Chapter 5 Another Side Of Home
Along with all the practical things Dad taught, there were certain attitudes he passed on to us. He had very strong opinions about things and was not averse to expressing them.
As a farmer with always more work to do than time, he did things quickly. He talked fast, ate fast, worked fast and drove fast. When he’d come up behind a slower driver, Dad had some words for him. “Sunday driver! Come on, Grandpa, get off the road and let us who have somewhere to go get by!”
He was clear about his disdain for anything he considered to be non-masculine. “I wouldn’t go across the street to Disneyland if you paid me!”
Things that smacked of weakness, femaleness or tameness were to be avoided at all cost. This included spiritual things. Dad did go to Sunday School and sometimes to church, but only for the stimulus of debate and discussion. He believed in God, but liked him five miles down the road.
Later Dad developed his beliefs into a working definition of masculinity. He communicated this to us in words and action: to be a man is to never have to ask for help.
This, of course, was unrealistic; in many areas of life we have to depend on others. Every time we drive, we need other drivers to help us by staying on their side of the road.
However, as a boy I did not think of what might be lacking in Dad’s ideas; I viewed them as right and normal and unconsciously absorbed many of his attitudes and values. I understood that whatever was labeled as women’s work was off limits to any real man. Anything that looked “feminine” was to be avoided like the plague. Pushy women were to be kept at a distance.
These attitudes operated more on an emotional level rather than an intellectual one and became more bars in my developing prison, more obstructions to my thinking and living what was true.
The one exception to Dad’s chauvinistic attitudes was his love for music, which he got from his father. Grandpa was an amazing man with many talents. He had studied at Yale University to be an electrical engineer, finishing it in three years because that’s all the scholarship money he had. Then he had gotten a job in Pittsburgh working on the electric streetcar system but he had found life in the city boring and returned to farming in Connecticut.
Having a love for music, he taught himself to play twelve different wind instruments. Then he taught at least one to each of his five children, then to his grandchildren and eventually to any neighbor kids who stood still long enough. Once a child knew how to play, he or she had to participate in the family band.
My father had learned to play the trumpet as a child and really enjoyed it. After leaving farming for full time work in his tire business, he became a member of a number of bands and practiced regularly at home. Always wanting to improve, he continued to take trumpet lessons into his late 70s.
When I was six, my grandfather decided it was time for me to begin playing in the family band. At the time Grandpa lacked a bass drum player, so that was my first assignment. He seemed to sense some musical ability in me and moved me from one instrument to the other as he had need: drum, saxophone, bass clarinet, trombone and finally settling on the clarinet.
Unfortunately I never really learned to sight-read music and spent my whole musical career playing half a second behind everyone else. It was nerve wracking and played right into my insecurity, which at times fed my rebellious nature.
One evening Grandpa called my brother Les and me over to his house and informed us it was time for music practice. We set up our music stands and got out our instruments. Les warmed up his trumpet while I assembled my clarinet.
Grandpa took his clarinet in hand and had us sit down. “Here’s what we are going to play,” he said, handing us each a book. “We’ll start with number five.”
Things went well until the third piece. I was wishing I weren’t there, and intentionally played one part wrong. Grandpa had us repeat it; again I played it wrong. After the third try he realized I was doing this on purpose and he knew what to do with stubbornness. Setting down his clarinet and taking mine from me, he picked me up by the scruff of my neck, took me out into the kitchen and escorted me out the door. “Come back when you are ready to play right!” he said. I, however, wasn’t really ever interested in playing it right.
During my high school years, after my grandfather’s death, my father began to change. He became more moody, at times angry for no apparent reason. Later on we realized that he had been in a mid-life crisis, a result of struggling with the pressures of his tire business and a new awareness of his mortality after his father’s death.
During this time, my siblings and I found that we could never be sure what kind of reception we would get when we came home. On a Friday night we’d go to a basketball game and when we returned Dad would say, “Oh, you’re home already! How did the game go? Hope you had a good time.”
The next week we’d come home earlier only to be greeted with, “How come you’re so late? You need to be more considerate! If you keep this up I won’t let you go any more!”
This uncertainty became another shadow in my soul, another bar in the cell, preventing me from ever feeling like things were settled and safe.
Picture: Dad playing a duet with his grandson, Craig