Friday, November 28, 2008

The Teacher from Kansas

This is a first for this blog. This photo wasn't take in Pasadena. It was taken in Coolidge, Kansas in 1932.

Today's my father's 92nd birthday - would have been, had he stuck around. I miss him.

Fathers are different now than they were when I was growing up. Or maybe they're different in southern California than they are in Illinois. Or maybe life is different. Or all of the above. My father, and the fathers I remember from the 50's and 60's, had to support families on their own. That's how it was done. Now society's limits are less stringent.

My father grew up in western Kansas. He was already the teacher in the one-room schoolhouse by the time he was 16. (He's pictured there above with three - yes, three - of his pupils.) He moved on to be a ranch hand and a bus driver for a while before he became a U.S. Marine. After WWII he married my mother, then went to school with a passion: got his BA, Master's and PhD in rapid succession. Soon he was a teacher again.

He worked. He must have done other things, but what I remember is that Daddy went to work early in the morning and came home late. Time with him was precious and rare.

Now I see fathers with their kids all the time. They enjoy the parks together or the farmer's market. They walk in the neighborhoods of Pasadena, holding hands and teaching things to each other. It seems men have more freedom now to be not just providers but good fathers, too.

The best moments I remember with my father are when we were riding horses or playing guitars or telling corny jokes - when he was being the ranch hand from western Kansas.

To make this a true Pasadena photo post, here's a shot (below) that reminds me of my father. I'm not sure why. Maybe because it's a lonely picture. I think it must be lonely to go through life striving to provide and only rarely letting your softer side show. Perhaps that's not how he felt. My father died so long ago my memory is clouded. Perhaps I'm just missing him, and wishing that if we could, we'd walk together in the neighborhoods of my childhood, holding hands and teaching things to each other.

36 comments:

Dina said...

So moving. What a man, the original Good Provider. We can all see clearly that he has taught you well, your dad, of blessed memory.

Miss Havisham said...

Almost an infinite hallway to...

tikno said...

Thanks for sharing.
Our body might go but the spirit and goodness will remain in our heart forever.

Tamera said...

What a great moment captured of him in his youth. You wrote a wonderful tribute to him. It's fathers like him -- strong providers, family men -- that enabled the fathers of today to be what they are.

mademoiselle gramophone said...

Actually, it was the women's movement of the 1970s that gave fathers the freedom they have now.

My father had a solid work ethic that he seemed to put first above everything else, like your father. I miss him, too. Occasionally, someone will crop up from the past to tell me how much they appreciated my father's help-how he changed their lives for the better. It makes me fall to pieces. I guess, mostly,that's because I don't think he knew his own impact on people and I wish he were here to hear it when those times arise.

My research into his life is difficult as much of the WWII records regarding defense of foreign POW trials (Presidio in SF) have been lost or are not yet digitized. Harvard Library online is, however, an excellent resource.

monoblog said...

What a wonderful tribute Petrea. Thanks for sharing...

Bibi said...

What a lovely post, Petrea. My parents were divorced when I was very small, and I never knew my father. I was always envious of other children who could spend any amount of time with theirs.

JM said...

I love both photos! Great tribute to your father and to all fathers in the world.

altadenahiker said...

It would never have occurred to my father to attend a school play, a tennis tournament, or any graduation other than high school and college. Nor would it have occurred to me that he should. Fathers had much more important things to do, or so it seemed.

Sweet post, Petrea. Now we'll all feel a little nostalgic -- but in a good way.

Jilly said...

It's a sad tale yet uplifting to think of how hard he worked for his family. You know when I listen to the film from the Actor's Studio, I hear on almost every programme how most actors have absent fathers or come from broken homes. Yours was obviously a very busy man working so hard for his family but not able to 'be there' for you as much as you'd have liked, but I do like the memories of playing guitars, riding horses, joking together.

Beautiful old photograph, Petrea and such a touching commentar.

My father left home when I was a young child but like you I remember one holiday where we went riding together.

Vanda said...

Nice picture. I didn't realize till I looked at the full scale version that there is a small boy grinning under the porch.

Petrea said...

Thank you, sweet Dina.

Yes, Miss H., I thought the same thing.

It's true, Tikno.

