Genetics… (About My Dad) Part 2

Excerpt from the upcoming book Viking Funeral. Scroll down to read previous chapters.

Our dad by definition was an athlete. He remained ripped his entire life without working at it. He was a rare super-human which is what science knows about world-class athletes-they are physically different from the rest of us mere mortals. He had a doctor tell him when he was having a physical in high school that his heart was enormous and that he may have a doctor in the future become alarmed that his heart was enlarged but it was not, he simply had a heart that was almost double in size. He always assumed that this physical characteristic is what gave him his unique endurance. Super-human, yes, but his beginning was anything but super and barely humane.

His childhood was marred by witnessing volatile fights between his parents with many thrown objects, yelling and physical abuse. His mother and pre-teen older brother were the objects of abuse by his raging alcoholic father who would unexpectedly disappear for weeks at a time with his paycheck, having left to “get a pack of cigarettes” from the store or some such bullshit. Their dad left for good when my uncle at 12 protected my then five-year-old dad from his first beat down. My uncle grew up fast and was not going to be beaten again nor watch his mother or little brother be hurt either.

They lived for a short period of time with their mother’s parents until their grandfather suffered a grave injury and other plans had to be made for their care. The boys were placed in an orphanage off and on throughout his young life while his dad continued smoking those cigarettes he went out for somewhere on the California coast and separately his mom struggled to survive.

She didn’t have any formal post high school education. She didn’t come from money. There was no such thing as child or spousal support back then. Women dropped their kids off at orphanages while they went about their attempt to survive, to recreate a home, a life. Mothers came and visited and may have left their children for months at a time like a very, very extended childcare service. She remarried a military man who was shortly thereafter stationed at Norton AFB in San Bernardino not far from Redlands, CA where they as a newly minted family landed in 1946.

The marriage did not last a year. Redlands did not have an orphanage, but they did have what was new to my dad, Foster Care. My uncle was a mid-teenager by then, wild, not having any part of anyone else being in control of him and was a man unto himself.

My dad was placed with his first and only, amazing, loving, foster family, The Osdicks who had room and kindness to share. What one would hope the Foster care system would provide. The family had two children of their own. They all adored my dad because he had that sort of lovely magnetism about him, he was very personable, genuine, quick to smile, funny, kind, appreciative and gentle. Dave was so very much like him. He learned about sitting around a kitchen table and enjoying dinner. No one got drunk, threw anything, nor yelled or harmed anyone. Everyone talked to each other and seemed to enjoy doing so.

Moving to Redlands began our dad’s sports life, the time when he learned his impeccable work ethic, first experienced success, self-confidence and well-earned moments of all things…pride. From these successes, he applied these hard work ethics that served him well and ultimately branched into every aspect of his life.

Our dad learned to swim that year when he was 12 at his local (Redlands) YMCA and began competitions soon after in both swimming and diving. He immediately began winning local, regional and state titles in both swimming and diving events. By the time he was 14 he had to choose one event, so he chose swimming, representing Redlands High School.

He was dedicated to his sport. He would arrive an hour before practice and swim many, many miles before anyone else arrived and then practice with the team. His team won national championships with his individual times being the fastest. His amazing work ethic made him like a machine in the pool, and later in life, constantly working, moving forward. At the age of 15 he was ranked 9th in the nation and 11th in the world after learning to swim just three years earlier.

He decided he wanted to focus on football because it was a much sexier sport. Crowds watch football games not swim meets. He played both running and quarterback. The team made it to the playoffs every year, and they won the Citrus Belt League division his senior year. Maybe that is a common scenario. Plenty of people are great at their sport. But wait.

He attended a basketball game back in the days when there was ONE coach at the school who was in charge of everything. So his coach, currently the Basketball coach was down a player. The coach saw my dad in the stands before the game and asked him to fill in for the team. He told my dad to “just be tall. Stick your hands in the air and don’t let anything get past you.” He was 6’2” so he had a decent wingspan. Apparently, the league rules were very fast and loose in the late 40s for eligibility where putting random players in midway through the season was concerned.

