My Daddy Was A Sailor – Part 6


I must start this chapter, which will be in the middle of the book most likely, with a small admission. What I need to tell you is that I’m writing the story of my dad partly in order to discuss my journey to peace with him. I think I have hinted before that I became a rebellious teen when my daddy left my mother and sister and I. Actually, my dad didn’t leave. Some of the things I have to say may be difficult for some to hear, and I am sorry. But, as I keep saying, my father was who he was. I left off judging him a long time ago, the day I forgave him.

My mother told me that all those stories about pilots having wild parties in the cities they flew to, drinking and having sex with Stewardesses and so on, it was all true, and that was my father. He was a wild party type. I remember a few wild parties at our house when I was very small. There are even some reel-to-reel (4-track) recordings / tapes of some of those parties. My dad, and his friends, they grew up at the beach, and they lived a beach lifestyle. Those tapes, as I said, still exist, and it would be interesting to listen to them I think.

All those beach types made music, with their favorite instrument. I have mentioned that my daddy always played the Ukelele. He had friends who played guitar, banjo, bongos, all the favorite types of the beach party crowd. Those parties were loud and boisterous. There was lots of alcohol, plenty of sex I assume, and maybe even a bit of wife-swapping. I’m not really sure what my mother thought of all that, but she liked to drink, and she still does. She has a glass or two of wine every day still, or most days.

My mother has a sad story these days unfortunately. Three years ago, she elected to have a knee replacement surgery. That alone, probably would not have been so bad. But, a couple months after that surgery, she was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. There was a single small tumor (less than quarter sized). They figured with a total mastectomy they’d get it and that would be the end of it. They performed the mastectomy, but did not get the entire tumor! I could have screamed at those doctors! Why the heck did they do the surgery?

Anyhow, they had to do radiation on top of the surgery. So within 6 months they subjected my mother to two major surgeries, and radiation. I’m almost positive that precipitated the initial memory loss that she suffered. But, the symptoms are the same as Alzheimer’s so they stamped that on her as a diagnosis. Unfortunately, now the disease is progressing, and my mother is losing her memory, both short-term and long-term memory is affected now. She’s losing memories of those times in her life (and mine) literally by the day and she has difficulty remembering things from day to day, and sometimes from minute to minute.

I am interviewing her each time I talk with her now, trying to get more information. I asked her about that last chapter where I talked about the famous “Thanksgiving Weekend” trip, and she didn’t remember anything about it. How sad. How awful are these degrading diseases! I guess that makes another good reason to write all these things down, for my own posterity and for my children!

My mother had one funny story about after one of those parties. She said she was pretty drunk, and after everyone left the party, she and my dad had an argument. She wound up hitting my father over the head with a picture, broke the glass over his head and everything. There was a lot of blood and she thought she killed him! She called our doctor, who was a good friend actually too, and she told him “I think I killed him.” As she said that, my dad went crawling by and got into bed. She then told Dr. Schaeffer: “Oh, no, I didn’t kill him. There he goes into bed.”

My dad was a tough fellow, my mother – even tougher! At least in a woman’s way, she was tough. As I said, my daddy didn’t really leave us. My mother said she knew about all the partying, and the girls (Stewardesses, they were all stewardesses in those days), and so on. She told him “Just never bring it home.” Well, that’s what happened you see. My dad met Donna on a boat (naturally, you might say). Donna became his third wife. I have two younger half -sisters that dad and Donna had together. I always tell people that my mother only had two kids, but my daddy had 7. Well, those are the ones we know about anyhow.

Like I said, I won’t pass judgment on him. It’s just those are the facts. Dad’s grandmother’s (on his mother’s side) maiden name was Stewart, and he was always quite proud of that. He used to tell us: “The Scots populated half the world with illegitimate children.” I kind of laughed at it when I was a kid, these days I just wonder. He did his best raising us as a family. And it was actually my mother who told him to leave. She had known all about his partying and carousing and had told him that he must never bring it home. After my mom intercepted a letter from Donna to him, that was it. He came home from a trip and found his bags packed on the doorstep.

So that, as they say, was that. My mother was accommodating with my father, she understood that he had his ways, but she kept her basic boundary and my dad was only ever a visitor again in her house. As usual, I’ve gotten a bit ahead of the story, and a bit off the main track.

When I was growing up we did other things besides sail on our boats. We did some camping, dirt-bike riding, we had hobbies in which dad tried to get interested with us. We had animals too, dogs, cats, birds. My mother and I got interested in birds together. Dad built aviaries for us in the back yard, and at one point we had about 150 birds. And some of those hobbies became obsessions for my dad too.

