Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Happy 99th birthday, Dad


Today would have been my father’s 99th birthday.
My dad, Oswald Ferdinand Ranzenberger, was born Oct. 10, 1913, in the house on Hill Street in Saginaw where he grew up. It was the same house where I grew up.
Dad was hard man to get to know. He was dedicated to his family, to God, to his country and to his duty to all of them. Dad didn’t talk much about these things. He just saw that approaching life this way was obviously the right way to do things.
Dad and I never really saw eye to eye. I admired him very greatly, but admiring Dad was not something he really allowed.
He was an accountant, and that was something he was made to be. I’m a writer, photographer, one-time disc jockey, sometime video guy, and doing that is what I was made to do. He never got that.
I’m outgoing, think-on-the-outside. I’ll put myself out there. Dad thought that was dangerous.
“The nail that’s sticking up,” he once told me, “is the one that gets hammered down.”
Yet I have to put it all into perspective. I’m now 57 years old. When Dad celebrated his 57th birthday on Oct. 10, 1970, he had a long-haired, rebellious son in 10th grade, just a year past Woodstock.
His world of family, God and country was coming apart. An era of questioning, challenging and defying the conventional wisdom was well under way. His own son was one of those hell-raising, dope-smoking rebels ripping apart everything Dad valued.
But I was his son, and a strong sense of family and duty kept him from completely cutting me off. He seldom missed an opportunity to let me know, subtly, often without words, how much I disappointed him. Even now, 27 years after he died, I’m still disappointed that I disappointed him, but I shouldn’t be surprised.
Still, I’ve never forgotten what he said to me more than once: An education is not to teach a person what to think, but teach them how to think. My education, as did his, came from everywhere, from all of our experiences. Mine was so much different from his, and it’s taken me a very long time to appreciate, or even understand, his experiences.
If I could say one thing to my father, I'd say that I’m honestly pleased with where my life went. His grandchildren – and he only got to meet one of them, very briefly – are amazing people. Yes, I did a lot of stupid things, but I survived. That taught me so much. I won’t call myself wise, but there’s some wisdom in there that I learned the hard way.
I don't know if Dad would understand this – but I learned that wisdom is judgment distilled, good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from not having good judgment.
I didn’t understand Dad's wisdom, and he didn’t understand me, either. One more thing I'd say to Dad: I’m sorry I disappointed you.
And yeah, there is just one more thing, Dad. You know that crummy little teachers college I chose over your Maize and Blue school? I think it’s worked out OK.
Happy birthday, Dad.

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