ODE TO MY FATHER
There is a very special man in my life. His formal name is Ret. Lt. Col. Paul N. Shull but I call him Dad.
My dad lives in San Antonio with my stepmom, Sandy, so we do not get to see each other much. But I have wonderful memories of times with him. My dad was born in Corning, California to Arthur and Helen Shull. I wasn't able to get to know my grandfather very well because he died in the mid-1960's when I was young. However, my Grandmother Shull was and will remain one of my all-time heroes.
I love this picture of my grandparents. They look so relaxed and happy!
My grandfather was principal of the high school in Modesto, California where my father and uncles went to school. Can you imagine the pressure? I'm certain that this fact helped in part to shape my father into the man he is. After he graduated from high school, Dad went into the Army/Air Force, later to become the Air Force. He traveled a lot and spent time in Japan before meeting my mom and getting married in the early 1950's. I was born in 1953 at Castle Air Force Base, Merced, California. My dad looks so young in this picture!
During the 1950's and early 1960's we moved a lot. I remember living in Lubbock, Texas where my brother, Dennis, was born. And Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, where Dan was born. Darrell was born in Park Forest, Illinois while Dad was going to grad school at the University of Chicago. There was also a time in Alabama. My parents took as many trips as possible back to California to visit family. I think that is where this photo was taken.
My son, Jeremy recently saw this photo and commented that "Grandpa had really cool hair. It's totally back in style." Yep!
There are many different reasons I remember going back to my Grandparents' Shull on vacation. They had a wonderful home with lots of trees and down the block was another family with a tree house. Speaking of the trees, they had lemon trees in the backyard and I was told not to eat them because they were sour. Being my father's daughter, I immediately ate one and have been a huge fan of lemons ever since.
I learned to read very early so when we traveled (by car, of course; it was the 1950's!) my dad would buy me comic books to read while we rode. Not funny comic books with cute little pictures but classic comic books like Treasure Island and Journey to the Center of the Earth. I loved them but the latter affected me terribly. My grandparents had a little study with doors on each side, one leading into the kitchen and one into the hall where the bedrooms were located. This is where I slept while we were there. The study had a wonderful bookcase with toys my dad and uncles had played with. I remember a wooden wagon with wooden alphabet blocks, a stuffed dog and the ageless black and white Scottie dogs who, when pushed towards each other, flipped around because they were magnetized. I have actually found these Scottie dogs through The Vermont Country Store and given them to my own grandchildren. Anyway, I would lay in that little bed with the doors closed on either side, all alone, and think about Journey to the Center of the Earth and the creepy little guys in the comic book. Scared my self silly, I did! It was very hard to sleep wondering who was going to come through which door, knowing my family was sound asleep. However, I don't remember ever telling my mom or dad about how frightened I was because I didn't want them to think I was a scaredy cat. I just muscled on through the best I could.
My dad and granddad would take us on adventures when we were in Modesto. I do remember going to ride these horses and finding eggs when the chickens weren't looking.
When we visited California, we would often go to Lake Arrowhead where my Aunt Marian's family had a beautiful home just across the road from the lake. It would be family reunion time with my cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents. I remember those times as glorious. So many memories that I will never lose.
I remember Sunday nights in Park Forest when The Jackie Gleason Show was on. My dad loved to wait until the June Taylor Dancers were on, turn down the sound and let us watch all of the beautiful routines to the sounds of The Chipmunks! It still makes me giggle when I think about it! When my father graduated from grad school, the ceremony was held outside. I've been told and I have vague memories of seeing him stride up on stage to accept his certificate and yelling, "That's my daddy!"
After we moved to Satellite Beach, Florida/Patrick Air Force Base/Cape Canaveral, my parents separated when I was ten and divorced when I was 13-14. Because he was an officer and a pilot he wasn't home much as I grew to that age and after the divorce he was stationed in Korea. He remarried to Sandy and my mom married the man I call Daddy, Jack Fifield. My parents were lucky and found the life partners they were supposed to have the second time around.
However, the result of all of this is that my father and I have never had the opportunity to really get to know each other. I do know that a lot of who I am was formed by my father. My brother, Dennis, and I were started on chores at very young ages. After doing the dishes my dad would check the drain trap to make sure that there was nothing left there and the faucet and handle areas to make sure they were clean and shiny. Even when I caught my finger in a BB gun cocker (totally different story) and had to wear a splint for weeks, I was only allowed to switch with my brother to drying the dishes instead of washing. My father was a perfectionist and an Air Force officer. For whatever reason, and I've heard the apocryphal story about how it happened, I've always been afraid of heights. When my Grandmother Shull visited us in Park Forest, we went to the Museum of Natural History in Chicago. There were at least two floors, possibly three and I remember them being open in the center so that you could look up or down to the main area. I was petrified to walk near the railing, I mean frozen-up-inside scared. My father wasn't very patient with this lack of starch but my grandmother was wonderful. She stayed with me and stuck to the inner walls of each floor so that I could still enjoy the experience. Remember when I said she is one of my top heroes ever?
