Kneeling on the ground, my son placed the hand-picked flower next to the weathered cigar and the pot of daisies. As he got to his feet I asked him if he had anything to say, which he replied, “Do you, dad?” I did, but those thoughts were kept to myself.
This is how we spent a little part of Father’s Day, my son and me. After all, it was the last thing I could do — spend some time with my dad, who gave everything he had to raise seven children the best way he knew how. And, it was a chance to have my boy get to know his grandpa, whom he had never met.
They say that as you grow older you tend to emulate your parents, and if I could be half the man that he was, that would be remarkable. He had a quiet confidence equipped with an intimidating intelligence. And I know everyone says it about his or her dad, but he was the smartest, greatest man that I have known — my complete mentor. Some things he instilled in me were thoughtfulness, loyalty, a strong work ethic, that quiet confidence, and the ability to steer toward doing the right thing, no matter the consequences. I just hope that I can continue to pass such values down to my kids.
Yet, I have to laugh. There are some traits in both of us that could be seen as polar opposites. A pilot in the U.S. Navy, my dad loved to fly, and he was working on getting his pilot’s license before he passed. Me, I’m afraid of heights and I still get a little nervous before a flight. He was a clinical psychologist. Me, well, let’s face it: I’m a little nuts. But, we both love the water, and nothing, I imagine, was better for him than the solitude and silence of scuba diving 40-60 ft. below the surface of the ocean.
When he passed in the fall of 2000, there was a huge void in my life. My mentor was gone. No more talks on the back deck, both of us enjoying a nice stogie on a crisp summer night. No more being with him.
Yes, there have been people that have come into my life since that have filled that void and helped guide me to be a better person. One such person was/is a restaurant owner from my hometown who still takes time, if only for a few moments, to give some good life advice. He probably will never see this but I owe him a debt of gratitude for always giving me some time. And I will thank him for that.
In the Industry
Two people in the plumbing and heating industry who have always helped me and have been gracious with their time are Bob ‘Hot Rod’ Rohr and Dave Yates.
I asked them about mentorships and the people they considered influential growing up, and throughout their journey in the trades.
“Dad stands out because I relied heavily on him for business advice,” says Yates about his dad, a certified accountant.
“But, first and foremost my Pop-Pop would be tops on that list. He had a Westinghouse appliance store and he took me along on service calls. By age eight, I was his right-hand helper,” recalls Yates.
Yates continues, “When I began my career in the trades, Paul Strayer was my prime mentor along with Elton Rehmeyer.
And I can’t forget mom. She played a pivotal role whenever customer service came into play. She had her own retail shop and knew how to treat everyone just right.”
Hot Rod Rohr reminisced about the people that helped shape him. Hot Rod recalls that he has had the good fortune of finding a few herculean mentors that shaped his life and skills over the years. “I would guess most of us who started in a family business have been mentored by a parent. My dad was a mechanical marvel. He taught me pipe trade basics and so much about mechanical devices of all stripes. We built models, mini bikes, hydroplanes and all sorts of around-the-home ‘furnishings,’ says Rohr.
“My dad reminded me of the pipe-smoking fellow in the Popular Science ‘Wordless Workshop’ column. You know the one, that cartoonist Roy Doty penned for years, always creating unique and unusual stuff.”
According to Rohr, mentors come in all ages, and he learns a lot from his son, Max. “It’s good to get the younger perspective.”
Rohr says he isn’t finished yet; he is always on the lookout for his next mentor. “Beekeeping and gardening are on my radar currently.”
I will end with this story. One night, shortly after the passing of my father, I heard a loud rustling on my second-floor balcony. I tried to peer out the window to see where the noise was coming from, and I could only make out a shape of something moving on the railing. I quickly went downstairs and exited my apartment to gain a closer look. To my astonishment, there he was, a barn owl, staring back at me. Upon seeing me, he gently flew away into the path of the moonlight, the silhouette of that grand visitor and its beautiful wingspan gliding gently to a quieter perch.
Odd, I remember thinking. In nine years of living in that apartment I had never seen, let alone heard, an owl that close by. Yet the very next day I called my mom to tell her this serendipitous news, and to my surprise, she told me that two of my siblings—one out west and another in North Carolina — saw an owl within the same week.
So this past Thanksgiving I heard an owl nearby and I remember writing this at the time: When I let the dogs out late last night I could hear the soft hellos of an owl nestled in a tree nearby. I closed my eyes and I could picture my dad strategically positioning his two fingers in his mouth to do his patented whistle, but all that was coming out was a friendly "hoot, hoot." I take comfort in knowing that he is watching over us.
I miss him.