One year in December my fondest car related memory of my Dad occured. It was around my birthday and a particularly cold time. I was still a teenager and we were living in Springfield IL. That year, my Dad decided to take me out to eat for a special father and son dinner. Being the teenager that I was, I chose Pizza Hut. We took our bus to the restaurant and everything went well until we left. The bus started fine but the cable that went from the accelerator pedal to the rear mounted engine had broken. We couldn't actually go anywhere... In that moment of need, my Dad's creative solution was to remove the engine's overhead access panel and have me hang over the back seat. When he yelled, I pulled on the accelerator cable attached to the engine. I still vividly remember the smell and roar of the engine as I hung precariously over it and watched the icy road fly beneath us while pulling on a little cable whenever I distantly heard my Dad's voice. All he did was steer and shift and brake. It was a quite exciting moment for me and gave me the most memorable birthday of my teen years.
One year my Dad and I went to help my grandmother move. We made two trips there, I think. Just the two of us. I remember feeling somehow older and more responsible on those occasions. It was as if Dad treated me differently. On the second trip, our car broke down and we had to spend time working on it. Those trips are significant to me because I felt older and they also involved travel (which I always have loved) and Dad and working on the car.
Working on the car really is a good memory to begin with. It brings up that feeling of inadequacy that I have always had to deal with in relating to Dad. He was always so competent and sure of himself. Even when he was wrong - which wasn't very often - he exuded confidence. He deserved (and usually got) my admiration and respect. But how do you be the son of a great man? Even when you tread a different path, his shadow frequently crosses yours...
Once my dad said that there were two subjects that he never grew tired of talking about. If you wanted to get him into a conversation where he wouldn't shut up, talk about God or computers. There is a lot of truth to that. Really there have seemed to be five areas of interest for him as I have known him. God and computers, of course... But to that, I would also add cars and sound and the whole tinkering/building aspect of his life. And, of course, his family - certainly not least in his passions. As time has passed, some have diminished in importance, but in bulding a profile of who my dad is and was, none can be left out if an accurate portrait is to be made.
I grew up in a home where music and sound played a large role in our lives. My mother was a pianist and the main accompanist for Sunday morning church services. A huge portion of my memories of childhood include the many evenings of lying in bed, drifting off to sleep, while melodies flowed in and out of the living room piano as my mum played.
While we were not a family to have the television on constantly for background noise (I remember encountering that phenomenon later in life and rather disliking it...), albums and the radio provided the soundtracks to our lives.
My dad was involved with sound for as long as I can remember. We had just moved to California. It was 1977 and Mum had gotten involved with the nursery ministry at the church we were attending. Dad, in looking for an area of involvement, began helping with the library/tape ministry. That led to running sound and by 1978, he essentially WAS the sound ministry. Our pastor was a proponent of using cutting edge media in striving for excellence and enhancing the worship experience. So Dad was in a great position to learn the ropes. In an age before the title of "Tech Director" was a moniker seen in a church setting, he really seemed to personify the role to me. I remember so many hours each week spent in the booth absorbing the ambience of media and equipment. In addition to the many Sunday services and other weekly functions, the church had a radio broadcast ministry. On Saturdays while Mum cleaned the nursery, Dad would edit the previous Sunday's service down on big open-reel tape decks for re-broadcast over the air. I loved watching those machines working. Endlessly fascinating to me. To this day, there is still a special place in my heart for the rather antiquarian pieces of equipment - a certain warm fuzzy associated with them...
The church also had a big, glass, rear projection screen with multiple slide projectors set up for showing song lyrics and images. Occasionally we would even show a movie with one of our film projectors. I still remember some of them. That dark room behind the stage was always a bit intrigueing to me. It was connected to the prayer room and so had a bit of an "inner sanctum" feel in my mind.
Eventually, as time went on, word got out that Dad was good at this and every so often he would run sound for a non-church event or show. But even just the church associated gigs were enough to keep him busy. In addition to the regular services, it seemed like there were always retreats and outdoor services and other numerous functions. Pretty much everything except Bar Mitzvahs! I remember being his shadow at many of them.
While I was fairly involved in the car aspect of my Dad (even if only on a "hand me the wrench" sort of way) and I followed him around as much as I could when he was working with sound related activities, computers were not a thing that we shared until I moved out of the house. He took a computing class as a junior in college and though in the early 70s there weren't a lot of options in that field, he managed to pursue it in the navy with extensive on-the-job training as a data processor. He started in the era when computers filled large rooms and his career seemed to follow the course of computing history. As a child, I saw computers and my Dad as inseperable. Nobody knew more about them than him. I remember bragging to my friends about how many languages my dad knew - even if 99% of them were computer languages...
His computer career was at the root of why we moved to the west coast in the first place. Growing up in Humboldt County, California was one of the most profoundly influential aspects of my childhood. Dad was hired fresh out of the navy by a data processing firm and computers simply became more and more associated with him as time went on. As I grew older and began to develop my own interests and attempt to define myself, I tended to keep cars, computers, and sound at arm's length. Perhaps because I am so much like him, I needed that separation for my own maturation. While I have always been very proud of his involvement in those activities, I needed my own interests to be different. I may have been his sidekick in the areas of cars and sound but computers were a solo gig and I rarely even touched one until my early 20s when I moved out of the house on my own to Wisconsin.
Ironically, I have come full circle now that I am 30. I consider sound to be my primary passion and trade and am pretty heavily involved with computers (although not in a data processing way). Even cars have entered my life now that I am involved with somebody. My skills and abilities in these areas are a legacy from my father. My interest in them may have happened in a roundabout way, but there is a definite link. It has given me great confidence and self assurance to be able to say that I came to be who and where I am independent of my dad while at the same time be able to point to him and say that I would not be who and where I am without him.
Raised in a Catholic home, my dad didn't actually find a personal relationship with God until college. At an Andre Kole illusion show, he began his journey with Jesus and I have never been able to separate him from his Christian belief in tbe mental image of my father that I carry. The depth of his biblical knowledge is more extensive than nearly anybody I have ever met. His love of God is unquestionable and his dedication to the church is painfully deep.
It is said that we first form our concept of God from the template that we create in the likeness of our fathers. In my earliest years, the example that mine provided enabled me to get a pretty well rounded view of God that formed a foundation that I was able to build upon from other sources like our pastor, Larry Briney, and great writers like CS Lewis and GK Chesterton. I developed a love for the Bible due at least in part from an admiration of my dad's appreciation for it. Of course there is no better source for formulating a perspective on God than Scripture where we find God made flesh.
Books have been some of the greatest treasures of our family as all of us have had a passion for reading. One of the most powerful memories I have is of my dad reading the Chronicles of Narnia to us. It has always been significant to me to hear him read the Nativity story during Christmas. Dad has imparted to me a passion for literature and learning that has been a gift beyond measure.
Over these many years of my life I have watched my father closely. I have seen him succeed and fail. He has made many mistakes and he has accomplished many great things. I have witnessed high points and low. I have tried to emulate him and I have rejected him. I have struggled with him as my father and I have nearly bursted with pride that I am his son. This little tribute to a man that most people know as Vern has been years in the making and I feel like there will be many more before it is finished to my satisfaction but when the rubber meets the road, I have never lost the simple love of a young boy for his Dad. Now it is tempered by a more mature, balanced view. But I still love him dearly and unconditionally. He is my father - My Dad. I am very proud to call him Pop.