My dad was blind as a bat without his glasses. When he played football, he could make out his teammates on the field and get the ball to them or catch it with some sort of athletic radar, but that basket was a much smaller target. My dad, regardless of what the coach told him, shared his thoughts at the time, “I knew to win, you had to put the ball in the basket. That is the REAL object of this game.” And he did. Over and over.

The team won. He scored the most points in the game. He also had the highest individual score in a single game for a player that season. Without glasses. Without playing ever before. With grace and a huge smile. The next year he was recruited for the team. In recent years he was recognized for his athletic abilities by the high school and put in their hall of fame.

He was in and out of foster care like he was in the orphanage previously, but always with the same family, the Osdicks until he was an adult. His mom needed him to work and help her pay the rent, and he did so throughout high school by working in the orange groves filling smudge pots with fuel through the night and bussing tables in the evenings at La Posada restaurant after his sports activities. I have no idea when he slept. All part of the unique stamina of world-class athletes.

Regardless of where he was living, the Osdicks maintained continuity with him and attended all of his sporting events like family. He remained very close to them throughout his life. He adored them for their kindness but even more for teaching him about a different way of life and making him part of an emotionally healthy family.

Our gangly, sickly, tiny dad grew to be a strapping, handsome man. He was a clothes model and for a brief period of time wanted to be a professional actor. He spent the better part of a year living in Hollywood going to studios daily trying to land parts in television or the movies. He lived with his good friend from San Bernardino Valley College and fellow thespian, Geoffrey Lewis, who remained in Hollywood until he was famous, starring in more than 50 films and television productions many alongside Clint Eastwood and Robert Redford, as well as having 10 children one of them being Juliette Lewis. My dad was happy for Geoff and cheered anytime we saw him on screen. He was that way, happy when people achieved their dreams.

I was pulling oatmeal cookies out of the oven as a young adult and asked him if he wanted one when he came in the kitchen. He declined which shocked me because “Who doesn’t love an oatmeal cookie?” That was when he explained to me, “I never eat oatmeal, not even a cookie because it was all I ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner for years when I lived in the orphanage.” I freaked out at this news because our family had always seemed so…so…normal…ORPHANAGE?

He had shielded us for the most part from his mother who I can count on one hand how many times I saw her and he rarely spoke of his childhood. So by way of oatmeal cookies, I gleaned my first look into my dad’s distressing childhood and the way orphanages operated, as long term drop-offs for the children of struggling families. I didn’t know I knew a truly struggling family when my own father came from such a harsh existence. It made me realize anything really is possible for anyone to accomplish.

It wasn’t until way after the oatmeal revelation that I heard that my dad was in high school when he learned of his estranged father’s death in his early 40s, from liver failure. He said very few words about his dad, ever, and my dad was a man of many words. That intended deafening silence spoke volumes for itself. I didn’t ask any questions and I was a very, VERY inquisitive child, teen, young adult and adult who asked questions ad nauseum, that is how strong that smoke signal was.

In conversations here and there my dad attributed moving to Redlands, learning to swim at the Y and living with the Osdicks as saving his life. He learned that a place you live can be beautiful if you make it so, that one success can build on another and how to live through his time living with the Osdicks. “Living with them…” took years to percolate and form the puzzle of how they really came to be such an important part of his young life. They had a front lawn, well manicured. He took good care of our lawn. They took care of their things. We took care of our things.

Our dad knew he wanted to have a set dinner time for his family and defended the sanctity of his dinner table very strictly. The rules were simple, but anyone grossly out of line was sent away. It didn’t happen often, but witnessing the disappointment of my dad one time was enough for me to learn from the missteps of the older kids that I never wanted to be sent from the table and I behaved as expected. Mostly no elbows on the table and no lip, simple. The eruptions that took place at our table were those of laughter. My dad loved to laugh and loved to tell a story at the dinner table. I credit him for my mad storytelling skills. All the above was the model he learned from the Osdicks that he decided to follow in the family he created deliberately, breaking the horrible cycle of alcoholism, violence and poverty he grew up with.

