To start with, that's my dad in the middle there. And my sister Nancy on the left, Louise in the middle, and my big brother Stephen on the right. I don't know if I was even on the planet at this point. If I was, I was an infant. The story behind the picture is that my dad was a union printer for the New York Daily Mirror back when I was born. The reason you probably don't know the paper is because it's long gone. At the time of the photo, my dad and his fellow union members had been "locked out" by management, as part of a long, painful series of labor disputes, that ultimately ended with many papers closing their doors. But that's another story.
This topic came to me recently as I was setting up a new work space in the house. I've never really had my own work bench and pro-quality repair stand for working on bikes. Now that I'm going to try to do some bicycle frame building and bike assembly, I figured it was time to set something up. In the process of transferring tools from my several small tool boxes to one new large tool chest, I discovered that over the years I have squirreled away something like 13 or 14 old toothbrushes. You know... they come in handy for cleaning things.
The funny part is, that's exactly the kind of thing my dad would say. And exactly the kind of stuff he would save. As a matter of fact, when he passed away at age 77, my mom found a collection of, I believe, 23 old toothbrushes. Twenty-three... at age 77. I'm 46, and I seem to have set aside 14 of the suckers. It makes you wonder just how many I'll have at 77! But.. but they do come in handy... no, really...
Now that got me thinking... not for the first time, but for the most recent time... about the ways in which my father shaped who I am today. We're all shaped by our families in some way (although I've met at least one person who insisted that that was not true in their case), and I find it kind of interesting to examine how. So here goes... how I am my father's son...
A few years back, when I had just moved back into the DC area near my family, I was outside at my mom's house talking to her and my sister Nancy. I heard the sound of a light airplane overhead, and glanced up to see what it was. Nancy laughed and said "You're just like Dad. I bet you can tell us exactly what kind of airplane that is too." It hadn't really occurred to me before that day, but it's true... just like my father, I am drawn to the sound and sight of airplanes, and have always looked to the sky when I hear one. And for the record, I seem to recall it was a Cessna 172 that day, but it might have been one of the other similar Cessnas.
Then there's my love of the outdoors, and all of the creatures (well, okay, I could live without mosquitoes and yellowjackets) that inhabit the outdoors. Now, my dad was a hunter, and hoped that his two sons would come to enjoy that activity as well. That didn't really work out for him, as neither my brother nor I have ever taken to hunting at all. But I did learn to love the woods and fields and the whole outside world, in large part due to spending a lot of time outside with my dad, either on his hunting or fishing trips or on days where he just wanted to check out some hunting or fishing location. Actually, he did a LOT of that... scouting out a place that he thought he might like to hunt of fish one day. Funny thing is, I think he might have done more scouting than actual hunting or fishing. Maybe that's typical, I don't know, but my dad did have a penchant for "going to do" a lot of things. Truth be told, I can see how I got a little of that too.
Anyway, I love being outdoors, especially in woods and forests. And when I'm out there with other people, more often than not, I'm the first one who notices things. I'll hear the call of a bird or animal, or a rustling in the brush, before anyone else does. Or I'll see movement out of the corner of my eye and be able to immediately focus and spot whatever it is that caused it. Again, that's my dad coming through. I don't know if it's genes, or just something I picked up from all those times walking with him, but it's there. I just have an awareness outdoors that seems more finely tuned than others.
And finally, I see echoes of my dad when I'm working with my hands, whether it's fixing bicycles, or in the past when I built theatrical scenery and such, or worked on my old VWs. Dad didn't have a higher education, barely graduating high school, but he had a real knack for the kind of analytical/practical thinking that would have probably made him good at something like engineering. He could look at the parts of a mechanism, and just understand how it worked and how to approach working on it. I seem to have the same sort of thing too, and maybe that's why I gravitated to the things I did in my life.
So, I'm a packrat-airplane-buff-lover-of-the-outdoors-with-a-mechanical-knack, all thanks to my dad. And I'm grateful for that. And for having him as my dad.
Vincent B. Fricker
1918 - 1994