One hobby in particular I can use as an example. My aunt Fredricka one Christmas gave me a book called _Curious Creatures_ (I was either 4 or 5). In that book were pictures of insects. I must have done lots of “Ooohs!” and “Ahs!” at the insects, because very soon after that I got another book that came with a butterfly net. Quite soon after that we were running all over the place chasing butterflies. I was a swimmer, and I remember we took that butterfly net (or ones like it) to all the swim meets, and when not swimming I was chasing butterflies all over the place.

That wasn’t even the half of it though. The “Beginner” kit we got with that butterfly book was too amateur for dad. He always wanted the best, so he got better equipment and he became an expert in collecting butterflies. He found a Professional Entomologist, and we started visiting this guy once a week or so. My daddy found “Museum quality” cases and we bought a bunch of those. Pretty soon, within a couple short years, the walls of the front room of our house were covered in cases filled with butterflies and insects from all over the world. Each was cataloged, identified with a small tag attached to it’s mounting pin, the cases were filled with preservative to keep them safe and preserved for a century or more.

The collection was quite worthy of any museum anywhere in the world. Being a pilot, my dad had tremendous amounts of time off, and tons of money. The combination of the two led to him obsessing like this over hobbies and other things. The insect collection was so impressive that I used to arrange to bring my entire grade-school class to our house for a “field trip” and my dad would tell all the kids about the various bugs in the collection. Many were rare, and most came from exotic places and had stories in themselves. They were all beautiful and interesting to look at. One thing my dad loved to do was to teach. He had a passion for it!

Hobbies weren’t the only thing he enjoyed. He enjoyed relationships with his buddies too. His friend Bob Watt who went on nearly every trip on the sailboats with us, worked at Vagabondia Campers when we first met them. Interesting, we met the Watts at the Swim Club where my sister and I belonged, I just realized that. Swimming was as much the center of our lives as anything else in the early part of my life anyhow.

So, Bob worked for that camper company, but eventually went to work for King Harbor Boat Yard. My dad started hanging out there, and he spent lots of time there. He loved boats, and everything about them. He spent so much time there, shooting the breeze and drinking coffee with those guys that he should have got a job there. I’m not quite sure what he thought about his “class” relationship to these fellows. On that I can only speculate. My daddy grew up in the depression, very poor, as did most of these fellows. My dad simply moved ahead (so to speak) and got a better (higher paying) job by working hard and having a goal for his life. I don’t think he saw himself as “different” from those fellows, I think that’s why he liked to hang out with them.

Those friends of his did what my dad loved though – they worked on boats, with their hands. I know my dad liked to work with his hands too, he just usually didn’t, he’d leave it to somebody else. I spent hundreds of hours sanding, painting, varnishing, and polishing brass, etc… I even learned (with my mother) how to tie knots, fancy decorative knots, sailor’s knots. There are many different types of decorative knots, some are decorative, and others utilitarian. Many, like the Monkey’s fist are both. Anyhow, my dad loved to hang out. He was always like that as best I can remember.

He was a bit obsessive about it though as I said, or at least he could be. When I was young, I was a swimmer as I said. My earliest memories are all in the pool. I started swimming when I was two years old, and swam my first race when I was four. I don’t remember any of that. I do remember being in the pool (a lot!), and a few other things around our house. I remember falling in our pool with my clothes on (I don’t remember the first time, but many others). That was the big motivator for giving me swimming lessons apparently. My mother says I fell in, and they were worried I was going to drown. I took to swimming like a fish in water though (eventually). But, my mother said they had to chase me around the pool the first few times they took me to lessons.

We graduated from that first swim “school” (YMCA?) to a larger swim school. I went to Marianne Thompson’s Swim School in Manhattan Beach for a couple years. Mrs. Thompson was a wonderful lady, and she remained a family friend for many years. She had a small pool, and a school, and she trained young swimmers. Her pool was too small for larger / older kids, but it was a place where youngsters like me could get a great start. I guess I was good at it. I remember some races, some places we visited quite often for various meets such as Mesa Verde. I won lots of races and trophies – all before the age of 6.

It was an interesting time. My daddy definitely obsessed about swimming though. He would carry the stopwatch, time all mine and my sister’s races. We were subjected to scorn and ridicule if we didn’t improve each and every time we swam. In many ways, those things defined my personality later in life. I despise the whole idea of “competing” these days, though I still enjoy sports. Team sports are much better to watch I think, but I was never given that opportunity until I got into High School. I didn’t do Boy Scouts either, or much of any other activities besides swimming. I didn’t even know about most other activities until middle school, and by then it was too late. I had lots of friends in grade school, we hung out and played after school, it wasn’t that I didn’t have friends, I just never did any other “organized” activities besides swimming.

Oh well, we are who we are too, and it’s just not possible to do everything there is to do in this life is it? I did the swimming thing, and we went to swim workouts at least 5 days a week when I was little (before I turned 7). When I turned 7, I started training twice a day some of the time, and six days a week. It got serious in a hurry! I was good at it and I guess that’s why my folks wanted me to train so hard. Dad would come to the workouts though and drink his coffee and watch us swim up and down the pool. How boring that must have been! I just don’t see it I guess. It turned me off, and I decided not to put any pressure on my kids at all about sports.

