Sunday, June 18, 2006

Thanks, Dad

I loved The Dick Van Dyke Show when I was younger; in some ways, it reminded me of my own childhood. Rob Petrie was a writer (for a television show); my dad was a writer (for a newspaper). Lora Petrie was a slender, graceful, beautiful woman, as was my mother. Rob Petrie was in the service, as was my father. The Petries lived in a relatively modern, albeit not overly spacious, suburban home; same for us. The Petries were sometimes troubled with financial worries, but they seemed to get by without to many financial woes; we did likewise, although I now know that our financial comfort came much more from my parents' prudence than it did from any surplus of funds. And the Petries' home was filled with happiness and laughter, as was ours.

In retrospect, I can recognize the differences between our family life and that of the Petries--but I still have a nostalgic love for The Dick Van Dyke Show, and I still feel that I see fragments of my own life in that series.

Dad gave me my appreciation of words and wordcraft, even though he was never much of a reader. I'm told I took that habit from my grandfather on my mother's side; I still credit my father for that, though, because I began reading the paper at an early age to see the words that my father created. I enjoyed watching him hammering on the keys of an old Royal, back in the pre-computer days; it was almost magical, watching words spring from my father's mind into inky existence, and seeing them go from there to typesetting and production, whereupon they'd appear in the next afternoon's newspaper. (Dad was a sports editor, so much of his work was done at night, when many of the high school games were played; this meant many late nights at the Rome News-Tribune, and I'd often spend some of those nights with him, rummaging about the busy newsroom, poring over old papers, and studying the walls that were decorated with original comic strip art supplied by the syndicates.

I learned to type almost as soon as I learned to write, because I saw typing as the way that real words were created. Dad didn't handwrite, he typed... and so did I.

While sports writing required Dad to be away from hom many weekend evenings, there was an advantage to it; the paper came out in the afternoon, so deadlines came early in the morning. This meant that Dad's schedule often allowed him to come home soon after I got out of school. I have fond memories of afternoons spent with Mom, Dad, and Kim as we watched Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin, You Don't Say, or The Match Game on television, followed by dinner at the kitchen table (we never had a dining room, which is probably why I never think to use ours for meals; family dinners are best when eaten in the same room where they're prepared). For the longest time, I had no idea that other kids' dads didn't get home at 3:30 or 4 in the afternoon, nor did I reailze that other families didn't eat dinner at 4:30 or 5:00. We did so regularly, and it was the model by which I measured normalcy in other families.

I can see now that I was blessed with an almost idyllic childhood, far moreso than many of my friends who grew up alongside me in the 1960s. I didn't realize it, of course, because children rarely consider such things; we take them for granted, and assume that everyone else had the same sort of life. I now know better, and I thank my Dad for giving me a childhood better than any television show.

1 comment:

Joe said...

Nice tribute to your Dad, Cliff.

I spent yesterday afternoon at the Oakland A's game vs the Dodgers, with Jenny (the middle of my three young adult daughters).

My Dad was a HUGE A's fan and some of my favorite childhood memories with him center around baseball.He had a childlike zeal for going to baseball games--- and he definitely passed it on to me (and, to a lesser degree, my other siblings).

He often told me one of his greatest regrets was that he didn't force me to be a left-hander when I was learning to throw. "That way, you could pitching in the majors to this day," he told me when I was in my early 40s. The fact that I stopped playing organized baseball when I was 12 never entered his thinking...

Anyway, thanks for a nice Father's Day piece, Cliff!

Joe Field