April 10, 2010

My Dad

I am reading today...a day spent in bed with books. This wasn't so unusual before we moved. But we moved and errands eat our weekend. My mother lives with us. My sister lives 35 min away or so. That eats up weekend too.

A day spent in bed with books is a novelty-and I appreciate the Dewey Read-a-thon for that taking place here this weekend. I am unofficially participating. Denise is officially doing so.

I started a book a bit ago- The Bones of Time. I picked it up off the shelf at the library because of the name. Kept it because it is set in HI where one of our children now lives.

In it, a mention of Hickam as a space shuttle landing site. Did I know that and forgot? Surely, I must have though I could only immediately think of Edwards and White Sands in addition to of course Kennedy. Why would I have known this? Because of my dad.

I grew up immersed in the space program. My dad worked out at Goddard. I grew up knowing I missed the first moon landing by nearly 2 months-but my parents had not. I grew up glued to the tv when there was a launch-my father nearly always at work for those. My parents bedroom was lined with certificates from various missions on his side of the bed. Above their closets on my mother's side of the bed-pictures of my sisters, me, and my sister's children. I spent a lot of time in there reading the formal language of those certificates, looking at the shiny medals and seals on some. My father told few tales of his actual work. I grew up in a home where we didn't know exactly what it was he did. We have a few photos of him taken at work-during those missions. A group of men-looking all about like him (looking at their website now-much has changed in that way)...looking at the consoles in front of them or the huge screens in the front of the room.

I wanted to be an astronaut. It seemed like the most amazing thing out there. My father hated the idea. He didn't want a daughter in the military and he didn't want a daughter in space. Why not? I couldn't imagine. The danger. While he would risk anything himself-he didn't feel the same about his children. Now that I am a mother-I understand this far more.

So, despite the fact that my memories of my father should be wrapped up tidily into car mechanics and tinkering in the garage-they instead wrap around the space program. I don't follow it very closely anymore for that reason. I don't want to want to call my dad and realize I can't anymore, yet again.

In my looking up whether Hickam really could be a landing site, I learned the last planned flight of the Shuttle program is in September. How could this be? The last flight of a program that my father helped bring into this world shouldn't have aged so fast. How could it have been so long since my father quietly explained to my high school self that no, the Challenger astronauts couldn't have ejected and no one found them yet. How can it have been so long that since I held my breath waiting through the last bits of countdown, the release of the solid rocket boosters, the flip, mission control reporting in, the shuttle no longer in sight.

It has been a long time-a long program-but a blink of an eye and a reminder that my father dies a bit more with each untold story, with each story I have forgotten, haven't shared with my children to the point that they shush me and wonder why I speak of a man who died before one of them was even conceived.

And thus here I am...on a Saturday night, typing away on a laptop that probably wouldn't be quite what it is without the shuttle, without the space program, using the Internet-something that my father helped make accessible, and thinking about a fierce, quiet, genius who grew up in middle America and wanted the moon and the stars for his girls-all three of them-just as long as we didn't dare go into them. I want him here to explain the space program and the future. I want him to tell my kids. I want them to dream of space flight-not vampires and manga.


B said...

Not only did we grow up immersed in the life of NASA, Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab and the Shuttle, I married into a life in aerospace. My husband has kept me firmly grounded in the understanding of the Int'l Space Station, the satellites, the Manned Maneuvering Unit, Magellan, Mars Rovers, and even the antique Viking,

I could not be an astronaut. I am just old enough to miss the opportunity for women in the military academies, women fighter pilots and Sally Ride.

Pop was my step-dad. But he was much much more than just my mother's second husband. He was my dad. In his quiet and noble way, he never flinched or corrected a school mate or teacher when meeting him for the first time, would say "Nice to meet you, Mr. F......" using my name instead of his. His natural genius spurred me on to become a high achieving student and naturally curious adult. He was gracious when both my father and he attended my college graduation.

He was forever in the Eagle’s Nest tinkering and building. Watch making and building personal computers were his hobby. He taught me how to gap spark plugs, change oil; bleed brakes even install a windshield. He decoded the cable TV signal for fun. He taught me Morse Code and soldering. He loved homemade Oatmeal Raisin cookies and Deviled Ham.

When he passed away, I grieved beyond the sadness I had felt when my father had passed away.

I miss him. I miss his puns, his acerbic wit, his pipe smoking and the strong and steadfast anchor he provided our family.

Over the years I have not only watched launches on TV but have been privileged to watch launches from the Cape and Vandenberg. So Space is still alive and well in my home.

Every time I see a launch, I hope Pop is watching over those heroes that risk their lives to explore the moon and the stars.


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