My parents divorced when I was in the eighth grade, it turned my world upside down. I didn’t see it coming at all—at least, that’s how it felt. Upon exploring this further, I recalled my mother leaving the house when my father was working out of town. She had a run in her nylon, the one on her right leg. These were the days before pantyhose. When she returned home late that evening, the nylon with the run in it was on her left leg. I was old enough to suspect what that meant. I was angry with her, so very angry.
When it was time to decide which parent to go with, I picked my dad. He was, after all, a manly man around women. I had observed him keeping women off on many occasions. Women loved to put their hand on my father’s chest and feel the Pendleton shirts he wore. They would say, “Oh Dan, I love that shirt.” Why they felt the need to rub their hand on his chest was beyond me. I eventually figured it out that they were flirting with him. He was a likable guy, and he just had a way about him; people were easily drawn to him. I don’t know if Mom was jealous or not. They would fight every time they would drink—not about women, just about the fact that one or both of them had too much to drink.
After the divorce, my dad married a woman from a nearby town. She was nice to me and I called her “Mom” after a short period of time. Dad was very happy again but not for long. He lost his job and couldn’t find work, not even in the mines. He hated the mines. He used to say, “You die from the inside out, day-by-day if you work down there. Promise me you will never work ‘down there’ son.” I promised and did not consider the mines an option from then on.
Dad was hired as a foreman in his profession of core drilling for mineral deposits deep in the earth. Core drilling used to be the only way to find gold, silver, zinc, and the like back in the middle-to-late twentieth century. Great news, dad, or so I thought until I realized this meant that we were moving from my lifelong home of Osburn, Idaho. We would end up moving eight times between three states.
I wanted to quit high school and join the Navy before my senior year. My dad said it was okay with him even though he wanted me to graduate. He had only attended school until it was legal for him to quit, which, in the 1940’s, was age thirteen. Dad and I went to visit military recruiting offices. We discovered that every branch of the military required a high school diploma except the Marines. I did not want to be a Marine so I went back to school and promised my dad that I would graduate for him.
Dad had a weak heart and had his first heart attack when I was in grade school. He had fought back from heart attacks over a period of nine years. Finally, the eleventh attack took him. Dad passed away on November 11, 1970, at the beginning of my senior year—a black day for me, a black day for sure. My step-mom, who now was no longer related to me, moved us back home to Osburn. I kept my promise to dad and got my diploma.
I joined the Navy right after graduation and left for boot camp in August of that year. This was a decision that I’m sure saved my life because I had been headed for trouble hanging around with the wrong crowd.
When I make a decision to do something, I give it my all so I rose through the ranks in the Navy very quickly. I always took the challenging assignments as part of my advancement strategy. I liked being my own boss and took the jobs where I would be in charge. I made sure that I was the most knowledgeable in each of my positions. Everyone would seek my council regularly. That’s the way it was in high school as well. They used to call me doc.
By the time I was 24 years old, I was 2 years away from earning the rank of Chief. I was on a ship in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Italy when I received the news that my mother had died. I hadn’t seen her or spoken to her since my parents’ divorce. I instantly regretted that decision. I broke down crying in my boss’s office. I was married and had a little girl who didn’t know her grandmother. My wife, at the time, and I had recently made a decision to contact my mother and invite her to come to stay with us for awhile. That decision made the news of losing my mother unbearable on so many levels.
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