Sons and Fathers

“The thing is, my father died on Sunday, September 7, 2008, at around 2:15 p.m. CST. And I was around to try to do something about it.” —Journal

I’d been away from my condo because there was a Realtor showing that afternoon, so I went to a coffee shop to work undisturbed. It was a lovely late summer day and I was hungry, so I walked up to Chipotle for lunch, at the corner of Victoria and Grand Avenue in Saint Paul.

A friend was biking in the St. Paul Classic Bike Tour, which had been going on since early that morning, so after lunch I decided to catch a bus to the University of St. Thomas to watch him finish.

While waiting for the bus at Grand and Victoria, my cell phone rang. It was my Aunt Joyce, her voice shaky, agitated.

“Michael, honey, I’ve been trying to reach your brother… I was talking to your daddy and he sounded out of breath so I told him to call 911. Could you try to reach your brother and call me right back?”

Snapping into action, I called Brian’s cell, leaving a message. I called Dad’s cell—no answer.

A bus came and I rode to the nearest wifi spot while I anxiously waited for calls back. Brian called back and I was soon in a coffee shop searching for the emergency rescue number for Charlotte County, Fla.

I had EMTs dispatched while Brian tried to get a hold of Dad. We called Joyce back for the details.

I was in tears and walking away from the coffee shop, heading toward the bike tour, only to find everyone had packed up and gone home.

Pacing outside a pizza place on Grand Avenue, I was tense with frustration.

My cell rang again, sometime around 2:30. It was Brian. When he’d called Dad’s cell, it was picked up by the EMTs.

Our father died of a heart attack, at home, in his favorite chair, just hours after going to church, having lunch out and then talking to his sister on the phone.

My girlfriend at the time was at her 40th birthday party with her family. I never felt so alone.

Friends Tom and Susan arrived at the bus stop and picked me up. I stayed with them, lingering over a supper of roast chicken, salad, and bread.

Mom had died that spring.

And now Dad was gone.

***

I’m probably the last person to reliably talk about my father, who he was, what he believed in, what made up the entire story of his life.

But I suppose I can shoot you a couple of facts, or at least stories that have been passed down to me.

There were four stages to his life: 1) the Mischievous Boy; 2) the Wandering Soldier; 3) the Organization Man; and 4) the “Christian Artist” at rest.

Mischievous Boy was the first born of Paul E. and Hazel (Hoffert) Maupin on Jan. 1, 1932. Ten years later, his only sister Joyce was born.

He was a practical joker, at least as a child. He rigged an outhouse so that it locked in an unwelcome uncle. He let chickens free in the school library. He loved his slingshot, his dog, his first bicycle.

It often occurred to me when he told these tales that, if I were a classmate of his, or in his circle of friends, I was not sure I’d like him much. He was too much of an extrovert for me.

Early in life, he was tempted to be as wayward as his father, Paul Edgar, who left the sprawling Maupin family at a young age because he hated his father and wanted to fend on his own. Grandpa ended up as a truck driver. When he joined the union, he got in the middle of many of the union battles of the early 1930s. To the day he died a portrait of FDR hung in every living room of every home he ever owned.

Dad finished high school in Indianapolis. When a buddy enlisted in the Army, Dad joined him. That was 1952.

The Wandering Soldier went to Korea at 21.

He didn’t see much action there as the bulk of his service was spent in Japan, training for a special mission.

Dad lost his front teeth in a bar brawl there. Just as a guy was swinging a beer bottle, a buddy said “Duck!” and Dad turned right into the line of fire.

False teeth filled that space for the rest of his life. (In the photo at right, Dad is center, with cigarette.)

That aside, Dad always had fond memories of Japan. He liked the Japanese people and I’ve always suspected that on his furloughs, when he bought a Honda motorcycle and toured the north, he had a Japanese lover. At least he never said anything about that, but did bring back a book about Hokkaido, full of photos of topless Japanese fisherwomen.

Wandering Soldier returned to the U.S. restless and, on a blind date, met Mom. (The picture above, left to right, Dad, Mom and Grandpa Adams, is probably from 1956, since they were married in Dec. 1957.)

At this point in the story, Organization Man has created The Family Project and we’re in Olney, Maryland, where Dad cultivates a love of painting, crab-netting and fishing, traveling across country, working in his basement office and taking pride in being a “self-made man.” The whole “Christian Artist” is a worth another post, so I’ll save it for now.

***

Then there was that day in Maryland when I drove the riding mower through the garage door.

Dad and I had fundamentally divergent temperaments: I was dreamy, moody and emotional; he was focused, rigid and rational.

There wasn’t a time in my early life where I felt nurtured by him, even when he took my brother and me fishing. I’d get bored and start to talk. He told me to shut up or I’d drive away the fish.

If he was working on something in the garage, he’d send me to look for a 3/8″ crescent wrench in the basement. I’d return a half-hour later with a hammer.

Absolutely drove him bonkers.

So one day, in Maryland, he agrees to show me how to drive the riding lawn mower. I’m, oh, somewhere between 8 and 10 years old at this point. He demonstrates how to put it in gear, where the brake is, how to go in reverse—probably in more detail than I was able to take in at the time.

The mower starts with a roar and I’m off, everything going fine, tooling around the driveway, the cutting blade up and sailing like a breeze. Then I’m heading toward the garage and I panic. Where’s the brake again?!

CRASH. Right through the door.

I can still hear him running after me, howling in my ear.

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~ by completelyinthedark on January 3, 2011.

2 Responses to “Sons and Fathers”

  1. Hello, I wrote because you give the name of your mother as “Hazel HOFFERT.” If she was the daughter of John Wesley HOFFERT and Dora Ethel JENKINS, please contact me, for genealogical reasons.

    Thank you.

    Alice Marie Beard

    Like

    • Thanks for your comment, Alice. My grandmother Hazel’s father died in 1945, I believe. As a child I do remember Great-grandmother Hoffert, who Dad called “Maulkie.” Don’t believe we’re speaking of the same people.

      Like

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