My father wanted to be a lawyer, but left high school to support his family so his brother could go to college. His father, my grandfather, had abandoned his family early on. My father never went back to school but he was the most educated man I have ever met.
He read everything he could get his hands on, he worked hard, he ended up editing a newspaper in a small town in California.
My earliest memories of my father were working with him in the newspaper’s printing plant. I would sit on a tall stool and he would teach me how to hand set type, reading it upside down and backwards. He wasn’t one to leave his son at home and go out with his friends. When he went to the races (he loved Santa Anita and Hollywood Park) he would take me with him. He showed me how to handicap the horses and would place a small bet for me. Once he won “big”, maybe $100. But that was a lot in those days.
He took the money and bought lumber to build a hot house for plants around the side of our home. I ‘helped’ every step of the way.
He was, with my mom, at every school event in which I participated.
There was one incident that taught me more about life than any other.
It was a Friday night and I was told to be home by midnight. Of course I stretched the time a bit and at 1215 the police came in to the local hangout and told me to come with them. They took me home. I was incensed. My own father called the cops on me for being 15 minutes late. He looked at me and said “when you didn’t call, I assumed the worst.” It had to do with honor and respecting the feelings of others. I have never forgotten the look on his face. I had let him down.
It was a small town and my father knew all the policemen and it was no problem for him to make that call.
My father wasn’t religious, but as soon as I was old enough to go to church, he, with my mother, joined the local Episcopal church and made sure I was involved in every aspect. He became best friends with the priest. He was on the church board. A few weeks after I left for college, he began to back off and within a year was out of the church. I realized he did it not for himself, but for me.
He was a printer. He ran the machines that published the paper and the small presses that did the job printing for the businesses in town. But he also edited the paper and published a weekly column that he set directly on the Linotype. Frankly with just that bit of mechanization, the printing was little different than Gutenberg did 500 years before.
He knew we must keep up with the times and changed from ‘hot metal’ to offset printing, and at age 60, learned everything there was about it.
He was a photographer. We had a darkroom in our house. He and I learned how to print and develop pictures together. He was a gardener and we had prize winning roses. He barbequed on a grill that he sat on two bricks in a wheelbarrow. My father took me fishing. We didn’t catch much, but it was fun.
He bought an old Model A Ford and we took the engine apart and then ground the valves and then put it back together. There is no bigger thrill than starting an engine you helped to build.
When he helped me with my homework, I was really bad in French, it turned out he learned more of the language than I did.
I always wondered if all those things he did, photography, fishing, barbequing, gardening, auto repair, horse racing, and the rest were for him, or for me. I think I know that answer.
My father was 15 before he saw his first airplane. He lived through two world wars (too young for the first, too old for the second) and saw men walk on the moon. He was never wealthy, in a money sense, but I never felt that we wanted for anything.
When he was in his 70s and 80s, he would play bridge with other seniors in the complex where my parents retired. One day he told me he couldn’t follow the cards anymore. “If this is what its like to get old,” he said, “I really don’t want to go on.” He died about six months later.
As I reread the piece above, I noticed that I used the term “father” to describe him. Probably because today is Father’s Day. But in reality, he was my ‘dad.’
Brice W. Van Horn, 1905-1987