Remembering our fathers

In a recent blog, Dave Moulton remembers his father whose tough love had made Dave’s early life very difficult. The comments elicited by the column are deeply moving, at least to anyone who reflects upon fatherhood. Dave and the respondents prompted me to send my own comment for posting with Dave’s column.

My father’s dreams of being a mathematics professor, or at least a public school teacher, were destroyed by an increasingly disabling medical condition that now is politely called seizure syndrome. The best he could do to eke out a livelihood for his family was work as farm laborer in a succession of short-time jobs.

One was shoveling manure out of milking barns at Alpenrose Dairy in Portland, Oregon. On SW 45th Avenue, which ran between the dairy and the formerly abandoned farmhouse where we lived, he taught me to ride a bicycle. He was a harsh disciplinarian. Life was hard at our house. But I was free and my coaster brake Schwinn was my freedom machine. After World War II, when he worked in the shipyards, he faded out of the picture. I often wonder what his life–and our family’s–would have been like if he had been able to pursue his dreams.

My favorite ride is a hard climb on Skyline Drive overlooking Portland, past the cemetery where he and my mother are buried. Sometimes I stop to stand at their graves to ponder the mysteries of life in families.

Although I am confident that I have been a better father than he, I often wonder how many scars my children carry as a result of my fatherly shortcomings. One good thing I did was teach them all how to ride a bicycle–and I used exactly the same method that my father had used for me.

My dad–Harold S. Watkins–was born on November 22, 1906. He would have been 104 years old this year. In these pictures, taken in the early 1930s, he was in his late twenties and I was quite a bit younger than I am now. The infant is my sister Anne, now deceased. It takes only a little imagination to think that he’s wearing a cyclist’s cap.

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