My neighbor who lives in one of the units of the four-plex next door is spending this Fathers’ Day as a new father. His wife recently gave birth to twin sons. Last week he mentioned that he and his family have found a larger place to live and will be moving out of the neighborhood very soon.
After chatting with the neighbor, I thought about the cycle of life. This Fathers’ Day is my first one without my own dad.
My siblings and I never called him “father”, we always knew him as “dad”. The only times anyone referred to him as “father” was when one of us misbehaved and mom said, “Wait until your father comes home.”
Dad was very skilled in mathematics, a talent he put to good use as a civil engineer. He spent his entire career working at the Nebraska Department of Roads. During the springs and summers, dad was away from home for long periods of time. He was busy supervising one construction site or another during the road-building seasons.
I remember him pulling into the driveway, late in the evenings, in his “state-car”. His vehicle was usually a bare-bones slate grey Chevrolet Biscayne. White lettering on the front doors identified it as property of the roads department.
A few times, dad brought me to job sites so I could learn about what he did all day. It was fascinating to see pavement poured and bridge pilings driven. Even though the heavy-duty equipment and construction captured my imagination, I was most intrigued by the men who did the work. Yes, they were all men, I don’t remember a single female on any job site, nor even at the small office building where dad designed “his” roads and bridges. (His office began employing some women after I left home.)
I wonder if dad may have been trying to choose a career for me as a road-builder. Not only did I get to “ride shotgun” in concrete mixer trucks and pavement smoothers, but he made sure I mingled with his fellow civil engineers whenever he worked in the office. Dad was probably disappointed that I did not choose civil engineering as a career.
Dad liked to tell stories about his earlier years. One of his favorites regarded his service in the U.S. Army. He downplayed the fact that he was not shipped overseas during World War Two. He finished basic training in very early 1945 and was assigned to domestic posts in the closing months of the war.
One of his brief assignments was serving as a guard for the Corps of Engineers at Los Alamos, New Mexico. At the time, only the commanding officers and the civilian scientists knew what was going on in the laboratories at the site. Dad and his comrads only understood that the project was “hush hush” and top secret. Dad was then transferred to California in preparation for duty in the Pacific. Before his Company received their orders, the two atomic bombs were dropped on Japan. It was then, that he learned why Los Alamos was a high security assignment.
It was soon after his discharge from the Army that dad landed his job with the Nebraska Department of Roads. He spent the first year or so drawing blueprints at the department’s offices in the state capitol building tower. Later, he was transferred to the northeast part of the state, the area he worked most of his life. Dad married mom and about a year later, the couple had their first child, me.
After retirement, dad became more involved with his hobbies and other past-times. He did harbor a lingering interest in bridge and highway projects, though. He was always excited about the construction of major bridges.
The grand opening of the “Discovery Highway Bridge” over the Missouri River near Yankton, South Dakota, in 2008, brought on a renewed nostalgia about his old career. It was the last public grand opening he was to attend before life brought on the tragedies of losing his second wife, and later, my brother.
Infrequently, did dad reminisce about the past. Mostly, he wanted to keep up with current family events. Dad understood the value of letting go of the past and moving on. At least, that was the impression he wanted to make.