From the Osdicks he also learned to choose joy, a long-standing directive he would repeat over and over in my life, when tucking me in bed or whenever I was upset about anything. “You have a choice every day, choose joy.” This was not what I wanted to hear as a kid, “You know I am 5 right?” “I do, but I wish someone had told me this when I was your age. I didn’t understand how important this was until I was in my thirties.” I heard these words impatiently forever until I was maybe 25+ when it finally clicked. I stopped rolling my eyes and thought, “OH. Now I get it. Thanks Dad.”

My dad attended a corporate golf event for the company Long’s Drug Store, where he worked as an assistant store manager. He was in his late 30s and had never played golf. He was paired up with a group from his region (Southern California) and won the tournament as a first-time golfer. The owners of the company golfed religiously as people who identify as ‘golfers’ do. The owner (Joe Long) fully expected to win the tournament because he WAS a good golfer. He was shocked that my dad, a first-time golfer kicked his and everybody else’ asses out there. It had to be a fluke. My all-time favorite photo of my dad is from this day, of him holding his trophy grinning ear-to-ear next to Joe Long who looks very unhappy relinquishing the trophy.

The next year my dad attended the annual golf tournament to play the second round of golf he had ever played and won again. This time he doesn’t look overjoyed. He looks worried as he is now old enough to understand that perhaps he should have let the old guy, the president of the company with the obvious fragile ego win. The trophy was smaller, and Joe Long has the most pissed off look on his face. The following year, the trophy was tiny, four or five inches tall and no photo was taken. It was hilarious to see the trophies lined up on a shelf: huge, smaller, peewee, next to the photo of one pissed off Joe Long. Soon Long’s Drugs stopped having corporate golf tournaments.

Not long after that tournament I was with my dad at his mother’s house, I was about 8. We rarely saw her because she was a problematic and emotionally unhealthy creature-see previously mentioned volatile fights, orphanage and foster care references. She probably called my dad to come and help her with something. Whatever the reason, we were in her back yard, I was disconnected from the conversation as it was not remotely interesting to me because there remained the coolest 1800s vintage adobe style jailhouse the size of a garage, my grandmother called it the hoosgado across the alley from my grandmother’s back yard that demanded my investigation.

My dad without effort or notice put his hand on the top of the wall and swung his legs over the six-foot wall in a single motion, just WHOOSH up and over. I finally knew what was meant by “a single bound.” I had not heard ALL the stories of my dad’s athletic past at that point. I am sure I had some vague memory of hearing stories of swimming…and maybe some football thing that was a big part of his younger life, but that was forever ago. I raised my eyebrows surprised at how easily he hopped over that wall that was almost as tall as he was. I mean he seemed Soooo old at all of probably 40. I was used to seeing him in a suit or with mowing the lawn type dad moves. My grandmother responded to my look and giggled a; “What?” at me. I said something like, “I can’t believe he did that, he is so old.” As I pointed to the wall incredulous. My grandmother, cigarette in hand, laughed the hardest chain smoker half cough-half laugh I had ever witnessed cough out of her.

When my dad popped back over the top of the wall gracefully landing lightly on his feet in front of us I was still incredulous from the first hop, my grandmother choking out another laugh, and told him what I had said; “I didn’t know he could do that at his age.” And began laughing all over again, that gross flem-y-throaty-disgusting smokers hack. My dad joined her with his charming and easy laugh, a modest twinkle in his eye and a wink at me that conveyed there were things I clearly did not know about my dad.

I knew he had two golf trophies at home but learned of the stories of his impressive sports prowess over time. I grew up like my siblings to be competitively coordinated. I never attempted to scale a wall like that in a single bound, but there was an occasion when I could not get myself out of the side of a three-foot-deep pool when I was five months pregnant. It was hilarious as I tried to first just hop out but failed, then tried to just get a leg, one leg, either leg, any leg up and out to at least roll myself out of the pool but I couldn’t because of my belly. I had to trudge my way over to the steps-the long way out of the pool. I laughed so hard at the contrast of my pathetic failed attempt to hop out of the shallow end of the pool to that time my dad hopped over that six-foot wall and back like a fucking gazelle. I was pathetic, and it was hilarious.

