Staying Grounded: The life and times of my dad

This week I said goodbye to my dad who passed away on Monday, Aug 1, 2016. He has been battling health issues for a while and finally had a stroke.

To those of you know him or have heard my stories, you know that with my dad they broke the mold.

My dad looking happy.

My dad taught me what total devotion and commitment is from a husband to a wife. It is widely accepted as fact in my family that my dad won the lottery when he met my mom. Growing up he would tell us all what a good woman she is, how lucky he was to be married to her. They were married 52 years even though when they met, he spoke no Japanese and she spoke no English. They banded together to escape a troubled home life and forge a more stable, peaceful life together. They had their ups and downs, but they made made a great team and were the bedrock of our crazy but full-of-love family.

My mom and dad in the early 80s

He and my mom started out with nothing. He told me the first year they were married, all they could afford was an artichoke to use as a Christmas tree, and then they ate it on Christmas morning.

Me and my parents. I love this because of the 70s decor.

My father was an inventor and a mad scientist. They say necessity is the mother of invention, and that was true in my dad’s case. My dad taught me and my brothers how to play racquetball. When my older brother Ray finally was good enough to start beating my dad, my dad asked my mother to sew wings into his shirt. He would hit the ball, then raise his arms up to block where the ball was coming from then move the wing out of the way to let the ball whizz by once it was just a few feet from my brother. He won that one.

When our house had termites, rather than calling an exterminator, he hooked up his tesla coil and had Aaron electrocute them with lightning bolts.

My mom playing dead after pretending to be zapped by my dads tesla coils. This would never happen of course he always made sure we were grounded.

My dad loved pyrotechnics, fireworks, explosives. All of our family vacations were in places where there was access to a “safe” place to detonate bombs for fun — by the ocean or in lakes in the off season. One time I came home from school on break and found my dad with a blow torch heating up a keg in the hopes of being able to then cool it off with a hose and cause it to implode from vacuum. When it didn’t work, he walked back into the house, frustrated. A minute later BOOOOM! the keg imploded and sent all the neighborhood houses shaking. My dad yelled out “Low Profile mode!” and we all responded as we had been trained — we turned off all the lights, put down the blinds, locked the door and waited for sirens. Our neighbors thankfully always covered for him, I can only assume out of fear of retribution.

My father and I would often discuss politics and would mostly see eye to eye except for when it came to gun control. But we found common ground when it came to potato canons. The first time I brought Bill home to meet my family, dad asked him to get him some “projectiles” from the freezer (this time frozen lemons) and sent him out to the park with my softball mitt and asked him to catch the lemon. He shot the lemon so high that Bill lost it before it came speeding down. Bill threw his mitt in the air, ran and hid under a tree, covered his head and watched the lemon make a citrusy crater in the ground while listening to my father’s and brother’s laughter.

Potato canon salute at my dad’s memorial.

He taught me to not be afraid to take calculated risks, and how to work and work hard. My dad majored in chemistry and after 2 jobs at various science centers he decided he didn’t like taking orders so he set up his own recreational lab at home and became a serial entrepreneur. Over the years he and our family owned an operated laundromats (including one of the first solar-powered laundromats), 2 dry cleaners, a tree trimming business, rental properties, a plumbing business and a sprinkler business. My job at the laundromat was to pick up dryer sheets off the floor, and he paid me $.25, just enough to buy a Thrify’s ice cream cone. When Thrifty’s increased the price to $.35, dad gave me a raise.

On Saturdays my dad would drive this tree trimming truck to Borchard park, raise the boom and we would watch all of the softball games on all of the fields at once from the top.

My dad loved to work because he loved fixing things for people, and meeting new people everyday. He loved to be the hero. I remember as a kid, every morning, he would yell back to us “I’m off to save the world!” as he ran out the door. Even at 75 years old he still loved to wear his superman robe.

My dad was a feminist for his time and an amazing father to a daughter. He insisted on a strong grounding in math and science (if not the arts which he considered a waste of time). He would give me riddles and logic problems to solve and then have me bring them to my school to challenge my teachers. We would listen together to books on tape about Steven Hawking and quantum physics when we weren’t watching Godzilla movies. He would play catch with me in the park, and when he sponsored my softball team, instead of putting the name of his company on our uniforms he put “Super Novas” because he was hoping the girls on the team would ask what they were.

Dad watching Godzilla vs Mothera with his grandkids

He was a practical man and didn’t approve of jewelry. He never wore a wedding ring, he considered it dangerous for a man who worked with a hammer. When I had my ears pierced in college he was so disappointed that I would “suffer a puncture wound to hang metal to attract men.” He lectured me about the history of the women of the world who self maimed or mutilated according to some absurd male standard of beauty — African women with their neck and lip rings, Chinese women and their bound feet, and now his daughter with dangly earrings and heels. He didn’t speak to me for 2 weeks he was so upset.

To say my father was a dog lover is a massive understatement. Our family had many great dogs over the years. Once we had 3 dogs that my dad named Sparky, Barky and Malarky. When he would call one all 3 would run over.

Dad with the Shiba-Inu that was sent from my Grandfather in Japan. His favorite dog Konta is one of the puppies.

Because of dads crazy ideas and entrepreneurial spirt and my mom and brothers willingness to go along and pitch in, because he instilled in me a love of learning, because he made me feel like there was nothing I couldn’t do, and because he played catch with me in the park, I got to go to a great college with a softball scholarship, and graduated without any debt. What a gift! He and my mom set me up for a life where the world was my oyster.

When I was a kid my dad used to point to all of the solitary yucca trees in the mountains and tell me that they were there to protect all the children. Yesterday my family and close friends went on a hike to spread the ashes of my dad and his dog Hana on Mt Boney, next to a yucca tree, where the ashes of my grandma and all of the dogs from over the years are.

My dad and the yucca tree.

Even at 41 years old, I lived for his approval. My heart is broken with loss, even though I know it is a blessing that his suffering is over. I feel so lucky everyday for the life I get to live, that I get to be married to Bill and to have Owen and George, for my brothers, my mom, my amazing friends and community. And I know I owe it to him. I will always be grateful that he is my dad and I am his daughter.

Afterward:

For many years I have wanted to write down the stories about my dad, he is the star of so many of the best stories I have, and the teacher (sometimes unwittingly) of so many seminal life lessons. I plan to keep them short and sweet as I think of them as a way to keep his memory alive.

I hope my friends and family that read this will chime in with their own stories in the comments. (Apology in advance for my self indulgence on posting these on facebook, but telling these stories is my way of coping through this hard time so I please indulge me).