Rick and I sat in pjs on Sunday, reminiscing about our dads and giving thanks for them.
Rick’s father, William Richard Rivers, weathered many storms. Passed from relative to relative, he and his three brothers worked fields while their father, a merchant marine, was out to sea. When the Depression hit, and all his savings disappeared along with his hopes for a college education, Dad rode the rails to California. Everything except the pants he wore was stolen one night while he slept. The Salvation Army gave him what he needed, along with work to get him started. He met and fell in love with Rick’s mom, Edith Albertina Johnson, at a church function. They married and had one daughter, Dixie, before Dad embarked on business for Pan American in Manila. The Japanese bombed the city (on the same day as Pearl Harbor) and he spent the next three-plus years in a Japanese prison camp, first Santa Tomas, then Los Banos.
When Rick joined the Marine Corps, his father was devastated. When home on leave, and knowing his parents’ concerns, Rick didn’t tell his parents he was on his way to Vietnam. His dad guessed and said he would rather Rick died quickly than go through what happened to many in the Japanese prison camp. Rick spent thirteen months in Vietnam during some of the most intense fighting (the Tet Offensive). That time must have been a living hell for Dad. Home from Vietnam, Rick rode a bus from Travis AFB to Oakland and called his dad. Dad left work, speeded to where Rick waited, drove over the curb, slammed the car into park, left the motor running and door opened as he ran to Rick. Rick said his dad, in tears, hugged and kissed him, something he had not done before. His son was home. Getting to him was all that mattered.
My dad, Everett Melbourne King, Sr., was also a man’s man. I only saw him cry once, at his mother’s funeral. He was also a Depression kid who grew up on “the wrong side of the tracks”. He also saved to go to college. He dreamed of being a doctor and met my mother (a nurse) when he was working at Alta Bates Hospital as an orderly. (Their story is in my novel, Her Mother’s Hope). The war greatly impacted Dad just as it had done to Dad Bill. He joined the army and served as a medic. He was in the third wave into Normandy. Captain of a unit, he assisted in liberating a concentration camp. He never talked about the war. When he returned, he had no desire to be a doctor, and became a police officer instead. Much of what I learned about his wartime experiences came through my brother’s research, my mother’s diaries and letters from the war saved and read after they both passed away.
One memory gripped me this morning. Every year, my parents took me and my brother to San Francisco to enjoy Golden Gate Park, the Steinhardt Aquarium, Playland at the Beach, China Town, and finally dinner at Fisherman’s Wharf. One year, we were all the way over the Bay Bridge and well on our way home to Pleasanton when I remembered I’d left my purse with a few of my friends’ school pictures in a booth at Allioto’s Restaurant. I was heartbroken. It didn’t matter to my dad that I would see these same children every day. He turned around and drove all the way back to San Francisco, went into the restaurant and retrieved that silly little purse for his daughter.
Our fathers were far from perfect, our familial relationships sometimes strained, but love ruled. They were both men’s men, conditioned to hold back emotion, be strong protectors and providers, faithful to their wives, teaching their children by example. Rick and I shed a few tears this morning sharing memories of them. We miss them both. Though gone from this earth, they are alive and well with our Father in heaven through Christ our Lord Jesus who provides the bridge home.