When my dad was in his mid-forties racquetball was all the rage. My brother’s friends who were in their mid-twenties by that time were regularly playing racquetball, then stopping by our house after to hang out with Dave. Their excitement for playing was contagious to my dad, and he asked if he might play with them sometime. Sometime arrived and my dad joined two other players. These guys were young bucks who played hard. When they returned to our house after the game, the guys had long faces because apparently my dad simply asked the rules of the game, nodded in understanding and proceeded to kick their asses all over the court. That was the first and last time he played racquetball.

I laughed retroactively at the juxtaposition of these young studs flat out panting on the couch and my dad outside in his hideous green plaid Bermuda shorts, socks with sandals, calmly pulling the starter cord on the mower, heartbeat barely above 55. He was never boastful. He was a gracious winner. He was so comfortable in his statuesque chiseled body. He simply moved through the world a little more effortlessly than the rest of us.

My dad took up golf regularly sometime in his forties. Every Monday and consistently enjoyed this game against himself. He remained very physically strong and played into his 70s. He deadlifted Dave to put him in his wheelchair almost every day. Dave outweighed my dad by maybe 25-35 pounds depending on both of their fluctuating weight over the years. Both of my parents were involved in the process of getting Dave in and out of bed but my Dad as one might expect was the bulk of the muscle.

Both of our parents had amazing immune systems in that they NEVER got sick. They NEVER had the flu or a cold. NEVER. They were focused and worked hard at everything they attempted, and they were good at what they did, they didn’t make it look hard, but it was hard. Especially caring for my brother. As I mentioned Dave was never sick, these three were superhumans as far as their immune systems were concerned.

When our dad passed away, I sent the local Redlands paper a bio by email. His high school days five decades behind him of course. I expected that no one at the paper was familiar with him fifty years out of high school. I got a return phone call from the reporter who said their archives had more articles featuring my dad than any other individual in town, athletes and others combined. That was a fun moment. I wish he had known that. Maybe he did. We had copies of all the newspaper clippings, and it seemed like a lot to me, but what did I know? The paper is not a huge publication. They ran a three-page story which was basically my bio cut and pasted and several photos from their archive. A friend commented that my dad got more ink than when the publisher died which of course I thought was funny. And that was just covering his sports life, they could have written more about his work ethic, lifelong friendships, his marriage, the way he cared for his family, his storytelling abilities, my brother.

I worked for Redlands Unified School District at that time. There was a lovely older African-American gentleman named Ed who was a custodian in the district. He used to stop by my office every afternoon to pick up my recycling. He was always professional, polite. Over time as I slowly got to know him over short conversations here and there as he picked up my bin and emptied it I came to learn that he had a side business washing cars at the office. I began supporting his business in a win-win situation. I needed my car washed, he needed the money.

After my dad died and it was all over the paper and people in my life were generally aware that my dad had died, when I returned to work, Ed came to my door and asked if I was Tom Linane’s daughter. “I am.” He explained that “I thought you might be related to my friend from Redlands High School. I kept looking at your name on the door and wondered. He explained how they “played basketball together fifty years ago and that your dad would stop by the house every now and again to share a beer. I felt real bad when your brother got hurt. Such a shame. How’s he doin?” “He is great, really. Other than…you know…our Dad dying.” “Your dad was real kind to me when our daughter died. She was killed in a car accident not that long ago, died of a torn heart artery like Lady Diana.” Hearing of his daughter and talk of this unbeknownst to me friend of my dad that had been in my daily life for a few years made me tear up. I would have loved to have told my dad a funniest thing type story about this guy at work named Ed and he would have loved hearing all about it. I hugged Ed. We both sniffled our tears at each other and he went on his way.

I think my dad being raised in an orphanage made him understand and connect with all humans on a genuine level. He and Dave were so much alike that way. They were open to people, all people, they were respectful. They didn’t brag about how they helped people out or who they were friends with to appear magnanimous. They were simply people who were magnets and were connected to people for life.

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