A Christmas Tribute to My Father
My father, Stanley, passed away on Christmas Eve, 1996, so for me the holiday’s are somewhat bittersweet…especially so this year because my wife’s father, Nostriano, died on Christmas day. My wife's sister, code named Fireball* on these pages, wrote a beautiful tribute to papa Nostriano under the title, "Memoirs." So now that all the activity surrounding Christmas and the funeral are over and I’ve had time to reflect, I, too, would like to offer again this Christmas tribute to my father...words from his eulogy 13 years ago.
Shakespeare once wrote, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances, and each man in his time plays many parts…”
I agree. Slipping out as he did on Christmas Eve, dad surely knew how to make an exit.
My father lived for 80 years and during that time he was known by others as a son, a soldier, a father, a grandfather, a land surveyor and civil engineer. He was a good son, a good soldier, a good husband and father and a good engineer. But the thing that impresses me most about his life is that he was a good MAN. By that I don’t mean only that he was a good guy or a good friend or a good father. He was all of those...and more. My lasting memory is that he ASPIRED to good things…to great ideas,..to what is best in music, in literature, in our culture and in our human spirit.
From his days in high school he loved ancient history. He read about the lives of famous Greeks and Romans and was moved to emulate their finer qualities. He had a set of 52 books called The Great Books of the Western World and was the only person I knew who seriously attempted to read all of them!
Dad was drawn to the character of George Washington. I think he may have had a special affinity to George Washington because he was a land surveyor as a young man and dad was too. But more than that, it was the character of the man that he liked; Washington’s leadership abilities, the way he was scrupulously fair in all his relationships and courteous in manner to everyone. Dad tried to emulate that in his dealings with others.
He loved classical music, Mozart in particular. He was drawn toward the beauty and spirit of Mozart's music, its sense of symmetry and order, its intellectual clarity. He set out to collect recordings of all Mozart’s compositions, about 500 pieces in all, and I think he had most of them. He had a book where he listed all of Mozart's works and made a check mark by each one he acquired.
Dad admired good literature, especially poetry, and memorized a surprising amount of it. He would sometimes burst into verse at the dinner table, quoting one of his favorite poems…”Bobby” Burns, Rudyard Kipling, and Robert Service were his favorites.
He was reliable in that he took his responsibilities seriously. He was loyal to his family, to his friends and to his country because he believed that, no matter what your responsibilities were, you did your duty by them. When World War II started, he felt it was his duty to enlist in the army…and he did so. When his parent’s health failed, he felt it his duty to be there to help them through it…and that’s what he did. In his last years he volunteered for and served on his neighborhood’s patrol until he was no longer able to do so.
Professionally, dad was first a land surveyor and later a civil engineer. I think he was happiest leading a survey crew out in the boonies somewhere. He had a wealth of stories from those days. One night, for example, he and one of his crew were coming home from a Saturday night dance. As their car went over a hill and down the other side, they ran through a barricade, bounced over a pile of dirt and landed so that the car straddled a 6 foot deep ditch that had been dug across the road. The front of the car rested on one side of the ditch and the back end rested on the other side. It was pitch black outside.
Dad opened the door to see what the trouble was, got out of the car and just disappeared into that 6 foot hole.
Not hearing anything for awhile, his friend yelled, “What’d we hit?”
“Come on out and see!” Dad hollered back.
The door opened, his friend stepped out and he, too, just disappeared...
After the war, dad got his engineering degree at the University of North Dakota and became an engineering instructor there. He also started his own consulting business. The project I most remember involved the city of Devil’s Lake and their need for water. Before 1960 the water in Devil’s Lake was so bad it was undrinkable and the town was gradually losing its population. Drinkable water had to be trucked into town. Dad sold them on the idea of piping their water in from artesian wells 20 miles away. He designed the pipe, did the engineering and brought the project in at a cost savings of over a million dollars. The other day I noticed in the almanac that the population of Devil’s Lake is more than double what it was in 1960.
As a hobby dad had a lifelong interest in the game of chess. He liked the one-on-one competition and was a good player…several times a state champion in North Dakota and later a member of the San Francisco Chess Club. Two or three of his games were published and he once finished sixteenth in a national postal chess tournament. For him Chess was more than just a game. It was an arena of intellectual expression where the idea behind a move or (better still) a combination of moves could be called “beautiful” …a concept I never quite understood.
What I feel most for him now is gratitude…gratitude for the time he gave to my mother, me and my children. He loved my mother and was a great admirer of her. He was happy when he was in her company and I know she missed him greatly after he died. They were together for 54 years and shared a lifetime of memories. Especially important for mom were the wonderful conversations they had from the beginning of their courtship and throughout their lives.
As for me, I’m grateful for the time he gave me as a boy…the summer nights at the ballpark…all the hockey games he took me to…and those special times he took me to chess tournaments in Minneapolis. I got to spend a whole weekend with my dad and it was great! And when I went the wrong direction as a teenager, dad saw the trouble I was getting into and organized a youth group “just for me.” I’m grateful for that. I’m also grateful for the times he extended his hand to help when I needed it later in life.
I’m glad that he got to know his grandchildren, Micah and Joshua. He enjoyed telling Micah stories about his family and his childhood, and although he didn’t really know Joshua until the last few months of his life, the two of them developed a very special bond. On December 22nd, two days before he died, they had a chance to say goodbye. Dad said to him, “It was nice knowing you.”
Well. It was nice knowing you, too, dad. Farewell. We'll miss you.