My Dad didn’t talk much about his youth, but I know he was born in Yakima, Washington, and later moved to San Bernardino, California, with my Grandma Edith. I never had a grandfather on his side of the family, but my grandma had a couple of suitors whom my mom referred to as “uncles” – I guess that was the norm back then. I never met any of them, but I think I can understand why Grandma Edith never married my Dad’s Dad; from what I can remember, she was a strong and independent woman, probably not willing to put up with his or any other man’s bullshit. There was this one time, when she was around 75 years old that she drove all the way from her home in Tennessee to visit us in Whittier, CA. She just showed up on our doorstep with her horny poodle, Jacko, who took a liking to my brother’s Teddy Bear.

It seems Dad had a pretty happy youth, spending summers at the lake in the mountains above San Bernardino before he went to India to help build the Burma road at the outset of World War 2. I remember him telling me that back in the fifties, he’d jump in a friend’s old Ford or Chevy and drive the windy road to a bar in the mountains above San Bernardino where artists, beatniks, and anyone cool enough to wear Ray-Bans and pontificate about the state of things would gather to discuss ideas. This was when Beat writers like Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs laid the philosophical foundations of a new, free-spirited generation underscored by the existential fear that the world could be annihilated at any moment.

I’ve dreamt of my Dad sometimes at that bar with his crew cut, button-down shirt, and horn-rimmed glasses, getting up on the tree stump in the corner of the and, importantly, reciting the first lines of Ginsberg’s Howl- “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix, angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night…”

Dad would also make forays to a jazz nightclub in the town where I now live- Hermosa Beach. The Lighthouse was known as the birthplace of west coast “cool” jazz, appropriate for a beach-side town and frequented by the likes of Stan Getz, Chet Baker and Miles Davis. There used to be a huge picture on the wall of four young guys circa 1955 wearing snappy suits and Ray-Bans. I swear one of them was dad.

While Mom was a stalwart Midwest Daughter who taught Sunday school and was prone to singing hymns off-key in church while my brother and I crafted paper airplanes from the little pads of paper that sat next to the hymns on the shelves attached to the back of the pews, Dad wasn’t much into church. As far as I can remember, he never attended. He seemed more interested in the philosophical ponderings and spiritual ideas of other cultures, as evidenced by the tomes lining the bookshelves in the den- “Life and Teaching of the Masters of the Far East” and “Autobiography of a Yogi.”

Speaking of the den, it was a gathering place of sorts in our small, five-room tract house just south of Los Angeles due to the television being there. We’d gather in that small room when the summer heat became oppressive to revel in the cool air blasting from the air conditioner that hung in the window. Eventually, though, it would overload the 110 circuit which would evoke some choice words and the hollow promise to get 220 wiring by the next summer. I don’t think we ever did.  

My dad eventually became a proofreader for the Los Angeles Times in the 60’s. What’s a proofreader? Sort of like a human spellcheck. He would read the copy before the newspaper was put to press, looking for mistakes. Newspapers were made from actual paper back then and had stories like the ones you see on your computer today. They were generated by actual humans, not AI. This is where it gets really weird- young boys would strap canvas bags onto their bikes and ride through the neighborhood, delivering these newspapers daily by holding onto the handlebars with one hand, grabbing a newspaper with the other, and flinging it towards the doorstep of a subscriber without breaking stride.

When Mom and Dad retired to Carson City, Nevada, my brother and I would visit and always be entertained in the morning when we’d watch Dad perusing the morning paper over coffee. We’d sit in silence and wait for it- eventually, a loud guffaw would ring through the air, and my Dad, incredulous about some grammatical misgiving or punctuation error of grand proportions and enormous consequence, would exasperatedly comment on the grievous mistakes made by a lowly editor at the Reno Gazette-Journal.

It was late summer, a year before the last time I saw him, that his cancer returned. He chose not to fight it, saying, “I guess 85 years on this earth is about enough; it’s time to move on”. A year later, around Christmas, we visited him for the last time. I have a video of him in a wheelchair with my 10-month-old daughter in his arms. My wife is standing by with a big smile on her face, proud to have Dad see his only grandchild before he died. I zoomed in; the closeup shows a gaunt remnant of a once robust and vibrant philosopher/king holding my daughter and looking into her eyes, beaming as if he’d live forever. He was gone in another few weeks.

But my best memory of Dad takes me back home to Whittier, California. I was on the front lawn washing the VW bug Mom and Dad had given my brother and me to share over the summer before selling it and going off to college. It was one of those warm breeze, smell of cut grass and bright southern California summer Saturday afternoons when all the mysteries and magic of life lay out in front of you.

I was putting the finishing touches on the car, getting ready to round up a few friends and dash off into the mad, crazy summer night with all the hope, sound, and fury of kids that age. My Dad was coming from somewhere and stopped to admire my work. I told him about what I was up to, and after pausing a moment, he looked at me and said, “Well, Mark, just remember to take it easy… BUT TAKE IT!”.

That’s how I best remember my Dad.

*Excerpted from “Where’s My F*cking Epiphany- How Walking Across Spain Saved My Life”.