Saturday, June 17, 2006
My Dad - Joseph the Carpenter
My Dad was 32 years, 9 months old and I was 4 months, 15 days old when this photo was made at Aunt Minnie's home at Christmas 1954. There is a plaster cast on my legs because, shortly before, surgery had been done on my hips to create sockets. Medical science was very advanced by then, but the ability to know of pre-natal abnormalities was still decades away. My parents had no idea their new born son would have arthrogryposis multiplex congenita. The medicos then suggested I be put into a 'home' and forgotten. Many chose that path for their damaged children and tried to go on with their lives as if nothing had happened.
Had I come about today, to less valiant parents, the anomaly would have been detected and I would, in all probability, not have made birthing trip. Medical ethicists would counsel the life the child would lead would be one not worth living. Even then, doctors informed the young couple their child would never sit-up or walk, would never go to school or participate in any meaningful way in life. Not knowing what life held for them and their other three children, my parents chose the path of great grief and great reward.
For many years, I had a strained relationship with my Dad (kind of normal I discovered.) He worked hard to provide for his ever growing family - eight kids, all survive and none in prison. Many times when I was in the hospital for surgeries, only Mom would come to visit; Dad was working. I just knew that Dad wasn't there. But, sometimes Dad would come to the hospital and that was a good time. I could see the pain in his eyes because I was suffering and there was nothing he could do to stop it. It was hard on him.
Dad served in World War II in the Pacific on a destroyer, the USS Converse. The ship was in major engagements and was struck by enemy torpedoes that failed to explode. He saw death and destruction up close. He experienced the all-consuming fear that only those facing immediate death know. But, I knew he would do all of that a thousand times over again if he could just make my life okay.
When I was a kid, I always thought that his stand-off behavior toward me was because he didn't really care very much. There is an incident that always comes back to me, though. It was summer in Northern California and we lived on a turkey ranch. We would watch Sputnik and later Telstar pass overhead in the night sky. I broke my leg, a boys will do, while doing something stupid. The doctors performed their magic and after a week or two in the hospital bed I was discharged.
When finally at home and outdoors, my older sister was chasing me around in circles, both of us laughing hysterically until our guts hurt. My Mom and Dad watched from behind the screendoor. Mom was worried that I would fall and hurt myself and was about to come out and stop the play. But, Dad stopped her saying that I needed to play like all the other kids and if I got hurt, then they would deal with it. No sooner had this exchange finished than I tripped over a shovel handle on an unfinished concrete pad and broke my other leg. Back to the hospital we went. No acrimonious words, just concern for a damaged kid being taken care of like any other kid.
That story stays with me because Dad was teaching me to deal with the real life that would have been denied me had the advice of much smarter people been heeded. It was in lieu of the ballgames I could not play or the school games I had to skip. He may not have known exactly what he was teaching, but the more esoteric lessons of winning and losing can be taught in many ways. Dad found a way to help me grow to manhood by letting me fail and letting me get hurt even when it could have resulted in permanent damage. He did know that someday I would have to stand on my own. Considering the alternatives, the risks he took were well worth the life I live today.
The life of Indigo Red is full of adventure. Tune in next time for the Further Adventures of Indigo Red.