Wednesday, March 16, 2011

My Dad

My dad has been gone for almost three years.  He is missed terribly.  I know we didn’t have the closest relationship, but I admired him and respected him in more ways that I can count.  He was the most common-sense, down-to-earth person that ever lived.  He was never one to judge (except maybe in jest) and did the best he could under impossible circumstances.  He was under enormous pressure from his company to make deals with corrupt governments, which of course was impossible, but he tried his best.  We were moved to foreign countries to be near him, but usually he traveled even more when we were “with” him.  Most of the time he wasn’t even there for the actual move; my mom did a lot on her own (more about her in a later post).  His passport was so full of visas and stamps that he had to have an accordion extension added to it. 

In his later years, I asked him to please, please, write down some of his adventures.  I had big notions about writing a book about him.  I even gave him a Dictaphone when his eyesight started to go.  One Christmas he did write an essay about traveling behind the Iron Curtain in the early 70’s, and gave it to my sister and me, (complete with Soviet guards, missed trains and propeller planes).  We never got any more missives, and he died in August of 2008.  My mom still hasn’t broken up the house, and I’m hoping someday to find a treasure trove of Dictaphone tapes of his stories. 

Dad worked for a large petrochemical company that no longer exists.  At one point in time their business was manufacturing lead additives for gasoline to prevent knocking.  We all know what happened to leaded gasoline, and the company later diversified into other chemical areas.  Flame retardants, plastics, you get the idea.  When I was in college I took a class, “Multinational Corporations” and did a great profile of the company.  One of Daddy’s jobs as a salesman and an engineer was to get permission to build terminals where oil tankers would offload the crude oil.  From there, the crude would be processed through blending units (that he designed) and moved to inland locations by rail.  They also produced industrial chemicals.  One of the most tragic things happened in his career was when workers entered a rail tanker car to clean it after it was offloaded, only to die from inhaling the toxic fumes.  I’m pretty sure Dad was involved in revising all the safety procedures for the company after that incident.  It upset him deeply, and even years later, there was a catch in his throat when he talked about it.

Daddy opened the first Asian office of the company in Tokyo, and later Manila and Singapore.  He was back and forth between Louisiana and Tokyo for about a year before we finally moved there.  I would love to have been a fly on the wall during that year, because I know there was a lot of sake drinking and other manly activities.  I came across a picture one time of him dressed in full Geisha regalia, wig, makeup and all.  I wonder how that party went down?  He also became familiar with many of the flight attendants (stewardesses back then) who flew across the Pacific.  When we made our big trip to Manila on the big Pan Am 747, more than a few eyebrows (especially Mom’s) went up when a very attractive stewardess named Pearl saw him and squealed, “Hey BILL!”  and gave him a big hug.  I think there was another story bandied about that she once sat in his lap at a hotel.  But it was all on the up-and-up, I’m sure.  Daddy wasn’t that kind of guy.

My mom was afraid to fly (but later overcame her fear with valium and scotch) so we often took a ship to or from Japan.  Daddy had been in the Navy at the end of World War II, so he was an ocean kind of guy.  But these ships weren’t the Queen Elizabeth or anything like that; they were freighters.  Our first trip it was us and a missionary family and the crew.  Period.  No video tapes, no TV, no nothing, for EIGHT DAYS.  I learned 1000 ways to play solitaire. The kids would put on plays to entertain the adults (Rumplestiltskin was one that sticks out in my memory).  Daddy relished the trips, sitting on the deck getting sunburned.  It was probably the only eight days in his life when he wasn’t bothered with business issues.  Another time it was just my mom and me on the ship, the older sisters getting to fly to the states alone.  Daddy had taken us to the boat in Yokohama and gotten us settled.  It came time for the “all ashore that’s going ashore” call, and he stood on the pier as we pulled out.  He had mentioned that he was hungry, and I threw him an apple over the railing.  It had to be hundreds of feet, and he caught it neatly.

As most kids do, I had a favorite stuffed animal, a pink dog that I named “Fuzzy”.  That dog was real to me, and I loved him dearly.  As we boarded the ship that time, I realized tearfully that I had left Fuzzy at the house, and I was devastated.  Daddy promised he would bring him to me when he followed us a month later, small consolation.  But true to his word, Daddy met us at his parents’ house in Texas with Fuzzy in his suitcase.  I can only imagine the funny looks he got when the customs officers opened his bag.

He missed a lot of my birthdays.  When we were in New York before going to Japan, he was in Australia for the occasion, and I received a box in the mail from him.  It contained a beautiful stuffed kangaroo.  He usually brought me a doll in national costume from all the countries he visited.  

We used to go skiing in Japan near a city called Nikko, and another place called “KEEP” (which was an acronym for something).  I remember tearing down one hill with Daddy right behind me, only to glance around to see him taking a very big spill.  He ended up with a broken thumb, outdone by his 7-year-old daughter.  Another time we had to leave the country for visa reasons, so we skipped over to Korea.  I remember it being very, very cold, and, sadly, there were many barefoot children standing on the sidewalks selling chewing gum.  We stayed in a hotel that, unfortunately, was frequented by American soldiers and their, um, “escorts”.  One night we were awakened by loud pounding on a door down the hall, and a Korean woman shrieking, “YOU NO PAY ME!  YOU NO PAY ME!”  Yes, being a TCK has its educational moments. 

I wish I could capture all of the moments we had with Daddy over the years.  There were many.  It wasn’t always funny or easy growing up like that, but there were moments of brilliance in our lives.  I try to remember those the most.  

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