Welcome, Tamera! (I just sent your link to a friend on Colorado Springs.) I wonder if my dad was a strong provider because he wanted to be or he had to be. As I've witnessed these changes I agree with Mlle. Gramophone and give credit to the Women's movement. I think he did what he had to do like a good man does, maybe wishing for a different way, but not seeing alternatives. Things have changed radically in 50 years, both for men and for women, and that's fortunate for all of us.

Mlle. G.: I believe I remember you speaking of this. A trip to SF is in order, no?

Thanks, Monoblog.

Bibi, I'm fortunate to have had what I had. Few of us can look back on our upbringing and say "My parents were perfect!" I certainly can't. But I learned gratitude for the good my parents did for me, because what they did was their best.
In thinking about you, and Jilly, and all others who didn't grow up with a father in the house I think how we all miss our dads in one way or another (we children of a generation), and how much better it is for today's kids and their dads. Of course I speak in generalities.

Thanks, JM! I like them, too.

Same here, AH. He never came to those things. Much later I was angry at him for not coming. But at the time, it didn't occur to either of us that he should.

Sweet memories and sad, Jilly.

Vanda, isn't that great? That kid just *had* to be in the picture. I have other wonderful photos of my father, but this is one of my favorites for so many reasons.

Sharon said...

What a beautiful tribute!

Margaret said...

My father was a soldier and a hard, demanding man who ruled us like recruits. I've come to peace with that. I mostly feel sorry for him. He did what he thought was right, and never really gave himself permission to enjoy fatherhood or his children. Isn't that sad? Love your pictures and your story.

Ted Thompson said...

"...to be not just providers but good fathers, too."

?

You speak of a time where life was more demanding then it is now. A time that lacked many modern conveniences and as such required more time to be dedicated to "providing" (for both parents)
- so for that time, or in places where life is still the same as once was the norm in the US, isn't being that provider being a good father?

Ms M said...

Thank you for such a moving post, and the fascinating story about your father. A wonderful tribute...

Chuck Pefley said...

Why is the boy hiding under the edge of the school house?

I think your Pasadena image represents distance ... being removed from your goal at the end of this hallway / tunnel ... and perhaps in a way represents the remoteness you experienced growing up with your father inaccessible so much of the time.

Nice post.

Petrea said...

Thanks Sharon, thanks Margaret. I like hearing diverse stories of dads.

Ted, I used a phrase that means something different today than it did back then, I guess. But hey, it wasn't *that* long ago! We had modern conveniences. What we didn't have was permission for men and women to share some of the burdens. Not that my mother didn't work, she did. But in their world, she was responsible for the children and he was not.

Thank you, Ms. M.

Chuck, your analysis rings true for me.

I don't know why the boy hid under the porch. The photo was taken long before I was born. But he looks like he was up to mischief.

Susan C said...

Your father must have shown early scholastic ability to be put in charge of a one-room schoolhouse at age 16.

So interesting to learn a little about him.

Katie said...

Wow Petrea, what a special post. I keep staring at the photo of your father and wanting to know everything about the day that photo was taken. Amazing to think of how much things have changed since then, both in terms of the role of fathers and life in general. Thank you for giving us this little glimpse into the past and sharing a bit about your dad.

Bernie K. said...

That doorway is approached down a strange street, where it's always night, even at noon. That hallway leads every man away from home.

Down that hall, past those sconces, behind a door, in a room lit by blue TV flickers, sits a man too long away from his family. The bed is lumpy; the carpet smells or is artifically clean. The hotel room is in another city, or is an office downtown but miles away from home, or is a schoolroom, or an industrial yard.

The man sits on the edge of the bed, shoeless, in pants and undershirt. He doesn't look at the TV—he looks out the window. He's been there all your life.

He went out because the world told him to—he went out for his family. He followed the road away from home, to a town where it's always dark, even in the day. A town of greasy restaurants and this old hotel, this threadbare hall runner, this plastic phone which smells like cigarettes.

His dad went out, too—even if it was only to the back twenty to see about a sick pig, or into downtown to prep for a client. They all go out—they all went away from home. They missed you, especially when the dark town claimed them. Some, as Brecht knew, went to war and never came home.

And even when they came back, something of them remained out on the road. The road claims men, though they go out for their families. They go out looking for money—to give us the life we enjoy, so we can live like kings of old.

