Sunday, June 17, 2012

Thanks to My Dad on Father's Day!

Dear George,
I think about my father every Father’s Day, and it’s such an emotional process.  I have so many different thoughts and feelings from such a long, complex history, e.g., childhood, our young adulthood, my dad as a grandfather, his final years when he came to live in Cincinnati.  All in all, I think that my dad was probably the most interesting person I ever knew.  He had an incredible range of interests, was curious about everything, was well-read and knowledgeable, and was continually absorbed with one hobby or venture after the next, e.g., photography, wildflowers, “Great Books”, community theater, oil painting, stained glass, U.P. geology, organizing summer music concerts, restoring his and Doris’ Farm.  He was also a complicated person, shy and talkative, warm and stern, serious and silly, sophisticated and sometimes provincial.  He and our mom had an extraordinary group of friends, and we children were lucky to have been included in their social network.  Vic died in Cincinnati in 1993, and it seems much more recent than that.  If he were here today, I would thank him for all the ways he made my and my siblings’ lives better.  On the eve of Father’s Day, I started jotting down some of these.  Here’s a sampling from my list.

Thanks to my dad for: 

  • Giving me my first work experience as a clerk at the family drugstore.
  • Taking our family each year to the Museum of Science and Industry and the Chicago Art Institute.
  • Teaching me how to identify all the trees in the forest.
  • Showing up unannounced at my prom dates’ houses to take photographs of the occasion.
  • Taking us on picnics to Indian Island, with our Irish Setter Mike swimming behind the boat for the mile-long trip.
  • Teaching me the basics of oil and watercolor painting and giving me unwavering praise for arts and crafts projects.     
  • Arranging private airplane flights for Frank S. and myself which were thrilling even though I vomited in the cockpit.
  • Accompanying me to the male initiation rites at deer hunting camp at Cedar River.
  • Towing our toboggan full of kids behind the family car on icy Riverside Drive.
  • Taking me on a tour of the state prison at Marquette to dissuade me from becoming a criminal.
  • Along with my mom, opening our home to my teenage friends for swimming parties and picnics.
  • Being my Boy Scout and Air Scout leader and sending me to Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico.
  • Teaching us that ice cream was a dairy product and one of the healthiest foods you could eat.
  • Putting up a basketball hoop on the garage, making possible many thousands of hours of one-on-one competition by Steve and myself.
  • Taking my friends and I to Peshtigo to buy skyrockets for the Fourth of July.
  • Encouraging me to go to Antioch College and paying the way.
  • Buying a Hammond Chord Organ so the children would learn to play music.
  • Going in the late evening after a heavy rain to capture giant nightcrawlers on the front lawn of the cemetery.
  • Carefully overseeing our shooting at tin cans floating in the river with our family .22 rifle.
  • Showing me how to chop down a tree and build a campfire.
  • Buying me my first .45 record player to encourage my musical tastes (even though I only wanted to buy Spike Jones records).
  • Taking me to the city dump up the road to see what good finds we could bring home (including a six-foot pine snake).
  • Getting me a subscription to Scientific American.
  • Building a tree house in the great oaks outside our front door.
  • Giving me unlimited access to a family car so I could cruise the loop and drag race on Ogden Avenue.
  • Taking us to the Ideal Dairy to get a four-dip Lemon Flake ice cream cone for a dime.
  • Having us help develop black-and-white photo prints in our upstairs darkroom.
  • Arranging for kids’ golf lessons at Riverside Country Club.
  • Sending me off, despite my crying and protests, to two weeks of YMCA camp each summer.
  • Hiring me to paint holiday murals on the drugstore’s bay windows
  • Taking us to the Hattie St. Bridge to watch the fishermen during the April smelt run.
  • Buying me a professional microscope.
  • Hosting Katja and I for a week on the French Riviera.
  • Shooting off my Grandpa guy’s small cannon each Fourth of July.
  • Building a horshoe pit and a high jumping bar in the field next door to our house.
  • Reminding me regularly, “If you want something done right, do it yourself.”
  • Inviting Katja and I to stock up for free on any products we wanted at the family drugstore on our trips home (though, unbeknownst to us, it all wound up on his bill). 
  • Having our Xmas trees spray-painted white, red, or pink at the local auto body shop.
  • Giving me the silver dollar that he and Doris kept throughout the Great Depression as their emergency fund if they ever became completely destitute.
  • Being a loving, involved grandfather to our son J and his cousins


  1. Your Father was exactly as you described him. He was, in a sense, a father to many more than you and your three siblings. He embraced us fully and inspired us to think in larger-than-life terms. What I remember most fondly are the many nights our parents and their (our) friends, sat around bonfires singing songs that, now 50+ years later, rekindle the feelings and memories of those gatherings. It was a time of connectedness which I find difficult to replicate in my life today. Vic was always the instigator of good times; his laugh and "ce la vie" approach to life has contributed to the way we are today. He will always be cherished in my heart as well.
    Barb Sawyer-Koch

  2. Thanks, Barb. That's a heartwarming comment. I feel the same way about your parents and all the wonderful adults in our parents' social circle. They were such major and positive influences on the younger generation.

  3. I stumbled across this post and it is precious and brought tears to my eyes. What a wonderful man your father was. It was touching and fun to read your memories of him. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Thanks for your comment. It's pleasing to me to think that new people can come to know something of my dad.