Monday, March 23, 2009

Fathers, Part 8

(Boy Scout camp-out, 1959)

In April 1951, Al and Irene’s first daughter was born in New Haven, Conn. His work as a time-study analyst at Winchester enabled them to purchase a tiny, two-bedroom house in West Haven. After Winchester merged with Olin-Matheson Chemical Corp., Al was transferred to Manhattan and the family moved to New York, where they would remain until the late 1960s.

Unlike my father’s childhood, mine was as normal as peach pie, with loving, involved parents who stayed married to each other. My mother had a tendency to force me into activities for which I had little interest, like piano and ballroom dancing lessons. My father, though, preferred to allow me to develop my own interests and activities, and encouraged me by not interfering or offering instruction. He put up with the underground forts and tarpaper shacks I built in the backyard, biting his tongue rather than complain about the eyesores, or advise me as to how to dig a hole or hinge a door. Let him figure it out himself, he must have told himself many times.

I think he dreaded me entering Boy Scouts but put up with it anyway. His only error was in requiring me to play youth baseball beyond the time when I had lost interest.

His idea about punishment was not to stress the painful consequences of bad behavior, but to teach responsibility. He could be moved to anger, but he never raised a hand to me or any of his children.

Hard work and business decisions, both wise and risky, proved fruitful, which made it possible for me to follow in the footsteps of both my father and grandfather, to leave home for boarding school.
My father’s experience at Taft had molded him. That is where he matured, where he developed confidence, where he established his independence. He wanted to offer me the same experience.

Although I would disappoint him and flunk out of his alma mater after one year, I would manage to get though the next three years at another boarding school. The experience was enriching, and I thought at the time that I would do the same for my own son, should I ever have one. But marriage and fatherhood seemed like such a long way off then.
Little did I know.

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