Carl came from a modest family. Really nice people, hard-working, honest – good down-to-earth type folks. Carl is a civil engineer and his dad (Papa Art) is a civil engineer, as is his two younger brothers. I guess the old fart had more of an influence on me than I realized.
When I was younger, I was involved in Scouts. I earned every badge and award you could possibly get in Cub Scouts and Webelos. After Carl’s job moved us to Colorado, I tried Boy Scouts for a while, I was doing well, but the Scoutmaster moved away and the new guy seemed boring and I lost interest. Carl took it upon himself to teach me the things I normally would have learned in the Boy Scouts. He earned his Eagle Scout rank at the age of 14, so he knew what he was doing. Carl would take me hiking and camping and tried to teach me about nature and plants and all he knew about surviving in the great outdoors. We’d go backpacking in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, camp out under the stars (or in the snow) and climb mountains. He tried to get me interested in climbing mountains, but I’d usually wimp out or get sick (that altitude really got to me). Sometimes I felt like I was letting him down, after all, once my brother left, I was the only “son” he had. That first year or two that I went along to climb mountains with him, I never did make it all the way to the top of one. I felt I was just slowing him down and ruining the trip for him. He didn’t seem to mind too much, and you’d think he would give up on me after a while, but he never did. He kept right on trying. It wasn’t all wasted time for him I suppose. Now that I look back on it, I think it meant more to him that someone was willing to go with him and spend the time with him, than actually make it to the top of the mountain.
(There’s a huge message there. Read that last part again in case you missed it).
I did learn to clean a fish, cook breakfast over a campfire, pitch a tent and tie a variety of knots. He taught me how build a good campfire too. He also taught me how make fire using only two sticks of wood. Of course, at least one of those two sticks was a match!
By this time I was calling Carl “Dad”. It just seemed natural. I didn’t forget my father, I just didn’t think about him as much as I used to. Sometimes I would wonder how he was doing or what he was up to, or if I ever crossed his mind, but for the most part, I didn’t give it much thought. Alaska is a long way from Colorado.
By the time I was 15, I actually made it to the top of a mountain. We climbed Chimney Rock in Colorado along with my friend Johnny and a guy Carl worked with named Taylor. Taylor was an electrical engineer, kind of weird but fun. Taylor liked to fish and believed that grass-hoppers make the best bait. One year Taylor said he’d give me 10 cents for every grass-hopper I could catch for him. Well, we had a vegetable garden in our back yard and I filled a large trash bag with big, fat grass-hoppers. There had to be more than a hundred of them in there. Taylor paid up but that was the last time he paid 10 cents a piece for grass-hoppers. Johnny was my age and just about my size. We were best buddies through junior high and most of high school. We were on the wrestling team together, went to church together and got into trouble together. Johnny’s family was ranchers and farmers. Good, clean, honest, hard-working people with strong Christian values. Sometimes I thought they looked like a Norman Rockwell painting. We were quite a pair, Johnny and me. He was a real Colorado Cowboy, and I was a “hippie” from southern California. (I had long hair and wore bell-bottom jeans and Johnny looked like the all American cowboy).
Carl also taught me how to drive. The car was a 1969 Datsun 510 station wagon, the ugliest green color you could imagine. Not the coolest car around, but it’s all we had at the time. I learned to drive a stick shift, in the Colorado mountains, in the snow! That was a lot of fun. Okay, so it wasn’t all that much fun in the beginning. Driving a car for the first time on a one lane mountain road through the mud and snow and muck while dad is asking you to describe the scenery to him can really wear on your nerves.
“How many sheep are in that field?”
“What color are the cows in this field?”
“What’s on that sign over there?”
“How much gas do you have?”
“What’s your speed?”
“What do you see in the rear-view mirror?”
He wasn’t trying to freak me out, he was teaching me to be aware of my surroundings.
“Always know where you are and what’s around you. Keep an eye out for the other guy”. See Dad? I remembered! When it was my turn, my son thought I was a nag, too!
Carl even tried to teach me how to play golf. That was a really fun day. Carl is a pretty decent golfer (he should be, he played every Sunday while the rest of us went to church). However, on this particular day, he didn’t play so well. Maybe it was the pressure of trying to look good in front of your kid. He had previously paid for golf lessons, so I had learned how to hold the club and swing properly and hit the ball, but this was our first outing to actually “play”.