The main difference between me and my dad is that I'm wide open emotionally. My dad is very self- contained and can be hard to read. You never have to wonder how I'm feeling. I'll either tell you or it's all over me like lint. It's a totally different story with my dad. I was very blessed by the fact that my dad was able to come to my high school graduation in Snohomish, Washington. And for my graduation gift, he flew me out to Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, DC, that summer, where he and Sandy and my youngest brother, Greg, were stationed. I do remember having a wonderful time. One of the best things we did was go to a restaurant with a young friend of Dad's who was my age. It was the four of us. There were cocktails (in which us youngers did not participate) and a live band and dancing. I felt so very grown up and sophisticated! What the summer did do, however, was point out the differences between my dad and I. We had several instances of miscommunication because we just didn't understand each other. And I felt that it was my fault. I was less than perfect and just didn't measure up. Please understand that my father never said this to me but it was how I felt then and for many, many years to follow.
That summer in August we flew to California where my brother, Dennis, had flown from Washington. We had another one of those family reunions I told you about up at Lake Arrowhead. I don't remember much about that time except that I spent most of my time with my cousins, Katherine and Elizabeth. My dad spent a lot of time with my brother and later that year my brother went to live with Dad and Sandy. As the onion of my life has peeled back, I have learned a lot about my feelings of being separate from and less than. The fact that my brother was able to live with my dad and I wasn't certainly figured into that.
You know, I said that we moved a lot. I remember vividly standing in the small fenced-in back yard in Mountain Home Air Force Base after a friend had been transferred with her family. I was 5-6 and I was looking up at the sky and crying, "Why does everyone always leave?" That became an integral part of the fabric of me. I still deal with, "Do they really like me? Maybe if they really got to know me, they wouldn't like me? They probably like someone else much more than they like me." The 1960's were a very turbulent time in the world and having my dad leave was another huge blip in my own personal world.
My dad and Sandy and Greg came to visit my brothers and me in Anderson, California after my son was born. I really like this picture of my dad and all of his children and his first grandchild.
I think he was probably talking to Sandy, giving her information about how to take the picture.
We also saw each other years later at Atlantic Beach at my brother Dan's wedding to one of my dearest and oldest friends, Cindy.
Dad, my youngest brother, Greg, and I had the opportunity to just chill out on the deck looking out onto the beach and the ocean.
When Butch and I got married, my dad and Sandy were there. I really wanted them there but I wasn't sure they would make it. When they did, I was thrilled. We actually came upon each other in the parking lot of Walmart after they arrived! The wedding gift that meant the most to me was the set of dessert dishes that had belonged to my Grandmother Shull. I cried when I opened that box. And I still tear up when I use them. By golly, I'm tearing up now! An even better gift was the dance with my dad at the reception. I had always dreamed about that dance but wasn't even sure I would ever have a wedding. So that dance meant even more to me. The music was "The Circle of Life" by Elton John and I chose it very deliberately. Despite the distances between my dad and I over the years, we always seemed to roll around the circle back to each other in one way or another.
I was in a daze during that dance. So many things were going on and I couldn't believe that it was actually happening. My dad looked so handsome and he was actually there! Unfortunately, as is wont to happen, I thought the dance was over, I was being called to come cut the cake and I walked away, leaving my dad alone on the floor. It was totally unintentional and I didn't even realize it happened until he pointed it out several years later. I want him to know how much that dance meant to me and always will.
My dad turned 86 years old in May. This picture was taken two years ago, I keep it on my fridge,
And Sandy was kind enough to send me pictures of a recent visit with my Aunt Marian and Uncle Blaine.
My dad is still as handsome as he has always been!
Yes, we've had turbulent times even if he wasn't aware of it. But over the years I've finally grown up and that onion peeling has helped me come to terms with a lot of things. My dad is who he is, a product of all of his experiences. He was a pilot for many years, even training other pilots in Bolivia, Korea and I think Honduras. He worked directly with astronauts at Cape Canaveral. Since he has retired, he has been on school boards, taught Spanish and English, made cabinets, played golf, traveled even more extensively and watched Jeopardy religiously. When Butch and I visited a number of years back while Dad and Sandy were still living near Austin, Texas, we learned a hard and fast rule the difficult way. You can answer out loud as many questions on Jeopardy as you like but when it comes to Final Jeopardy, no one answers until my dad answers! And by golly, he will be right every time. He is so daggone smart and well read.
My dad fought his way back from esophageal cancer some years ago after going through an esophagogastrectomy. For those who don't know, that means the the stomach and the esophagus are separated in order to remove the bad bits before reconnecting those organs. Not an operation for the weak of spirit. Now he is having to deal with residual effects of that disease. He has been through several bouts of very severe pneumonia. And he is still fighting back.
I have the absolute utmost respect and admiration for my dad. He is an amazing and complex man, one I would love to know even if we weren't related. Dad, I baked bread this afternoon and thought about you the whole time. The bread was baked with love I wish we were together so you could share some with me.
Happy belated birthday and Father's Day, Dad. I love you.