Saturday, November 07, 2009

My Dad

It is the 10th anniversary of my father's death. The following article was published in the Honolulu Advertiser shortly after I moved to Hawaii.

Two men who had the strongest impact on my life both died within weeks of greeting the new century. Both were in their 80's and both lived exemplary lives and each succeeded far beyond their original modest goals.

They both formed me, even though they didn't know each other. One I knew from birth and every day thereafter; one I met briefly, only once. From them I learned value and integrity and perhaps most importantly, to accept all people as equal no matter their color or their beliefs or their status. Each gave far more than they got.

I was a rambunctious child, and my dad guided me into sports to burn all that energy. I never shared his love of golf, but I did well in tennis, gymnastics, softball and whatever the guys down the street were playing. That was okay, but I had a higher calling in those days and that's where the other man came in. He rode his revered white horse alongside his faithful Indian companion and literally saved people's lives and their farms from evil men. This seemed a good choice of profession to me. Okay, my horse wasn't quite so magnificent and I wasn't allowed to cross the river during the rainy season and there weren't really enough evil-doers in my town to make a career of it - even if I was willing to forego school to do it. Instead, I watched every episode of the Lone Ranger and absorbed his message - that good and bad is based on deed, not on race or creed or color. If perhaps those days had more absolutes and less gray areas than today the concept has never wavered.

My dad was not famous; the idea appalled him - except for occasional remembrances about his college basketball prowess and his vocal similarity to Perry Como. He lived a quiet life, kept the same job for years and was happy to do so. He never really understood my wanderlust and need to keep pushing and challenging, but he never held me back or tried to say I shouldn't. He was proud of all his children because we stayed clear of drugs and drinking and driving, paid our bills - even if he had to occasionally add to the pot. He wanted nothing more from us than to be good and productive people. The only thing he ever insisted on was that we invest in a retirement plan. He would stoop to any level to get our money and get it working for us. Today I'm grateful, at 15 it felt premature.

Clayton Moore, the actor who is best known for portraying the masked Lone Ranger, insisted on never being seen in public without some eye covering. When the producers wanted a new, younger lead for their upcoming movie and went to court to bar Moore from wearing a mask, he wore dark glasses. He continued to live an upstanding life, long after the series ended, insisting he would never let down the millions of fans for which he was such a strong role model. How different that is from many of our so-called celebrities of today. A few years ago I appeared an hour early for a book signing of his autobiography, feeling kind of silly that I was still so in awe of this man, now in his late 70's (not to mention my age). The line was already out onto the sidewalk, and the store had to send to a rival store for more copies of the book. We are hungry for the good guys.

I learned all that is important to me from these two men, quiet heroes in their own way, lessons instilled before I was 10 and I hope I can say never wavered from. Lessons about value, about duty and obligation and being fair, working hard and giving back. Sure, life has some curves, some days or months, even years, can incur real setbacks. Yet no matter how dark it seemed, somewhere deep inside myself I knew that everything would turn out all right in the end. The Lone Ranger would come galloping up or my Dad would write a check or offer words of comfort or - surprise - I would figure out a solution on my own. Even now, with their recent loss, I don't feel alone because both men and their examples of living are always within me.