My son Stew tried all the sports, we thought we’d give him the “offer” of it anyhow, and see if he liked any of them. He really didn’t take to it, not any of the sports. That’s fine too, as I always tell folks, he is left-handed and dominated by the right side of his brain. His creative and artistic gifts are much more apparent in his life, and they always have been. I’m glad at least that I learned from my father not to be so obsessive about it! My daughter Talya liked Volleyball, but at a pretty early age sports get very competitive, and she didn’t express a desire to get into it at that level either. She also rode horses, and spent some time volunteering at a stables too.

The only team sport I did as a kid was in High School where I played Water Polo. I was quite good at it since I was a fast swimmer, and strong with good ball sense, but I was very small when I started High School. I was young too, only 13, and 4 feet 10 inches tall as a Freshman. You get picked on pretty badly if you’re that small as an incoming Freshman, but I really never got picked on because I (and several others like me) earned my Varsity Letter in Swimming as a Freshman. There were some advantages to having spent all those years in the pool! When I was 15 our team won the National Age Group Junior Olympics Water Polo Championships in Toledo, Ohio. Big stuff for a 15 year old! My father was not around for any of that though, he had been long gone from our lives for some time, even by the time I was 15.

At that age I was starting to become very resentful that my dad had “left” us for some younger woman (Donna was 26 and my dad was 52 when they got together). My mother did not sit around and mope, however. She quickly got two boyfriends, one of whom she married a couple years later. Both were decent fellows, Mike who became my step-dad was an exceptional fellow. But, because I hardly ever saw my father after this must have given me feelings of abandonment. I didn’t dwell on it though, but quickly learned how to be a partyer and one of the “popular” types in High School. It’s funny how quickly we change during adolescence. I would have said that my folks gave me a pretty good upbringing, nothing too harsh, good discipline, a hard work ethic and so on. I remember one fellow asking me about a week after entering 9th grade if I’d ever smoked pot. I responded quite vehemently “No! That stuff is illegal – I won’t EVER do that!”

I drank my first beer when I was 12, so it came quite naturally when I got into 9th grade that I went to the parties with the other guys, and some girls, and we started having these parties on Friday and Saturday nights where we would drink beers and listen to music and dance, and maybe sometimes make out with the girls. At one of those parties, somebody lit a joint and passed it around, and I was already pretty drunk so I just stuck it up to my mouth and inhaled it, what a rush! That was great stuff! The very next day I was buying some. And this just a few short months after entering High School!

I discovered that drinking and drugs kept me from feeling any strong feelings. I guess I did anyhow. Today after being clean and sober for nearly 27 years I look back and find that I used to “self-medicate” to avoid having to feel the bad feelings. The trouble is, of course, that you don’t feel anything good either. As I said, the day after I had my barriers broke down (shattered) and I tried smoking pot, I was buying some. Very soon after that, all my other dreams and aspirations died. Anything else that I had in my life simply disappeared. I still swam, and played Water Polo. As I mentioned it was a year or so after this that we went to Toledo and won the National Junior Olympics in Water Polo (for our 15 and under age-group). But I mostly carried on those things that were “traditional” for me, and I developed no new interests or hobbies. From that time on, I pretty much only cared about drugs, parties, girls and hanging out.

It’s interesting, I would not say that my drinking, partying, drug use and so on was a direct result of my dad’s leaving, but it was certainly a reaction to it. Clearly it was my choice to get into the party scene and drugs and so on. We all must take responsibility for our own lives, and as an adult I learned that my choices are mine. Even as a kid though you’re not “legally” responsible for your own life at that point, still it was a choice that _I_ made. The consequences were far reaching, and unbelievable at the time. High School is the age where you are “indestructible” and you think nothing of any consequences at all for yourself or for others.

I could spend probably a couple chapters on my own journey, but I simply need to give you enough information to let you know that I went way far over the edge into the drug use and eventually – it nearly killed me. My best friend wound up with a ruined brain for the rest of his life. Many other friends are dead as a result of drugs and alcohol. I don’t blame it on my father or anything like that, but the lesson I learned from it was clearly to _be there_ for my kids, no matter what. As a parent, I made the choice that my kids were more important than my career. That’s another valuable lesson that I learned from my father.

I think that when I became a Christian in my 30’s and somebody asked me “Have you _honored_ your parents?” My knee jerk reaction at that point was “No! I hate my father!” because I had grown away from him. He was there in my life until I was about 13, and then he just kind of “disappeared” into thin air. He didn’t really, as I said, my mother kicked him out, but in those days, the kids went with mom – period (unless she was proven unfit). Father’s were not given custody, and rarely did they even get more than visiting privileges (in California at that time). I don’t even remember my dad going to many of my sports events in High School, except the big ones. It’s at least partly my fault for not telling him about them and asking him to be there.

