

"Oh sure," he'd say.  "But I don't know if we killed anyone."  I don't think that was something he ever wanted to dwell on.  Dad remained in the USAF Reserve after WWII, retiring as a Lt. Colonel.

After my mother died, in 1997, Dad told me he'd been married before, during WWII.  It was an absolute shock; not because he had but because he never told us.  He'd fallen in love with a young woman from New York.  I don't know how they met but they married just before he shipped out.  They wrote back and forth throughout the war.  I have her letters.  They are quite poignant.  Sometime, prior to his coming home, she had the marriage annulled.  She said her father was an alcoholic and she felt obligated to care for him and ddn't want my father to share the burden.  My father was crushed and he carried the pain of it with him all those years.  He erected a monument to her after he learned she, too, died of alcoholism-related illness.

Dad was 40 years old when he married my mother.  He said she never knew about his first wife.  I asked him why and he said he thought she'd be "jealous".  I don't think she'd have been jealous; Mother had two previous husbands.  But I'm sure she didn't know as we were close and shared a great deal.  My brother and I are their only children.

To say we do not know our parents is an understatement.  Their lives are a mystery, for the most part, just as ours may be a mystery to our children.  We may never really know our parents but we should try to learn as much as possible.

Happy Father's Day, Daddy.

Dad and his grandsons, 2005.  
He was very proud of them and thrilled they were boys!



DJan said...

What a great tribute to a fine man. You are very fortunate to have had him around for so long, my dad was only 62 when he died.

Brian Miller said...

smiles. i hope my dad is around that long...he still marvels me with stories...hope that you all are having a great fathers day...

injaynesworld said...

Well, now I understand how you found yourself in advertising. What a loving tribute to your dad. I never really had a dad in my life and often wonder how different my life would have been if I would have.

So you're in the SF Valley? I'm in the Santa Ynez Valley. That's the rural area you see.

Baino said...

Wow imagine keeping that a secret for so long. He sounded like a very interesting man with a long and rich life. We still call 15 minute intervals 'quarter of an hour' we're rather colonial like that! Happy father's day indeed. Ours is in September. said...

Though you don't know a lot, what you do know is very interesting. It's amazing how the older generation kept secrets from each other. Nowadays, with the internet etc., it's much harder to do.
Thanks for sharing these memories and stories.

Deborah said...

That's a very intriguing story about your dad and his private side. Kids assume their parents are an open book, I think - at least I did. My grandmother was the one with a secret life, and although we all knew she had divorced her first husband in the early 1920s after discovering he was unfaithful, none of her family knew that they had kept up a correspondence all her life. The letters from him were found after she died, and presumably she had written back to him all those years. They never really got over each other, it seems.
I agree with what you said about getting to know our parents. It's too late now for me to know more, although on this trip I have heard a few little tidbits from my mom's remaining siblings.

You honoured your dad with what you wrote. I'm sure he would have been proud and touched.

Linda Bob Grifins Brin Korbetis said...

Happy Belated Father's Day to Dads in your life.

lovely family images.

Ruth said...

You have a very interesting father. I am fascinated by the 20th century before I was born. It always strikes me how much things changed, and how we can see it in photos, but still not really understand it.

I think you know a lot about your parents, compared to me. But you're right, we don't know much. I wish they were here to ask all those questions. My mom died in 1997 too.

Tanna said...

wow! That's a real eye-opener, CG. You don't really think about your parents being such a mystery until...

I love that he shared so much with you... and that you followed in his footsteps... and that he served our wonderful country... I love that your Aunt Dema was driving the CA coastline into her 90s... you have and still are an amazing family... thank you for sharing this story...

Unknown said...

Wow, D, your dad lived a LARGE life! It's so flattering to him that you chose the same career as he did. Was he proud of that? It seems he would be.

Family secrets...I know all about that. I didn't find out until I was 32 that the brother who I had always thought was my full brother, in fact turned out to be my half-brother. My mom had him out of wedlock 4 years before she and my dad were married. That was quite a shocker, too. I have you beat on older fathers, though. Mine was born in 1890 and was 63 when I was born. He also died when I was nine, so I never got to know him as as adult.

mouse (aka kimy) said...

wonderful getting to know your dad just a bit....and what a beautiful tribute.

although he didn't make it to 100 he got damned close and what a blessing to die quick doing something (eating favorite food) one loved! that is what I'd call a good death.

I know you would love to have him still on this mortal coil, but he is always alive in your heart and mind.

Subby said...

Now I envy your Dad even more! Glad Wrigley is still there( and I'm rootin' for the Cubs until they win a World Series; Yankee lover that I am. )

And loooove the Buick in th' top photo :)

Nancy said...

Nice to meet your father! I know that I probably know little about my father, other than what he wanted me to know - much as I am with my children. They don't need to know everything about me, just as I know that I don't know everything about them, now that they're grown. It's as it should be.

Happy Father's Day to all our Dads. May they rest in peace for those that have moved on.

Ad Broad, oldest working writer in advertising said...

What a lot of lives your dad led! Love that he was in advertising long before Mad Men were. And like Don Draper, had a secret marriage. Thanks for sharing this tribute and his story with us. And those great family photos!

The Silver Fox said...

Fascinating stuff there, both on a personal level, and a professional one! Advertising has always intrigued me. My own small background in copywriting has allowed me to indulge in what I call "low-grade advertising," but never anything spectacular. Mine has been more like this: (to my date, at a restaurant) "See that sign saying 'Join us for Happy Hour?' I wrote that." ;-)

Marguerite said...

Wonderful tribute to your Dad! Love the family photos, you look just like your Mom! I pretty much know everything about my parent's adult lives. They married young, (age 17 and 18) and were each others first loves. And longevity runs in my Dad's family, too.

Pat Tillett said...

That was the most interesting thing I've read all day. What a fantastic and bittersweet story.
thanks for sharing it...

North County Film Club said...

Very interesting story. My mother worked in the ad biz in Chicago in the 30's. Maybe they knew each other.
She worked at J. Walter Thompson- but was "only" a secretary. My sister and I both worked in ad agencies in L.A. in the 60's - 70's. I was an art director and Nancy was "only" a secretary (much like the sec./copy writer on Ad Men). I think it really does run in families.
Your Dad sounds like an interesting guy.