A father’s influence
I answered my ringing work phone with the standard salutation, “This is Julie.”
“This is the last time I’m going to read this to you,” the anonymous caller responded. I immediately recognized my father’s voice.
“’I will not eat it in a box, I will not eat it with a fox,” he continued. “I will not eat green eggs and ham. I will not eat it, Sam I Am.’”
“Oka-a-y,” I replied, glancing around the busy law office, and wondering where this was going.
“Dr. Seuss died,” he said, “and I’m reading a column in today’s San Francisco Chronicle paying tribute to him. I was thinking about how many times I had to read his books to you over and over again. So, I’m just letting you know that this is the last time I’m reading this to you.”
Laughing, I said, “Well, thanks for lobbing me one more read.”
That, of course, was several years ago, but it allows you a peek into my father’s personality.
His jobs over the years ran the gamut from disc jockey to TV announcer to trial attorney to ultimately retiring as Deputy Chief Counsel for the State of California, Department of Transportation. Throughout his careers he always had an audience of some sort. (Don’t forget that trial lawyers play to a jury.)
One of my earliest memories of my father is sitting on a riverbank with him, looking up at the night sky. I asked, “What are stars?”
He replied, “Well, when it’s night time, God pulls down a shade. The shade has a lot of holes in it, so the sun shines through those holes, and we see them as stars.”
It made perfect sense to my three-year-old self.
A few more “highlights” of life with my father:
- When my brothers and I were kids, he enjoyed playing Director in home movies. We couldn’t just walk up a sand dune on the Mendocino Coast. We had to crawl on our bellies, tongues hanging out, dying of thirst in the Sahara Desert. Too bad movie cameras didn’t have sound back then. It would be fun to hear our comments.
- And, he would just make stuff up. For instance, my great-grandfather’s name was William Harrison. So, my dad told me that I was related to President William Henry Harrison, which I proceeded to share with all my friends, until I found out it wasn’t true. It so happens that that president served about 40 years before my great-grandfather even immigrated to this country. (He took the name “Harrison” after President Benjamin Harrison.)
- My brothers like to tell the story of when our family camped at the base of Mt. Lassen. When Dad announced we would be hiking up the mountain, Mom suggested we bring jackets. My father retorted, “No, we don’t need them. The higher we are, the closer we’ll be to the sun, so it will be warmer.”
- He kept the manuscript of “Pirates of Penzance” from his college acting days, and decided that he, my brothers and I were going to act out the different parts, and he would record us on the tape recorder. I can still see him coaching my brothers on the “correct” way to say “Arrgh,” as my mother rolled her eyes.
My father taught me how to use my imagination — to look at people and situations from different angles. I am grateful to him for this, because it allows me to see and understand different points of view, and to appreciate an individual’s uniqueness.
I am a biographer/personal historian. I am very good at it. I have a strong organizational skillset, but, more importantly, I was blessed with an upbringing of storytelling and a curiosity about life. Because of my father’s influence, I am able to preserve life stories for families around the world in a fun, educational and insightful manner; the benefits of which will be enjoyed generation after generation.