Pop: A Legacy
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.

me, Pop, brother
me, Pop, brother

I consider myself to be blessed with wonderful parents. They still love each other after 30+ years of marriage. Not only are they still together, they are still close. While that seems to be more and more of an achievement these days, I think in many cases, couples that remain together for decades can become lost in the routine - stuck in the groove - together more because it is the easiest path than out of a true expression of a vibrant love that is still fresh and new every morning. Perhaps I take a romantic view of things. I tend to see things with either too much romance or too much cynicism but my parents' marriage seems to me to be very much alive and kicking. Not that there is no room for improvement. It certainly is not perfect. While there is plenty of vitality; there, too, are areas that are stagnant. But overall, I see my parents as a good example of a quality relationship. Personally, I desire even more than what they have. When I find that person to spend my life with, I ask (like Elijah) for a double portion. But it is not because of any particular negative aspects to their relationship - Call me greedy but I simply want a marriage that truly reflects Christ's relationship with His bride. And that ultimately is my tribute to my parents. However they have failed or succeeded, they managed to give me enough of a glimpse of that heavenly relationship to pique my tastebuds. The mirror of their lives dimly reflected enough of Christ to spoil me to anything less.

Ultimately this little ditty is about my Dad. But the point is that I began by talking of my parents because their relationship is so close that there is hardly any "him" or "her". They are a singularity. You don't really speak of one without the other. And I know with no uncertainty that much of this has to do with my Dad. (And while Mum contributes a great deal to their unity, this, again, is about Dad...)

There is a story that I was told so long ago that it has become one of those timeless tales of memory that have no specific dates associated with them. I will never forget it and I will proudly share it with anyone who will listen. The details now are cloudy but very early after my parents wedding they had my grandmother (Dad's mother) over for dinner. The evening began well, but to my grandmother, the preparation of the meal did not seem to be progressing as fast as it should have. Because of her concern, she decided to move things along and began to take over. Now, this was possibly the first time that my parents had hosted my Grandmother (or anyone else, for that matter) as a couple and obviously my newly wed mother wanted to make a good impression for her husband's mother. She had things under control even though it might not have looked like it on the surface. She was hurt and frustrated by Grandma's charging into the situation. It looked like she had failed. It was not a good moment. But my Dad took his mother aside and told her firmly (and I assume lovingly since that is the image I have in my mind!) in no uncertain terms that this was his wife and that she (his mother) would treat her with respect. I have no idea what happened after but I do know that now my grandmother is closer to my mother than she is even to my father. While I can't attribute that to this particular instance, I have little doubt that it was a start. And certainly it encapsulated to me as a child how important my mother was to my Dad. Say what you will about any aspect of my Dad's character, (and there is little negative that can be said) nobody can question that he has always treated my mother like a queen. He made it very clear in words and deeds that nothing, not even me and my brother, would come between him and his wife. That ultimately was a very comforting thing growing up. (Although it could be frustrating when I couldn't pit the one against the other for my own devious ends...)

Another little thing that will always be in the back of my mind that exemplifies this esteem that my Dad had for my mother was a phrase that he would say. Whenever we happened to be out somewhere and one of us boys wanted my Mum to carry some item of ours for us (a jacket, a bag, whatever), my Dad would say, "Your mother is not a packhorse." Sometimes, even, my Mum would have been happy to carry whatever it was for us, but my brother and I were forced to learn that my Dad would not take her for granted and neither could we (at least while he was around!).

I cannot emphasise too much the esteem that my parents had for each other - it was constantly reinforced in my mind. One little thing that has become very significant in hindsight as I have grown older and looked back at my memories is that there is not one instance that I can recall of either of my parents ever putting the other down in front of someone. Not even in front of me. No humorous deprecating remarks. No serious slanders. If they had problems, they dealt with them at home. It seems to not be a big deal and I cant say that I ever noticed this as a child, but later, when I heard couples make negative remarks (however innocently) about one another, I cringed. It is not a matter of not airing dirty laundry, it is simply a symptom of a deeper problem of not being able to communicate deeply with each other and work things out before they pop up in general conversation. I am beginning to go off topic here but I wanted to share that lesson that I learned as a boy watching his father (and mother).

As my brother and I grew older and were able to be left alone for extended periods of time, my parents began dating again. This was a big deal because they rarely ever hired a sitter for us. Nearly any time they went somewhere, we went along. It was understood that we would behave ourselves no matter where we were and (I think) we generally did. So it was huge when they started going places without us! One tradition they established was that on Sundays we would go to the Mall for lunch and when we finished eating, they would send my brother and I off to hang out while they spent time together.

It has been said that the best gift that a father can give his children is to love their mother and I believe that wholeheartedly.
I never doubted that he loved me. Sometimes I was hurt and frustrated that he didnt express it. But somehow it was more important to me to grow up in the security of a home where my parents put each other first. It seems weird to say that; and at the time, I certainly had moments when I felt neglected - but in the long run, I have no doubts that it was better for me to be second in their affections.

I think too that those times that I lashed out at my dad because of feelings of neglect, it is important to note that if I hadnt ever felt his love, I never would have fought for it. (And I never fought against his affections for my mother, it was the other things in his life that were my rivals for his time.) I would never strive for the affections of a coworker. I don't care if they give me the time of day or not. But my friends and close family members have shown me their love and when that is taken away (or no longer adequately expressed), it hurts. The deeper the love the more you will fight for it and the more its absence causes pain.

So I never lacked for love - just its expression - especially around my junior high years. Unfortunately at that age I didnt understand the distinction. In hindsight I realise that at least in part he simply didnt know how to relate to me. His childhood was less than idyllic - especially when he was my age and he lacked a good father figure to relate to...

Generally, looking back with the eyes of maturity, I see that he did the best he knew how. And even then I could see the pain that I caused him. But we have mostly grown closer with time, I think. Distance is a barrier to our relationship but I believe that it is the largest one.

There are many memories in the dimly lit attic of my mind. I am glad to be able to say that a number of them do include my dad.

Firstly, the classic group of memories - simply because for some reason there is an association in my mind with Dad and his cars - are the times spent helping Dad work on the Volkswagens. We had a 1973 VW 412 (the only car my parents ever bought new) and a 1971 VW Bus. At some point in my teen years, we purchased an old Bug as a fixer upper. But those two were our vehicles for my entire childhood. Dad did all of the maintenance himself! As his assistant, I was the essential tool finder or third hand.

I remember having a love/hate feeling about the whole deal. I enjoyed being with Dad but the work was just tedious and uncomfortable most of the time. For some reason, too, I always felt inadequate. I don't really remember feeling included. I was more of an extra appendage. So it wasn't particularly fun. Perhaps it didn't begin that way, I don't remember - but as I got older and desired for more of an equal relationship with Dad, I increasingly disliked working on the car. Looking back as well, it seems like there was an exorbitant percentage of days spent working in the cold weather! The bus in particular, demanded attention. It was not only our means of transportation, but also a personal hobby of my Dad's. While we lived in CA, he had bought a conversion kit that replaced the original air cooled VW engine with a more powerful water cooled Ford Pinto engine which actually worked surprisingly well. Externally the only hint that something was different about the bus was the large radiator attached to the front but Dad had also cut an access hatch into the engine compartment from above to ease the conversion process and aid in maintenance.