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Father’s Day

Mid-June and another Father’s Day has come and gone. It’s a typically low-key calendar event but full of meaning for those of us who think about such things. Count me in that crowd. When your initials spell the word DAD, I guess it’s inevitable that you spend a lot of time thinking about fathers in general and your own in particular. Most of that is generally internal stuff, a mixture of wishful thinking and subjective reflection on the good, the bad, and the ugly of our youth under the firm hand or limited involvement of the man in our immediate family.

Sad to say I didn’t have much time with my own father, but he has always been a huge influence on who I turned out to be. As I was named after him, with a Roman numeral II appended, I think of the original Dale Adam Dye every time I sign something for a fan, put my signature to a contract, or endorse a check. Even my written signature features the swoopy serif on the D’s was copied from the way he signed things.

I lost my Dad way too early. He was 46 and I was just 13. It’s never easy and nearly always traumatic for a kid to lose a father but there are plenty who have survived that kind of tragedy, so I suppose my case is nothing special in the overall accounting of human miseries. But a father’s influence on a kid is important. That should be obvious to even the casual observer who notes the character and behavior of young men and women who careen their way into adulthood minus a father’s guidance or even presence in the fractured families that are the norm in today’s society.

Wearing a grin that would probably appeal to his often perverse sense of humor, I thought I might share some of the things about the original Dale Dye that I find either interesting or amusing.

My Dad was born January 11, 1911. He got a kick out of abbreviating that on forms as 1-11-11. Sometimes he’d dispense with the hyphens and write four 1’s with a diagonal slash as if he was keeping count of something by fives. He thought it was funny. Apparently several bureaucrats he encountered in governmental agencies did not.

He briefly attended a military school on the other side of the Mississippi from his hometown. Western Military Academy in Alton, Illinois no longer exists, and Dad would have been fine with that. He’d much rather have been hunting or fishing in his native bootheel Missouri, which is basically what he did when the military school authorities booted him as incorrigible and unsuited to military-style discipline.

Dad was an avid bird hunter and crack wing-shooter who regularly got two or more quail or pheasants in a single rising covey with his old 16-gauge side-by-side shotgun. His prowess was discussed at suppers in my Grandmother’s house where shot glasses were placed at each setting so eaters could deposit birdshot they picked from the game on their plate.

And Dad was a precise marksman with things other than scatterguns. He demonstrated that one day while teaching me to shoot with an old .22 rifle. I had been cutting bullseyes fairly regularly on a paper target we pinned to an oak tree with my first and favorite pocketknife. Sensing that I was getting too full of myself as a marksman, Dad hit at a pint of Old Grandad and grabbed the rifle. “Watch this,” he said, and promptly put a round right into my knife. Sparks flew as did my tears over the loss of my cherished, cheapo blade. That night I found his worn and much-admired Schrade Old Timer sitting on my pillow.

Apparently, my Dad could perform miracles under the right circumstances. That claim was made by his older brother, my Uncle Kenny, who observed that phenomenon while they were out hunting frogs from an old aluminum rowboat. The process involved spotting a big bullfrog with a flashlight and quickly snatching him up and into a gunnysack. When one of the target frogs turned out to be a cottonmouth water moccasin with fangs displayed, my Dad demonstrated that Jesus was not the only one who could walk on water.

The backwater bayous of Southeast Missouri were rife with delicious catfish. It was in pursuit of a fish-fry supper when my Dad and his brother latched onto a five-foot alligator gar, a thing that was way too ugly and bony to eat. The monster was also too big to simply ignore, so Dad and Uncle Kenny talked a local taxidermist into stuffing it. They then proceeded to their favorite watering hole and talked the owners into displaying that gar over the bar. It’s still there at Schindler’s Tavern in New Hamburg, Missouri.

My Dad had married my Mother by the time he was drafted for service in the US Army during World War II. They tried to turn him into a tanker at Ft. Knox, Kentucky but he got shuttled out for a medical condition owing to an old injury he got playing football at Southeast Missouri State Teachers’ College (now Southeast Missouri State University) and offered a discharge. Unwilling to sit out the war on the sidelines, he joined the Merchant Marine. He was serving as an Able Seaman aboard the MV Atlantic Trader, ironically shuttling war supplies in the Pacific near the Solomon Islands, when I was born in 1944.

The post-war years were a rollercoaster for my Dad, full of highs and lows mostly fueled by bourbon to which he had developed a distinct affinity. Maybe it was a form of stress-related self-medication as plagued so many surviving veterans of World War II. He didn’t talk much about his experiences in the Pacific but we know his ship survived several kamikaze attacks while he was aboard. Or maybe it was just an addiction that festered from early escapades related to the bootleg hooch that country kids of his era guzzled as a form of rebellion, but my Dad became an inveterate boozer. Jobs came and went like the bottles of Guckenheimer Deluxe that sat near the kitchen sink.

He was employed briefly as a gate-guard at the St. Louis small arms munitions plant. He got fired for refusing to salute the civilian factory executives when they passed his post. Finally, he got the best job a heavy drinker could have and never keep: Traveling salesman for Hiram Walker Distillery. He hauled me along in his 1950 Buick Roadmaster on some of these sales trips and I spent time at various bars and taverns listening in awe to war stories from WWII vets. If I’m looking for what led me to a career in the Marine Corps, that experience gets the nod.          

My Dad never got to be a part of my military career, read one of my books, or observe my efforts in showbiz. He died by his own hand before any of that came to fruition. He was a flawed human being but in his own way a good father, mentor, and teacher. You just had to listen and learn to ferret out the gems from the junk. It’s that way for most of us in relation to our fathers. And it’s beneficial to remember that on Father’s Day and every day as we stumble, fumble, and regroup in our lives.

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