Thursday, 10.13.05: More About My Dad - 1960s
[cont'd from here] The seachange of the Sixties started for our family at the end of 1959. We moved from our little apartment to a real house in south St. Louis. My sister Kathleen was born, making 4 of us kids. And my dad was promoted from his office manager job to sales rep, with his own company car -- a Chevy Impala with a trunk full of Dutch Boy paint chips, color cards, and cans of returned paint. His territory was all the hardware and paint stores in town.
His own car, his own set of small business owner customers -- I think this is where my dad's personality began to shine and his affability honed to high art. He loved his customers and he had a story to tell about each of them. He even loved the radio programs that entertained him as he drove. Jack Carney, who had the morning show at KMOX, was like a member of the family. I'm sure the job had its stresses -- Dad gained weight and had terrible gout attacks -- but I don't remember him being anything but cheerful about work.
When I started high school in 1963 he became my morning chauffeur. I was supposed to take the bus home, but he often indulged me with a pick-up after school. Most memorable was the day Kennedy was assassinated. The news came while I was in English class. We said a few prayers and were dismissed early. When I left the building, there was my dad waiting for me. I didn't quite realize what an epic tragedy the murder was or that the whole country had come to a standstill. All I understood was that my dad knew I'd be upset and had planned to wait in his car for as long as it took for me to appear. How could anyone be so cradled in the arms of love?
I think my first adult conversations with him came when I was assigned to read Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" in sophomore year. Because my father was a salesman, the play was the first piece of literature that had direct relevance to my life. My dad read it along with me and then we watched the movie with Lee J. Cobb. Our talk revealed to me for the first time that the working life of an adult carried emotional risks. For a salesman, it was losing his touch, failing to engage with his customers -- not being well-liked. I gained new respect for my father and the work he did. His work was not about selling paint, but about engaging with the world, understanding your purpose, and having to carry on no matter how you felt it ground you down.
That was important.