But, that’s the lesson I tried to follow with my kids. I tried to always be there for both my kids through their teen years and High School graduation. Even though my father was not always there, he taught me that! Isn’t that amazing? Anyhow, what happened when I was a new Christian, and I had to do the soul searching exercise to find out how to “Honor” my father, I discovered that it was me who had changed, not my father. That’s why I always say now that “Dad just was who he was.”

It wasn’t my responsibility to make him change or anything like that. He did his best trying to raise three kids in his first marriage (Gary, Fred and Beverly). On that marriage failure he took one child and went back to where he grew up in California and reconnected with my mother. They married and had two more children (myself and my sister Toni, or Antoinette), and then later he married again (Donna) and had two more girls (Simmone and Dominique). My mother always joked and said “He was trying to get one family right.” It’s true, but also not true in a way. Dad was just a “traveler” who loved many women. Well, for clarity sake, I’ll say that he loved at least three women.

Obviously I didn’t accomplish what I set out to do originally in this chapter. I was going to try to catch some of this up and then move on to some more adventures on our sailboats. We’ll get back to boat stories in a bit. I need to finish this thought now.

The thing that was fortunate for me – and my dad – was that I got saved in 1995. My father passed away in 2000, so we had 5 years to “get to know” each other all over again. He got to see his grandkids several times during those last 5 almost 6 years. And most especially, I was able to share with him my new found faith. My faith quickly became the center of my life, and no surprise, it helped even with the most basic relationships here on earth. The most amazing thing of all perhaps is that I was able to tell my dad that I loved him (and I meant it!).

For all the faults my father had, I realized that he had tried, in his way, to do right. And I’m not going to compare my fathering ability to his either. I learned some things that I wanted to do different when I raised my kids is all. There is one saying that always comes to my mind: “Kids grow up in spite of their parents.” The meaning of that is obvious. Some parents try to keep their kids little so they can continue “parenting” them. Some parents leave earlier (or the kids do) and the kids have to grow up sooner. Most of us make it, I mean we grow up and become adults, and presumably most of us become productive and decent citizens.

My father taught me many lessons that became part of my “adult” outlook on life. Most of my outlook is not like his, but that’s not because I’m different, I just looked at the same evidence he did and came to a different conclusion – my conclusion. Like money. My daddy’s “God” in this life was money. At least, while I was growing up, he always harped on money. He had tons of it, I’m not sure why it was such a big deal to him. But it drove him, and he always had to have “The best” of everything. At least he tried to have the best. He was extremely proud too, so much so that later in life, after he was diagnosed with Emphysema, he wouldn’t wear his oxygen anyplace. He stayed home, sucked down oxygen, hopped in his car and zipped over to one of his hangouts for an hour with his buddies, then he’d zip home in his car and collapse on the couch and suck oxygen for a couple hours to get over the exertion.

After retiring from American Airlines in 1986, he had a lifetime pass to go anywhere he wanted – on American Airlines of course. His wife Donna also had a pass. They went a few places, but mostly he never flew again. Especially after being diagnosed with Emphysema (I believe that was in 1992) he never flew again. The idea of going through an airport in a wheelchair, with an oxygen mask attached to his face was abhorrent to him. He just could not even contemplate the “disgrace” of it in other words, though you and I and most everyone else would never see it that way.

He sat at home in those last years, worked on another of his hobbies (stamps) and developed a new hobby (HO trains). But again, I’m getting ahead of the story. I was just feeling compelled to talk a little bit about how the story of my adult life, at least part of it, had been the story of a journey to peace with my father. It’s amazing to me how that peace led to the idea that the stories of the adventures we had as a kid on those sailboats could become a book about my dad.

So, let me just go back and revisit that trip we took over Thanksgiving for a moment. We had sailed through a major storm, and arrived safely in Channel Islands Marina during the height of the storm. The next day, after it cleared somewhat, we went walking down along the beach and saw an Ocean Liner (a ship!) washed up on the beach south of the marina. This was at least a 500′ ship, high and dry on that beach. So you can see how rough it was out in that channel some of the time. The ship had been there for some time, but to have been washed up that high, the surf and tides must have been tremendous in that area!

We did not sail back from there: My dad did, and Bob with him, but the rest of us kids piled into Bob Watt’s camper and drove home. My folks called my brother Gary to go get Bob’s camper and drive it up to Ventura and pick all us kids up – we had had enough sailing adventure for one weekend I guess.

Now we can move on to stories about Pandora, my daddy’s second large sailboat. It was my daddy’s drive to bigger and better that led him (and my mother) to purchase Pandora. Let me describe her in the next chapter and you will see what I mean.

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