He often talked about his time at Port Chicago; a conversation that was always followed by the statement, “You should never judge a man by his color.” Although he never said it I am fairly certain that my dad’s time at Port Chicago was the second most defining moment in his life, with the Depression being the first.
Dad passed away on July 16th, 1999, just before Bush II was elected and just six months before my son was born. When he lost his job of 30 years in the early 80s, after Duane Bowman Jr. busted the union at Dane County Dairy, it just too much for my dad. Reduced to being a mall security guard during the day and a security guard at the zoo at night by dad turned to alcohol for solace. As a young teen my world had been turned up upside down and my relationship with my dad deteriorated to a point where all we did was argue.
As I look back on those times with a more mature eye I understand my father better and I understand the life lessons that I was being taught. I did not realize it at the time; however, in many ways my high school years were where I got my moral compass. As I recall from a sociology class I took many, many years ago our lives are formed my significant emotional events. My dad’s union being busted was a significant emotional event for me. It was really one of the defining moments of my life.
But, this post is not about me. It is about my dad.
One of my father’s favorite statements was the signature line I use today, "Republicans only care about the rich." To this day I can see him wagging his finger at Nixon, Reagan, Bush Sr. and saying, “That asshole,” anytime anyone of them was on TV. The only Republican president he didn’t do that to was Ford. I think he didn’t do it to Ford because he felt sorry for him.
When I listen to the modern Republican Party I do wonder what my dad would have thought. A child of the depression and someone who saw racism at its worst – what would he think?
I can just hear my dad speaking today; he would take one look at Mitt Romney and say in his baritone roughened by years of cigarette smoking, “That man has never worked a day in his life.”
My dad was a proud member of the 47% Mitt Romney feels that he should not have to care about. Dad gave up his youth to serve in WWII even though he could have stayed home as he had a farm deferment; however, he chose to serve this nation. He worked a difficult job, delivering milk (don’t believe me – you spend a hot summer day going in and out of refrigerated coolers), putting money into social security, paying income and property taxes. He sent all three of his kids to public schools. But according to Mr. Romney, my dad was a parasite. Living his final years on Social Security and a Teamsters pension. He paid no income tax, but he still paid property taxes and sales taxes.
My dad did not hate the rich; however, he did not trust them. He grew up in an era where unbridled greed wrought economic destruction across the nation. The only way out of the devastation known as the Great Depression and that was massive government spending. My dad always praised President Roosevelt for the things that he did to help the poor. The CCC, and WPA were programs that my dad always spoke highly about and he always wondered why those programs were not in use today.
The racism of today’s Republican Party would bother my father deeply. When the barber my dad had been going to for years retired and he sold the shop to his partner my dad stopped going there shortly thereafter. The reason, the racist jokes and comments. When I came home on leave from the Army and went in the same shop (without knowing my dad had stopped going there) I knew I could not go back. The first “joke” that was told to me while I was in that barber’s chair was a disgusting racial joke. I walked out with half a haircut. When I got back home my dad asked what happened to my hair. I told him the “joke” they told me and he said, “Yeah, that is why I stopped going there. I don’t have time left in my life for that bullshit.” He then took me to another barbershop to get my haircut fixed. When I left to go back to Fort Campbell after leave was over I have an image of my dad burned into my mind to this day. I saw him standing in the middle of the street in my rearview mirror watching me drive away waving He never moved from that spot until I was out of sight.
My dad suffered several strokes before he finally succumbed to congestive heart failure. The only impacts the strokes seemed to have on him were a slight droop on his left side, difficulty with some words and the loss of his verbal filter. Now the loss of the verbal filter could be interesting at times. Normally he would get stuck on a word and the only way he could get it out was with a stream of profanity. The loss of a verbal filter being a bad thing became apparent the day I had to take my dad to a doctor’s appointment. He was already angry that he could not drive himself and then we came across a construction site. A job site where they were using scab labor, my dad saw those red Lycon trucks (where the workers had formerly been represented by Teamsters Local 695, my dad’s old local) and rolled down his window where the union man, the Teamster in him came out loud and clear. For the next five miles he was yelling, “Fucking scabs!” out the car window, at about ten miles per hour. I had never heard my dad drop the f-bomb before that day. I can look back and laugh at that story today – that day though, I thought we were going to get our asses kicked.
The day my dad died was one of the three hardest days of my life. The last words he ever said to me were, “I am sorry I can’t go and help you buy that new car.” That night, he passed away.
When the Wisconsin Uprising began my thoughts turned to my father and what he would have thought of Scott Walker and the protests. When I went to my first protest march on a cold Wisconsin February night I thought of my dad’s warnings about coming downtown. How it was nothing but a bunch of hippies protesting down there. My brother, sister and I always ignored dad’s warnings about downtown and came anyway. As the protests went on my dad’s voice in the back of my head changed. On March 12th as I looked across the mass of humanity filling the Capitol Square, and knowing that my brother was somewhere out there in that crowd, I realized that my dad would be there protesting right alongside of us.
Today, anytime a Romney appears on TV in either an ad or a news story I can still hear my dad’s gravelly voice, “That asshole.”