The photo at right was taken at Garrapata State Park, south of Carmel, California, in April 2006.
An early memory, of fear and courage...
On Friday, October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched the first man-made satellite to orbit the earth. They called it “Sputnik”. I had just turned 5 years old, and I had no idea what all that meant. I heard my mom and dad talking about it, though, and had an idea that it was something important and eventful.
My dad had read that you could actually see Sputnik if you looked at the right place in the sky just after sunset. So one evening just a few days later, he and I trudged together out into the field that stretched out between our house and U.S. 130 that ran by our farm. My dad had a little sketch of the sky, I think from a newspaper, that showed exactly where and when to look. He pointed all that out to me, and together we watched. Suddenly, a bright little dot appeared, moving steadily across the sky. Sputnik was for real.
My dad made a little noise, a kind of grunt. I looked up at him and saw something I'd never seen before in my dad's visage: fear. This little dot sweeping through the dusk was something my dad was afraid of. My dad, who as far as I had known, was afraid of nothing at all.
I know now, from conversations we had many years later, that my father at that time was very worried about both the Soviet Union and China, that they might pose a threat to America and our way of life. Many Americans were worried about that. He had no specific memories about us watching Sputnik, but he told me that right around that time, he was worried about the apparent rapid pace of Soviet technological progress, racing to catch up and pass America's capabilities. They had nuclear weapons, and now, quite demonstrably, they had rockets that could hurl things around the world. He was sure that those thoughts were what I saw on his face that evening.
My little boy self didn't really know what to make of my dad's fear, but my dad knew what to do for me. He saw me looking at him, reached down, picked me up, gave me a big hug, and carried me back over the field into our house. Along the way, he regaled me with a story (a trademark of his interactions with kids). I've forgotten what the story was about, but I do remember this: by the time we got back into our house, I knew there was really nothing to be worried about. I felt secure and safe again.
Imagine how a man, a veteran of World War II, might feel while watching from his own property what he believed to be an existential threat to his family. At that point he had a young wife and three small children (I was the oldest). He was personally powerless to do anything to protect them against that threat. Even so, when he saw the worry in the face of his child, he did what good fathers do: he put his fear aside and showered his child – me – with comfort and security.
That's one of my earliest clear memories of my dad, and it's a damn fine one...