My dad was a brilliant suburban Cleveland kid, a loner, and an only child till his little brother came along when he was 12. Starting his teenage years with a little tag-along brother couldn’t have been easy. He wasn’t brilliant in school academics, though, telling my brothers and me that his teacher separated the class into the Flowers and the Weeds, and that he always sat in the Weed Row.
He met my mother in the high school band: she played clarinet and he played trumpet. Dad courted her by blasting trumpet fanfares in the elementary school playing field across the street from her house. Their first date was on a band trip in Elkhart, Indiana, where they went to a movie together while the band was doing I don’t know what. The band trip chaperons perhaps didn’t even know they’d gone missing. I never asked which movie they’d gone to see.
They once went on a roller coaster ride and the coaster stopped at the top of a hill, obviously malfunctioning. Taking matters into their own hands and not waiting for anyone to tell them to wait, the two of them CLIMBED DOWN the coaster structure. I’m guessing my grandparents never heard that particular story.
Dad made movies throughout high school, several based on science fiction stories he liked, and many starred my mother. The settings were the creeks, tree copses, and gravel bars of Rocky River Park. He won a contest for a stop-motion clay adaptation of Bach’s Tocata and Fugue in D Minor, and his achievement, along with scenes from his short movie, were printed in a magazine. My grandparents built a makeshift theater in the basement where Dad could show his movies to his friends.
My mom’s father wanted Dad to work in his hardware star after the wedding, but Hollywood stars got in Dad’s eyes, and he drove his car towing a trailer he’d made himself along Route 66 to California. My mother said she only took her clothes and her sewing machine. A crash in Tucumcari, New Mexico, nearly destroyed the trailer but only delayed them a week. Dad rebuilt the trailer while they camped, and all arrived in southern California a short time later to stay with my grandparents’ Methodist Church choir friends. Dad looked for work in Hollywood while mom took care of the choir friends’ Pomeranians. She would dislike dogs until the day she died.
Dad’s dream of making blockbuster movies morphed into working for George Pal Productions and making the musical cartoon “Tubby the Tuba,” his big claim to fame. He then worked for Hughes Aircraft and then put together his own advertising business, Pacific Productions. When my parents divorced in 1969, Dad kept the Hollywood business and Mom kept the South Bay house. Dad’s business eventually went bankrupt and the house earned a million dollars when my brothers and I sold it in 2002.
Dad was brilliant and creative, writing and producing musicals for his church, publishing articles for hobby railroader magazines, and churning out original music and photographs until weeks before his death in April 1993. But he had trouble communicating his inner emotional life, a flaw I wish I could have avoided now that I’m in my own divorce 16 years later. He’d be troubled to see me so sad today, but he still probably wouldn’t reveal his own emotions, let alone apologize for the pain he’d caused my mom, my brothers, and me.
So on this Father’s Day, I’m missing him and saying, Dad, I could use some of your strength, brilliance, and creativity now. Not for making blockbuster movies, but for building a new life.