Saturday, June 18, 2005
Happy Father's Day, LA Cowboy, Senior!!
Myself, my grand-nephew who is my father's great-grandson, my sister and my now still active and vigorous 89 year old father when he was in his mid-80's.
As I entered adolescence in the 1960's, a common criticism of 1950's sit-coms such as 'Leave It To Beaver', 'Ozzie and Harriet' and 'Father Knows Best' was that the they screwed up the kids of my era by presenting an unrealistic view of family life. I really didn't understand this, however, as the families in those shows did not seem all that different from my own family. It was only much later when I realized how exceptionally unexceptional my own upbringing, and my own parents, had been.
From the earliest I can remember, we were always treated more as young adults than as kids. Our parents talked to us about everything (and never talked down to us) and, even more importantly, they always listened to us.
I remember when I once complained to my father as he was dropping me off at Miss Francis' Nursery School on Occidental Boulevard (just north of Third as I recall, near the Precious Blood School) that I didn't want to go there; they simply didn't have any good books to read (as few of the other kids could yet read) and we spent way too much time napping and that it was just generally... boring. So after a short discussion, he took me home and I no longer had to go there and other arrangements were made until I could start kindergarten early.
Conversely, however, when my teachers wanted me to skip grades, my parents always consulted with me, and we agreed that it was better for me to remain with my own friends and my own age group. They also agreed with me that I should stay in a public school as opposed to going to a private school. Even then it was clear that I was going to self-educate myself and so they - and I - preferred that I experience the social interaction of public rather than private school.
Then, a bit later, when I was recruited by a East Coast prep school, while I knew my parents would never want me to leave home, they also made it clear that the decision was totally mine. So even though the catalogue of classes and the immense range of activities at Phillips-Exter was quite tempting, I knew even then that I would never want to grow up without my family, nor that I would ever want to leave the City of LA, even for my schooling. Still later, when all my friends were going Ivy - or to Cal Berkeley or even just around the corner to Claremont, I only applied to UCLA.
Now to get back to the sit-com analogy - once I and my siblings were born, my parents no longer had (or wanted) any independent life other than as... parents. When they went out, we all went out. When they went on a trip or to a movie or to a store - or anywhere - we all went out. Now while there must have been many other occasions, I can only recall both my parents going out once and leaving us with baby sitters - my grandparents - when they went to see the Music Man at the now demolished Biltmore Theater.
My mother worked at E. F. Hutton on Spring Street before I was born (when she quit her job) and my father worked at a law office in the Doulgas Building at 3rd and Spring while he got his degree from Southwestern Law School. This was after the War had interrupted his education from 1941 - 1945 as Pearl Harbor happened while he was enrolled at UCLA. He later set up his own office there and stayed there until the upper floors were vacated for seismic concerns.
My father never smoke or drank and I do not recalling him ever even once using a four letter word in my presence during the entire time I was growing up. I also never heard any kind of racial joke or insult at the expense of anyone's race, religion or background in our home, which was a literal United Nations of kids coming and going while I was growing up. I might add that my parents were Goldwater/Reagan Republicans.
My father also coached the Hollywood YMCA's basketball team and was the sponsor of the Y Groups I was apart of such as the Indian Guides. He also became the surrogate father for the many kids I knew who no longer had their own fathers in their lives, taking us on trips, to Dodger's games and to our cabin in the mountains.
His own father, correspondingly, also had a long history of public service between working with Gifford Pinchot (founder of the National Forest system) on conservation matters and helping run war relief in the Balkans after WW I, before his early death when my father was but one year old during a 1920's flu epidemic.
My father also quietly participated in many other community projects including serving as the honorary Mayor of Westlake Park, which was, ironically, kind of the neighborhood council of its day. But what made even more of an impact on me was how he treated people in every day life. When Christmas and Thanksgiving came, he did not just write a check to a charity, but we - as a family - took food and gifts to families ourselves and we then shared their food with them and accepted gifts from them so it became an exchange of gifts from one family to another and not charity. And as a lawyer, whenever potential clients did not have enough money to hire him, he was always willing to accept barter in food, a painting, used cars (we never once had a new car) - or any other medium of exchange.
I also remember when we went to McLaren Hall (where kids whose parents were unable to take care of them were often housed temporarily) to visit the son of a single parent client who was in jail and he discovered that the kids who wanted to play baseball did not have enough balls and bats. So my father not only went out and bought them balls and bats but he also went back on weekends and hit balls with them to show them that someone cared about them.
It is all those the simple, day to day acts that I most remember and cherish about my father. And it is only now that I have slowly realized that all of what I do now in my life is only my following behind him in his footsteps and my trying to apply all the lessons I learned from him as a boy so many years ago.
So even though the trail this poor cowboy has ridden - due to life's all too common tragedies - has not always been an easy one, or a typical one due to things often beyond my control, my deceased mother and my still alive father still never gave me anything less than their full love, their constant support and their ceaseless understanding, no matter how off-trail my life at many times seemed.
So Happy Father's Day - Ernest V. Shockley in the 82nd year of your life!
PS -- As you the more discerning reader may notice, my father and I do not share the same surname. These is because in my 17th summer when I discovered that I was born to ride the cowboy trail (however brief that period of my life was allowed to be) and that I was also to become a writer, I then took Brady Westwater as my pen name.