Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Father's Day 1972 Revisited, Part 14: A Good Dad, and Loved

Meanwhile, While my buddy and I were chasing dreams of striking it rich as crab-catchers in Alaska, my dad, at the age of forty-eight, was entering the newly created Medex program. It had been pioneered at Duke University in the late 60's to meet the projected future demand for health care. In 1971 California was getting aboard this new health-care train. Dad heard about the program because he had been a Navy corpsman during WWII. In signing up, he joined the first class at UCLA of those who would go on from there to become "PA's"--Physician Assistants. This new category of medical professional was created by an act of congress and UCLA was chosen as the institution in California which would train the first new recruits--drawn mostly from the ranks of retired Navy corpsmen.

My dad's career path was, in a number of ways, an unusual one. He had joined the Navy in order to get away from a stern, cold demanding father, Dr. George Borand Randall Sr. [A Google search of his name shows him listed in Senate records from 1918 as a "Randall, George Borand, Noncombatant Commissioned Officers of the Army."] From all accounts, he had left private medical practice to become an Army physician during World War I. He saw combat in Europe and had suffered lung damage due to inhalation of German mustard gas. It seems he spent the rest of his life on a military disability pension and never returned to full time private practice.

As near as I can tell, my dad never received any fatherly warmth or affection from this man and never--in words I ever heard him express--mourned his passing. In 1940, at age 17, dad made his move to leave home and escape the icy presence of this man for good--he joined the Navy. Both his parents signed the required permission slip for this underage young man to join the military--his father willingly, his mother reluctantly. He came to the Naval Training Center, San Diego for boot camp and, later, as a corpsman, to Camp Elliot with the U.S. Marines. From there he shipped out with the Marines to the South Pacific shortly after Pearl Harbor. Like most of the men of his generation, dad never offered up stories of the war years. One had to pull them out of him with direct questions. In his later years I spent time in conversation with him about these events and can recall just the basic outline of his story. [I now regret not getting an audio recorder and documenting those conversations.]

Dad saw combat in many of the South Pacific theaters, as they are called in military terms. He was aboard ship convoys when kamikaze raids rained down on them. He vividly described the frantic ship-board efforts at putting up smoke screens so the Japanese suicide pilots diving down at full speed from straight overhead could not see their intended targets. He also told of the charming life of the natives on the island of Samoa and how he became a special favorite of a local chief after circumcising the Chief's infant son. Dad picked up a number of Samoan phrases which we kids heard often growing up: Saweela peesa, fi moly moly! Roughly translated, "Shut your mouth--keep quiet!" Another was a song the Marines had made up which was set to the tune of Deep in the Heart of Texas." I would put the Samoan lyrics to it here, but I suspect, though I am not sure, they may be "R" rated.

After the war, dad was reunited with his wife, Olive, a Navy Wave. They began a family soon thereafter and my brother, "Skipper" was born in 1946. I followed four respectful years later, being born in Minneapolis in the middle of 1950. Two years later, when our parents moved to Southern California, our sister, Lauren was born. A couple of years were spent in West Riverside and then we moved into a new tract home on Gertrude Street in Riverside proper. The tract of middle-class stucco homes had been carved out in the middle of hundreds of acres of orange groves, and was still virtually surrounded by many of them. In spring the fragrance of orange blossoms filled the night and was sometimes nearly overwhelming. In winter it was the pungent odor of the smudge pots alight along with the sound of hundreds of wind machines keeping the air moving and the oranges from freezing.

One thing I came to learn--to deduce really--about my dad was his deeply felt inadequacy at not living up to the expectations that he become a physician like his father. Whether his father had imposed this on him or whether he had imposed it on himself, I never did learn. It was, I thought, too personal, too delicate a question for a child, even a grown one, to broach with a parent. Perhaps it could have been tactfully done, but I never did pursue this line of inquiry with him. This insecurity expressed itself in any number of ways. One was that, in the late fifties, dad signed the family up to a local country club there in Riverside--Azure Hills. That was the club where all the doctors, Attorneys and wealthy businessmen belonged. Being a surgical supply salesman, it made a certain amount of sense to join the club, but even as a nine-year-old I could tell we didn't really belong there. We didn't really fit in. It was nothing you could quite put your finger on--one just knew. Dad also didn't really mind when, in later years, people mistook his references to, "being in the medical profession" as meaning he had been a doctor. He didn't mind and often would not correct people's mistaken impression. Perhaps he challenged this inner dynamic later in life when he self-published a book about his experiences entitled, Don't Call Me Doctor.

My dad was a great guy who grew closer and closer to God in his later years. Because of that primary and spiritual relationship he was changing and becoming more Christ-like up unto the very end of his life. He was dearly loved by his family and by everyone who ever met him. People who, decades ago, had only known or worked with him a few months sent notes of great fondness and deep regret at the news of his passing in 1999.

I will write more about him in some future post on some future Father's Day. I know where you are dad. Thanks for all you did to raise me and try to get me on the right road--even when, early on, you were not sure yourself where it was. You left this world with grace, dignity and deep love. You are missed.

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