June 19, 2011

On Father's Day, Remembering My Dad

My father lived from 1916 to 2000. Born and raised in Michigan, he graduated from the University of Chicago. That's where he met my mother.

They married in 1940. Mother's father loaned them a car for their honeymoon. They called in from someplace on the Upper Peninsula and were asked to come home quickly because her father needed the car due to being called back into active duty by the U.S. Navy.

At that time, the United States had not entered World War II but it had already started in Europe. (I see on one source that "In June, 1940, France fell to Germany. Obviously, this quick expansion got America nervous and the US began to build the military up.")

My dad wound up joining the Navy after Pearl Harbor and using his background in accounting to help with managing supplies. His family background was Methodist with Anabaptist roots, and he desired to serve in a non-combat role. This is reminiscent of his grandfather's Civil War service as a doctor.

Years later, his sister blamed his military service for a "nervous breakdown" that he suffered. But over a decade had passed since the war, and eventually his illness was diagnosed as manic depression (bipolar).

My dad worked for the government during my childhood, first for the Veteran's Administration and later for the Census Bureau. But by the time I reached high school, his illness had overwhelmed him and he was unable to work. After a few years of hospitalization, he recovered enough to return home, primarily due to the discovery that lithium was an effective treatment for bipolar disorder.

He never recovered a hundred percent, but at least he did not have manic episodes. The depression stayed to some extent for the rest of his life, although he was able to enjoy activities — but without the enthusiasm and genius that he had shown as a young man.

He particularly enjoyed visits from his grandchildren as well as camping and hiking. He continued to go tent camping with my mom into his 70's.

His grandchildren remember him as a caring and very clever person who could fix anything. I can remember him when he was young and strong, fairly quiet but brilliant. He was thoughtful and his mind was quick, he could organize things in ways that still impress me. No one could pack so much camping gear in a station wagon — he always put the most-needed items where you could reach them easily. He even built special wooden boxes for odd-shaped gear.

It saddened me when his brightness was dimmed by illness, but he would probably have said he was fortunate for my mother stood by him and they had many years of enjoying a comfortable life.


  1. I tried to leave a comment the other day: somehow, it just disappeared into the ether.
    Thank you so much for this post -- you captured our father with affection, respect, accuracy and poignancy. And, I appreciate the appropriateness of the next post being that rascally squirrel, because Dad so enjoyed trying to outwit the squirrels (and didn't really mind when he failed.)

  2. Glad you liked it, Peggy. And like Dad, I can't outwit the squirrels but it doesn't really matter.


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