De' fliengde Vuogtlänn'r

Observations, rants, etc. from a guy who really gets around.


Happy Fathers Day, Dad

(Is it still politically correct to celebrate Fathers Day???)

One of the great tragedies of my life was my Dad's passing just before Christmas when I was only 15 years old. Someone once said that there are things in life you never really get over, you just get used to them. I'd say that's true.

Many years ago, I saw a t-shirt that said "Any man can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a Dad". Amen to that.

It was a simpler time. No cable TV, no Internet, he never even owned a color TV. Never had air conditioning, either. Didn't have a lot of money. But we did some mighty cool things. My Dad turned 46 shortly after I was born, which probably made fatherhood a tad stressful for him. But he handled it with aplomb.

My Dad was born in a little fly-speck town (Brunndöbra) that I've only found on two maps. Sometime around 1920, the family moved to Falkenstein, and my cousin and her family still live "right next door" in Auerbach. I've been there a couple of times and had a good look. It's a great place. Because of the aftermath of WWII, he emigrated to the US in 1927, touring all over and eventually settling for a while in New Hampshire, then in New Bern, NC. Sometime after that, he made the final move to Baltimore, which is where he met my mother.

Back in Falkenstein, he had worked for one of the many factories that made embroidery, something the area is famous for. He worked in the foreign correspondence division, corresponding in English, Spanish, French, and (I believe) Italian. The Vogtland is also famous for musical instruments, so it's no surprise that he was an accomplished musician (he taught in New Bern) and quite a good singer. I can still hear him singing "Tief d'rin im Böhmerwald". He even had a recording of "Der frohe Wanderer" (The Happy Wanderer) that he used to sing along to. I think it's one of life's better ironies that he liked that song so much, and yet I'm the one who's "wandered" more than he has.

When I was only six, my parents got divorced, and it was rather acrimonious. The one great mistake that my mother made was in trying to turn me against my Dad. It backfired big-time. It might have been largely as a result of that that I began to understand my Dad a lot better. He never really bad-mouthed her, he simply said that there were things my sister and I didn't know but that we would one day. I no longer worry about it.

After they got divorced and my Dad moved out, we only got to see him on Sundays. To this day, Sunday is my favorite day of the week. It didn't matter that he didn't have much by way of material possessions, we had a blast anyway. In the warmer weather, we'd often go over to Herring Run Park or out to Lake Roland or Loch Raven Dam. I still remember the trip to Gettysburg and what an eerie feel the place had. We also went to Fort McHenry, where Francis Scott Key wrote what became our national anthem. There was also a trip to the airport to watch the planes take off and land. I can't help but wonder if anyone does the simple things anymore. In the cold weather, we couldn't go much of anywhere, but we had fun inside his little apartment.

Our Sunday routine was pretty set. While we still lived on Keswick Road, we went to church at 8, got back home around 9 and then went around to Dad's apartment. After we moved across town, he'd come pick us up. We'd go and do stuff, sometimes stopping by a little deli out on Harford Road where they sold all kinds of great German food. (The only thing I couldn't stand was their *&^#&% potato salad, but I already wrote about that elsewhere). Sometimes, he'd buy a bottle or two of that dark Löwenbräu beer and give us a taste. That's the only beer I've ever been able to stomach.

Our conversations often revolved around what we were learning in school. Since he had taught music, Dad began teaching me. I at least learned the notes could read music before I was in high school. What was really sad was that I couldn't afford to join the band in my freshman year, but joined during my sophomore year. I think he might have made it to one performance before he died that December.

It's really a pity that he never really had a chance to teach me his language. Just a few words and phrases. The rest had to wait until I actually went over there in late '72. Those were eight very intense weeks learning the basics of the language before going. Oddly enough, my mother somehow conned me into taking three years of French in high school and I don't understand a word of it anymore.

But the most important things my Dad taught me were life lessons. He taught more by example than by precept. Even then, he could point to an example. I remember one afternoon that I was looking at a little ashtray he had made out of a tuna fish can (he was good at things like that). I noticed some black stuff where he would rest his cigarette and asked him what it was. "Tar", he said. "Yuck!", I said. Tar is what they put on roofs. He admonished me not to smoke. I'll never forget his comment: "I wish I had never started, and now I can't stop." It's what eventually killed him. Not surprisingly, I'm not just a non-smoker, I'm an anti-smoker.

I remember one afternoon when we were driving back from somewhere and passed some guys who were walking up the street near my home. They were dressed in keeping with a fad at the time -- "high water" pants, no socks, and shirts not tucked in. My Dad took one look at them and said "If you ever dress like that, you're not my son anymore." Needless to say, I've never dressed like that.

There were times when Dad would tell us about growing up in Falkenstein and some of the things he and his brothers would do. His older brother, Willi, died at 16. He never said much about the other brother, Werner (who I found out was killed in Poland, fighting the Russkies). And didn't talk much about his sister, Else. But he did mention his brother Hellmuth from time to time. It was Hellmuth I located living not far from me when I was living in Ingolstadt. I had been over there almost a year and we were able to get together from time to time. Christmas of 1973 kind of made up for Christmas of 1967. As he drove me to the airport, Onkel Hellmuth said that he had the feeling that if we didn't see each other again soon, we never would. He passed away in 1986, before I could get back over there. It's his daughter Christine who still lives in Auerbach.

Quite some years ago, Ann Landers ran a piece about "I had a mother who read to me". I can't really remember it, but it's something about how the author was lucky because his/her mother took the time to read to him/her. I'm even luckier. I had a Dad who talked with me. We never did settle the debate over which was more accurate, decimals or fractions. I guess we'll have to take that up when I get to The Other Side. There were a lot of other philosophical and not-so-philosophical discussions we had.

My Dad taught me honesty and honor. I never heard him tell an untruth, and I never lied to him. The thought would never cross my mind. He also taught me respect, mostly by the way he treated other people. And other people treated him with respect, which is not surprising. I think he'd be appalled at today's lack of manners. He could be acerbic and sarcastic when the situation called for it, but he did it with aplomb.

Unlike a lot of men at the time, my Dad could cook. Man, could he cook! I tried making one of his specialities a couple of years ago (stuffed cabbage). Failed miserably. But I also made fried chicken according to his recipe; that turned out a lot better than the cabbage. I can also make lentils the way he did. I blogged sometime ago about Diogenes and the lentils, and I'm glad my Dad taught me to enjoy lentils -- literally and figuratively.

If he were alive today, my Dad would be 101 years old. I don't know how much longer I have on this Earth, but I already look forward to seeing him again. For today, all I can do is miss him and hope he isn't too disappointed in the way my own life has turned out. Maybe I'll make some potato salad.


At 08:38, Blogger T. F. Stern said...

Thank you for a wonderful read, almost as if you had been "called" to this particular assignment. We had a young woman talk at church on Father's Day and it became clear that the most important aspect of being a father had to do with "my father loved me because he spent time with me", not because he gave me "things".


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