Today is Fathers Day here in the US, and my dad, long gone, is on my mind. He wanted us to be as well-educated as was possible, and I grew up in a household where reading was not only encouraged, it was required, as were music lessons, and roller-skating lessons. My younger sibs and I were definitely the product of post-war American prosperity.
During WWII, Dad had been in a radio unit. He loved radio communications even though, besides everything else a soldier carried in those days, he marched and hiked his way across France carrying a 30lb radio on his back.
He saw many terrible things during that time, and had a few narrow escapes. He was back in the US by the day of the Ardennes Counteroffensive, known here in the US as the Battle of the Bulge.
While my uncle, Don Hutchins, was fighting on the front in the densely forested Ardennes region of Wallonia (Belgium), Dad had been rotated back to Fort Bliss, Texas, USA.
Uncle Don came home from Ardennes with a metal plate in his head, and dad…dad was was riding dispatch between bases on a motorcycle and was run over by a lady driving a 1937 Woodie Station wagon, who didn’t see him and turned left, driving right over the top of him.
Nearly every major bone in his body was broken, and in the rush to save his life, his left leg was accidentally set crooked. After he’d recovered from his other injuries, the doctors at Beaumont Army Hospital went in and re-broke his leg to set it correctly.
He developed an antibiotic resistant bone infection, osteomyelitis. He spent the next seven years in and out of Army hospitals, and in 1952 he was forced into a medical retirement after fifteen years of service in the US Army. In 1954, when I was about a year old, they finally amputated his leg, and life went on from there. He was never able to wear his artificial leg, as prosthetic limbs in those days were really more for show than utility.
Dad had not wasted his time when he was languishing in and out of the hospital. He had gotten his high-school diploma, and then went on to college, hoping to get a degree in engineering. He did get an Associates degree, which enabled him to work as a draftsman, a well-respected, well-paid trade.
He worked for the State of Washington, which was a good employer in those days, designing plumbing and fish ladders for salmon hatcheries, among other things. He enjoyed his job and was proud of what he did.
Even so, dad was frustrated by his rather visible handicap. He was, by nature, a volatile man. He regretted that he could no longer hunt, but he loved to fish. He bought us his dream house on Black Lake near Olympia, Washington, and fished from his boat every day that he could. But he was also a renaissance man–a voracious reader, an avid music lover, and a wickedly satirical, incredibly gifted cartoonist.
Dad absolutely adored modern technology. Every new technological wonder, from cassette recorders and loud stereos to color TVs and toy robots came into our home the day it landed on the shelf at Sears or Radio Shack. Working in engineering as a draftsman, he was a genius with a slide-rule and higher mathematics in general, but he owned one of the first electronic scientific calculators, which had cost a months’s salary.
I think about dad a lot these days. He would have been so proud to know I am a published author, and selling books to boot. He was always our biggest supporter, cheering us on in our every endeavor. Failure was never an option, but anything short of abject defeat was rewarded with a steak-and-eggs breakfast at the RibEye Restaurant.
I’m a vegan now, and dad would be completely mystified as to why I would do such a hippie/liberal thing. But he would support my right to do it, all the way to France and back.
4 responses to “Dad, the renaissance man”
Always mixed perspective at the Dad Day commemoration: what Dad did before becoming Dad vs what Dad did as Dad. Easier to stew and steam about all the grudges accumulating over the years. But now that he is in his final years, all is forgiven.
@Stephen – fortunately we also have the chance to mystify and aggravate an entire generation. It’s a daunting task, but I feel more than up to it.
My grandson is Robert D. Johnson IV. Thank you Aunt Connie! ❤️
And he is such a darling, Patti! I am so proud to be his great Auntie!