Down that hallway, in that room, that man sits up, thinking of you, never knowing that he is already your hero, your heart's imperator, a king of the road. He only knows he misses you. Even is that room is empty—even if he's dead and gone, that man misses you and wishes he could go home forever.

Lily Hydrangea said...

this photo is priceless. I love how the boy is hiding away from the group.

Virginia said...

Oh what a lovely post.My parents were divorced when I was about 10. I was the only one whose mother worked and had no father in the home. My mom died a year ago tonight. your post touched a special place. thank you.
V

Petrea said...

Maybe, Susan, but he was too modest to say so. He told me he was "the oldest, and [he'd] completed the curriculum, so they figured he could teach it."

Katie, believe me, I've stared at the photo and wondered the same things.

Bernie, this is one of those poetic missives of yours that I like so much. It brought me to the tears I've been needing to shed today. Thank you.

Lily, when I found the negative in my father's things I had copies made for my siblings, so we each have one.

How about that, Virginia? I was looking at your Paris blog while you were making a note here. I'm glad the post touched you. I'm constantly amazed at the connections we make via the internet.

Tash said...

Awww, Petrea, what sweet thoughts and remembrances. Here is to fathers - old fashioned & new fashioned. I'm calling my 90-yr-old father-in-law 1st thing in the morning to let him know that he is loved. Thx.

Tash said...

PS - My parents divorced when I was 14 & I lived with my mom but my dad was always around. Among so many other things, he helped me practice for fitness tests in Jr. High, taught me to drive, would come to my dorm/apt at USC & cook liver to make sure I was eating properly, & always provided for me financially. I really miss his gentle self.

magiceye said...

beautiful tribute...

It is peace in Mumbai at last.
Thank you for all your prayers and good wishes.
Pray for all those who lost their lives and may God give strength to their near and dear ones to bear their irreparable loss.

maria said...

thank you for sharing such a memory, i don't have very many memories of my father, he left when i was two, i guess i can relate to the emptiness in the photo. on the other hand, the light through the trees is so beautiful.

Petrea said...

Tash, I remember when your father died. It was right about the time I discovered your blog and was beginning to get to know you. He sounds like a great dad.

Magiceye, thank you for stopping in. You had a lot of comments on your blog yesterday so I especially appreciate your taking the time. The whole world was/is thinking of you and Mumbai.

Maria, through this post I'm learning that many people didn't grow up with their fathers. I loved my dad and I know I was lucky to have him. I always wanted more time with him, and I'm grateful for what I had.

Ted Thompson said...

Hmm, I suppose that's a difference between *being* in that time and *looking back* at that time.

My wife and I did much the same, but out of necessity and it was a mutual decision. Where as you are speaking of a time when it had become a societal assumption - a doctrine that virtually imprisoned both genders.

That's a big difference - and one that was not on my mind before.

USelaine said...

My parents divorced when I was about 9 or 10, and my mother went back to teaching to support my brother and me. It was my mother's father who really filled the "fathering" role in my life, when he visited us or we visited him. I know he helped my mom with expenses from his small, retired teacher's pension, and taught me how to drive, and how to iron a shirt. He also taught how to really think about things objectively, as well as with humor. He was a great listener too. He died near the end of my senior year of high school. Thanks, P.

lynn said...

That's so touching, Petrea. I'm late to read this but I'm so glad I have. You are a good writer; I feel I know your father a little bit, once removed. I'm so sorry you don't have him close anymore. It must be painful and I am dreading the same feeling, dear Petrea.

Ms M said...

Bernie K's wonderful prose could be accompanied by an Edward Hopper painting...

Petrea said...

Ted, I never meant to disparage fathers who work. Parents have to work! I only meant to lament how little time I had with my father when he was healthy.

Elaine, how sad that your parents divorced, and how fortunate that your grandfather stepped up. What a good guy. That enlightens my picture of your visits with your mother.

Thanks for the compliment, Lynn. And it's not so painful now, not in a constant way. He died 23 years ago. Grief softens over time to something you live with in an accepting way.

Ms. M., I agree in that Bernie's an artist and you compliment him by associating his words with the paintings of the great Hopper. Yet I also think Bernie's words paint a picture all their own.

Bernie K. said...

Hopper, wow … high praise. He's a guiding light.

Mary Kathleen O'Looney said...

I jus realiazed that yer dad is Doctor Burchard!!!!