Tuesday, March 11, 2014


I haven't always felt as one obviously deserving of the label "his father's son." However, as I look back, so much of the person I am comes from my dad. The list of his influences on my life and my character is both extensive and diverse:

My love of the nature and the outdoors
  When my sister and I were young, vacations usually meant camping. We didn't have the means, back then, for fancy holiday outings, but even if we did, I believe my dad would have preferred "roughing it" to luxury hotel digs. While it was mainly your typical car-camping trips, my dad did teach both us kids to fish and I'll always remember how much he enjoyed the simple act of just sitting around the campfire at night. Years later my dad and I picked the tradition back up with outings involving just the two of us. I'd often go for a hike during the day while my dad would relax and read. Then, we'd sit around the fire at night, drinking beer, talking and watching the stars. Unfortunately, as his health deteriorated, we had to discontinue these trips, but they remain some of my fondest memories of time spent together.

My aptitude for math and science
   While my father's interests led him in the biological/medical direction and mine into technology, a love of science is something we both shared. He held essentially an engineering position in the navy as a Fire Control Technician. In college, he obtained a degree in Zoology before entering Veterinary School at Davis. Certainly nobody else in my family was quite the "nerd" that I was growing up, but it was my father who instilled in me a deep respect for math, science and logic. I remember many times sharing my excitement over the glorified descriptions of new discoveries and developments I'd read about in my Omni magazines or discussing some new science fiction book I'd just finished.
My quirky sense of humor
   I was raised on a strict diet of Monty Python. My mom and sister didn't quite share our interest in the black humor and satire common in many british comedies, but it was something my dad and I both loved. I also recall my dad clipping Gary Larsen's "The Far Side" comics  from the paper and bringing them home to share with me. Humor was never at a loss between us and I don't recall a single visit with him, even in the worst of times, that didn't involve at least a few laughs. In fact, the last time I saw my dad, we ended up watching a couple of episodes of "The Flying Circus" together. I was setting up his DVD player and that's what he happened to have close by.

My penchant for language and writing
   My dad was a strict grammarian, likely a surviving remnant of his british upbringing. Misuse of words were almost always met with either immediate correction or light-hearted ridicule if the interpretation could be turned to humorous effect. While I'm sure it was rooted in his education, it also revealed a simple love for the English language. We shared an interest in etymology and he had numerous books both of the sort used for reference and entertainment. More than a few of these were gifts from me. I know he also enjoyed writing though it was not something he did very often. He had taken a creative writing course at one point and apparently had a journal he was using for the purpose of penning his story. Unfortunately, we've not been able to find any evidence of it.

My interest in philosophy
   I've always lived in a house filled with books. My father read to us when we were growing up and he was an avid reader himself. However, I think what left the largest impression on me was the complete collection of The Great Books of the Western World that always maintained a prominent position on our shelves. While a full reading was never seriously undertaken, these were not mere furniture pieces either. I was encouraged to peruse and explore them and on more than one occasion my father and I used one as a basis of discussion. Mostly, though, my dad simply loved to discuss ideas. That tendency to stay up all night talking about "things that matter" was not something he abandoned to his youth as many of us do. In fact, even at the assisted living facility where he spent his final days, he initiated and lead a weekly philosophy discussion group.

My love of animals
   Obviously, as a veterinarian, animals were a central part of my father's life. Growing up, our animals were more than just pets, they were first-class members of the family. We always had dogs and cats as far back as I can remember. He also loved birds, but preferred to see them in their natural habitat rather than in cages. When we moved to "the country" we added horses and chickens to our family. We made a few attempts to raise feed animals, but ultimately I think vets make pretty poor farmers especially my dad who often had as deep a connection with animals as he did with people.

   I will always remember the first time I ever saw my dad cry. My parents had our dog Kippy, a beautiful white Samoyed, before they had kids. When my dad had to put him to sleep, it was one of the most painful things he ever had to do. He described it to us, explaining that his hands were physically shaking while performing the procedure. I believe he felt it important not only to share with us the necessity of letting this family member go, but also for us to see how much it took from him.

Closing cupboard doors
   Not to end this list on a such a sad note, I'll conclude with one that  my dad probably wouldn't believe. After years of listening to him complain about having to close the kitchen cupboards behind me, I have finally adopted the habit myself. More often than not, I am now the one in my family to go around the house closing cupboard or closet doors. However I do still have the habit of leaving lights on when I exit a room. Maybe, though, its just so I can hear his voice in my head reminding me to turn them off.


Like each of us, my dad had his demons to fight, some of them obvious and physical, others only within the solitude of his soul. Growing up in an orphanage in post-World War II England could not have been what one would call "an easy life". However, as my dad always said, "we didn't have much, but we didn't know any different." He was never one to let circumstances dictate his destiny. He was eventually adopted by an uncle and aunt in Canada with whom he'd kept up a correspondence. Jack and Betty Ansell were an amazing couple whom I always knew as my grandparents. I think it says something that, despite having raised two daughters of their own, they lived and remained close to my father and our family through the later years of their lives.

After finishing high school in Canada, my dad immigrated to the United States and joined the navy. From there he entered college in Southern California, met and fell in love with a young woman named Gail Rose and asked her to marry him. They had a couple of children, though not necessarily according to plan. So it was that they found themselves a few years later living in Davis, working and raising kids while my dad attended Veterinary School at the University. Both my parents worked incredibly hard always believing that pursuing your dreams meant putting in the effort.

After moving the family around for a few years and working for others, my dad eventually did find his dream. He purchased his own practice in Concord, CA and then we found a house with 3-1/2 acres of land about 10 miles outside the small town of Clayton. This is the house where I consider myself to have grown up and this is where I believe my father was happiest in his life. He loved Oak Hill Lane and even wrote a cheesy little poem about it (I guess bad poetry is something else I share with him):

We're all living on Oak Hill Lane
We may be old, but at least we're sane
We love living with Mother Earth
But, also save time for a little mirth
We don't care what flatlanders say
We'll stick together every day
Sometimes we're healthy, sometimes we're ill
But, we're always living on the hill
We love where we're living and love to share
Just don't put us in a rocking chair

In my mind, I will always picture him there.

It's a Wednesday afternoon and he's home from the office early. He probably hauled a load or two of water in his truck then walked around the house on the deck he'd built. He checks on the vegetable garden and flowers that he and my mother planted. I believe these simple acts gave him a deep sense of pride, a feeling that can only be experienced by obtaining goals for which one has worked his entire life. Finally, sitting in his recliner, reading the paper or watching the Giants on TV, he's relaxing. He's happy. He's at peace.

1 comment:

Lambie said...

As I read your blog, I could hear your father's voice. One can only hope to achieve such reverence. To know your father better would have been to my benefit.