Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Tribute to My Dad

Happy Father's Day! I wanted to take a few minutes to honor my dad, who has given me so many happy memories in life.

Of course, my birth was quite a memory-maker for him. I arrived on his 27th birthday (September 7, 1963) around 10 in the morning. He had intended to be in the delivery room, but figuring I was going to take a while yet, he stepped out to buy a newspaper and I promptly made my grand entrance without him. Sorry about that, Dad! Mom and Dad named me after the Ginny Lynn restaurant. On the first day of kindergarten, the teacher called roll and I found out that my official name was Virginia. That was the end of Ginny Lynn, though my Grandma Hess continued to call me Ginny until I was a teenager!

We lived in a little house in a Chicago suburb at the time the above picture was taken, moving to Kansas City when I was almost 5. Dad was finishing up a master's degree at the University of Chicago at the time, and since he worked for TWA (an airline) he flew back to Chicago twice a week for quite some time to finish it up. Also during that period, our family joined him on a business trip to England. We stayed in the Hansel and Gretel Hotel, enjoyed a live production of the musical Oliver, rode on a red double decker bus, and experienced the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. What a memory!

Then when I was 7, Dad announced that we were moving to San Francisco. He is a computer expert, and the Silicon Valley was booming, so we drove off to California in a covered wagon. OK, so it was a white pickup truck, but it was a covered wagon in the sense that Dad constructed a shell from lumber and canvas, complete with a couple of bunkbeds. I remember riding in it that way with my older brother John and sister Barbara, young pioneers in April 1971. My dad isn't much of a musician, but he was game for John having a band practice at our house. We had a massive Hammond B3 organ in the garage. They played more jazz than anything, and I often say that I was "milk fed" on it. I still love jazz.

One of my fondest memories from my elementary school years is that my dad used to regularly decorate my brown paper lunch bags with clever sketches. One with an elaborate ocean liner, complete with silly passengers and port holes, stands out in my mind.

Another memory of the California years is that he was a free lance photographer for the Peninsula News Association. We would be riding around in the car, and suddenly a call would come in on the police scanner that he kept on. Off we would race to see a fire, a car accident, or some other kind of interesting emergency. Then we'd head home so he could develop the pictures in his dark room (the bathroom) and deliver them to one of the local newspapers.

My dad also made sure we had plenty of cultural opportunities. We often attended plays and concerts, took music and art lessons, and always had a generous budget to buy books. We also traveled all over the country, as well as to Canada and Mexico. The only two states I haven't been in are Hawaii and Alaska! Of course, it helped this roving endeavor that we actually lived in seven states on both coasts. People ask me if my dad was in the military, but I tell them that he was just a "bored civilian." He never is boring, though! He is one of the most fascinating people I know. He loves to learn and to chat with complete strangers. I must have inherited those traits, because my mom laughs at how I strike up conversations with folks in the grocery store line.

It was while we lived in Maryland (1977-1979) that my dad brought home our first computer, a TRS-80 Model 1 by Radio Shack. Quite primitive, its only storage unit was a measly cassette player. The screen was black and white, and all of the letters were uppercase only. But I did learn how to program the thing in BASIC and VisiCalc (a spreadsheet), which paid off when I earned most of my way through college as a computer programmer. Thanks, Dad, for imparting such a vital job skill to me! That was such a gift! I simply can't imagine life without a computer now! Dad also picked up a Masters of Finance degree from Loyola College in Baltimore in the late 1970s.

In 1979 we moved to Fairfax, Virginia, and a mere 16 months later to Covington, Kentucky, a suburb of Cincinnati. Dad was going into the geothermal heat pump business with my Uncle Bob and an old family friend. They gave it a valiant try, but the business never really got off the ground. After I left for college in 1981, my dad and mom moved to Houston, Texas, where he worked for Texaco. They finally returned to Maryland a few years later, and they've been there ever since. I don't think they ever plan to move any place else!

Dad also loves languages. I have lost track of how many of them he knows, but he is fluent in Spanish, and has picked up some German, Portuguese and Vietnamese as well. That's not even counting the computer languages. I once made a T-shirt for him that said, "Mi computadora es polylinguista tambien." One of my dad's side jobs a while back was teaching foreign language courses some where or other, and he once spent a month in Mexico City on a job contract.

At age 71, my dad is still working full-time in computers, plus working on weekends in northern Virginia as a security guard, which is an extremely physical job. He also jogs at least a couple of miles every day. I can't imagine trying to keep up with him. His fitness push really started when he was in his 40s and diagnosed with diabetes. I admire how he keeps himself in such good health.

Dad has had the privilege of walking both my sister and I down the aisle at our weddings, hers in 1982 and mine in 1985. I think it was at Barb's wedding when he was asked, "Who gives this bride...?" and in his best (newly acquired) Texas drawl, he replied, "Her mother and I do." (Just imagine the accent -- I can't reproduce it here.)

In January, at his
mother's funeral in Salt Lake City, I loved hearing him share stories about his mother, Margaret Driggs, and her parents, William and Lillian Brazier. He has a keen sense of family heritage (I think I inherited that trait, too), and such a sense of humor. When we were driving around the mountains, I recorded many of these "family history" conversations on my MP3 player for posterity.

I'll close this blog post by recounting the wisest thing my dad ever said to me. He was full of pithy advice, such as, "Pray to God but lock your car doors," and "You can be any kind of doctor, lawyer or computer programmer that you want to be..." He also told me that if I wanted to be a professional artist, I had to learn to drive a taxi first to pay the bills. But the thing I most remember is when I was a rather cocky teenager and I thought I had life all figured out. His reply: "You have just the skeleton of it. Time and experience will put flesh on those bones." He was so right.

I love you, Dad, and thank for all of the memories! I wish I could write them all down right now, but dinner is just about ready, and I've got to go help make some Father's Day memories with my own hubby and kiddos!


P.S. My dad is on the left in this picture at my daughter Mary's wedding last month.

Click here for a blog post with more childhood memories.

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