On one particular shot, he was going to “show me how it’s done”. The ball was in the fairway and there was a tree in front of us off to the right, and a water hazard (pond) off to our left. He hit that ball hard and it zipped along the top of the grass, ricocheted off the tree and flew through the air into the pond.
“Oh shut up”.
One thing worth noting – Carl never referred to me as his step-son. He always introduced me as his son. Period.
Looking back, I believe that was a rather decent thing for him to do.
Carl taught me a lot about life. How to be kind to animals, treat others with respect, and how to admit it when you make a mistake (take responsibility for your actions).
“The smart guy learns by watching others”.
“Clean up after yourself”.
“Don’t eat yellow snow”.
“Get a hair-cut”. (I heard this one a lot!)
“Work hard. There is no task above you or beneath you. Do what it takes to get the job done”.
“Always do your best”.
Yep, this is the man who took the time to teach me about life. He tried his best and I think, for the most part, that everything turned out okay. He worked long, hard hours to climb the ladder of success and advance himself throughout the industry. It would have been nice to have him around more, and not have had to work so much, but he did what he had to do, and what he felt was the proper thing to do at the time. He was advancing in his career and building a better quality of life for his family (us). I didn’t understand it at the time, so I did not appreciate what he was doing, but I understand now and greatly appreciate all that he did for us, and for me. Thanks, Dad.
Tough GuyYeah, that old fart was always there for me. Even though he worked too much, he was always there for the times that meant the most. Carl (my Dad) was at every wrestling match to watch me, win or lose, he was still proud. Every cross-country meet I ran in, Dad was there. He was at every check-point, every turn. Each time I looked up, he was there, cheering me on and encouraging me, and provided information regarding where I was and who was behind me or in front of me. The cross-country course was three miles, but there were times I thought that old man worked harder than I did around those courses. My Dad taught me how to properly spit and clear your nose while running (it’s gross so I won’t describe it to you).
Dad even found the time to help me with my homework. Math and science and physics homework usually. (After reading and spelling and cross-word puzzles, Mom gave up and sent me to Dad). Dad was really patient with me, even though I could see him getting frustrated and angry at the times I just wouldn’t “get it”. It was easy for him, he’s an engineer who made it through four years at the University of Washington on an academic scholarship, and then got his Master’s degree from Stanford, on academic scholarship! Me? I sometimes had trouble remembering my own name!
(Once, when I was a little kid, I came home from school and told my mother “Gee mom, it sure is a good thing you named me Alpha Dude.” “Oh really? And why is that?” “Because that’s what everyone calls me!”)
One of the things I admired most about my Dad was that he did not try to teach me to think like him. He just encouraged me to think! Not HOW to think, or WHAT to think, but to just THINK! “Think for yourself”. “Figure it out”. “Use your head for something other than a hat rack”. And here’s the big one – “You can do it, you just don’t know it yet”.
Dad is one tough guy. I had never seen him cry or get emotional about anything. Even at my wedding, he offered congratulations and encouraging words, but he was steadfast and solid. When I finished college, the only one of the kids to get a college degree, and the only one to actually try it, Dad was proud, but remained strong. But I did get to see him shed a tear, and get choked up with pride for the first time – the day my son, his grandson (the first grandchild in the family), was born. That little boy turned that hard old man into mush. Dad loved playing with his grandson, and showing him things and talking to him. You see, Dad didn’t get this time with me, so he was living this time through his grandson. Those two had a great time together. He got to teach my son how to climb trees, pet bumble bees without getting stung, which plants to stay away from and how to pee in the woods (or at least outside, behind a tree).
My Dad, hard, sturdy, concrete, no emotions – had a soft spot and it took his first grandchild to find it. That old man has never been the same since. Now, I’m not saying that Dad wasn’t loving and kind and nurturing, but now he began to show it more than he ever used to.
I found out my Dad is human, and our relationship continued to grow.
Something worth noting: Often times you'll see me write about the Power of Dad. Every Dad has it, whether he realizes it or not. Some dads are aware of it but most are not. This Power of Dad has an amazing effect on your children, and it does not matter if you're a good dad or a bad dad. The Power of Dad can be used in a good way or a bad way. It is up to the Dad.
Carl didn't come by this power naturally. He had to earn it. The one thing so awesome and so overwhelming and amazing that most father's take for granted, Carl took great care to make sure he did it right in case it ever became his.
I could go on all day about the awesome Power of Dad, so I'll stop now and write more on that at another time.