1952 was the year Elizabeth II became the Queen of England. The country was in the throes of the Korean War, and the average American worker was earning $3,400 per year. One of my all-time favorite movies, Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo,” hit theaters. In 1952, Joseph McCarthy launched his “Red Scare” campaign, and Mr. Potato Head hit toy store shelves. Roll-on deodorant was invented and Dwight D. Eisenhower was running for president. It was also the year that my Dad was born.
I know every girl worships the ground her Dad walks on, but my Dad really is the shit.
I bought a tape recorder yesterday. As one of the goals of The Surfer Stoke Project is figuring out what life is about and how to live it well, I thought it appropriate to interview a person who knows not a little about both of these things. Its also my parents’ 26th wedding anniversary on Thursday, so I asked him a little about my Mom, too. Below is our interview:
Natalie: It’s recording, right? Alright. So, happy birthday, first of all.
Dad: Thank you!
Natalie: When and where were you born?
Dad: I was born October 24, 1952 in Grand Rapids, Michigan at the hospital. St. Mary’s.
Natalie: What was it like growing up in Wisconsin?
Dad: It was great being in farmland and having a lot of opportunities to get to know the opposite of urban life. In a small town in Wisconsin, you’re sensitive to the weather because your weather controls what you are going to do that day. You also have winter and you have to be prepared for that, it affects how you go about your daily lives. And there’s a lot of going out in the countryside. You go into the woods to fish in the streams, go cross-country skiing in the woods in the wintertime, snowmobiles. And so there’s a lot of small-town Wisconsin things that you do which gives you more exposure to the environment as a whole than in an urban setting. And I think its a valuable thing. In small towns, you have your own peer groups like any place else in the world. They’re everywhere you go. They’re the same type of peer groups you form, because the most important factor in meeting people is proximity so you get to know the people. I made a lot of friends in Wisconsin that I still consider friends today, including the best man at my wedding, who I went to high school with and have known since age 14. So it was a nice place to grow up. You know, I didn’t mind the winter because I didn’t know anything better and we had a lot of good times and I’m happy to say I’m from Wisconsin.
Natalie: Very goooodd. Okay, what did you think you were going to be when you grew up?
Dad: Originally, you know, I grew up during the Vietnam War. When I went to college, I was unsure about the future. You have to understand, at that point in time, in the late sixties, it was a time when… The Beatles made their first album in 1964 with shorter hair than many people wear today, and by 1970 we had already had Woodstock where people were hippies. And so there was a huge, dramatic change from 1965 to 1970, which was when I was growing up. In 1970, I was eighteen. So you can see how that whole era had an effect on me, you know? The Vietnam War was opposed by a lot of people because we didn’t feel we should be there. It was difficult to rationalize the 55,000 American lives that were lost there and the hundreds of thousands of wounded. It was just difficult to understand. There was a lot of community support for opposition to the war. So, that was the environment I grew up in. I had a high lottery number so I never went into the military, but that was the environment I grew up in, it shaped my thinking. So, I guess what I wanted to do was… I wanted to be a professor when I was growing up because I liked the pursuit of knowledge. I entered graduate school because I got a good recommendation from my Shakespeare professor. I got an A+ in my Shakespeare class, and I was getting D’s in other classes. He took pity on me because I wasn’t the typical graduate student applicant who were esoteric and academically-oriented, but he thought I had something. He was chairman of the English department and he wrote me a letter of recommendation to himself, basically, and got me into the graduate program for a Ph.D. in English. But after a year, I looked around and I saw all these people who were not as well-rounded as me, who seemed more suited to the environment of academia so I backed out of that and went a different direction when I found out that I could never get a job and get paid for it in English because I would be probably, less effective than some of these other people who were more dedicated to research and criticism and things like that. So, I applied to law school and got in. I applied to two law schools both out of Wisconsin. One was Lewis and Clark College in Oregon, and the other was the University of San Diego because Carol my sister lived here. And I got into USD first, so I took that, and came out here to Southern California, to San Diego.
Natalie: Were you a hippie?
Dad: Nahh, everyone was kind of a hippie. I was a middle-class hippie. I mean, everybody had longer hair, everybody, in my peer groups at least, didn’t have a conservative view of the world. But I was probably less a hippie than many people because I was less adventurous and I was more rooted in my upbringing, which is a pretty conservative Wisconsin upbringing. I thought my father had good values and I continue to follow those values. So I guess on the outside I was a little bit of a hippie, but I didn’t go into a commune, I didn’t drop out of school, I didn’t pursue alternative lifestyles like many people of my generation did. But I was a type of hippie.
Natalie: You had kind of a hard time in college. Can you talk about that?
Dad: Yeah. My first year I went to my local Steven’s Point university. I went to Europe over the summer where I worked in Germany for awhile. And when I came back I went to U W Madison. At the age of about 19 or 20, I was kind of confused about what was going on in the world. This was, you know, in part due to the chaos of envisioning what the future would hold at that time, everybody was uncertain about the future, with the war and everything else that was going on. I dropped out of Madison after a couple weeks when I was 20 years old… Let’s just say I became confused. And so I dropped out of school and I went back home and I lived with my parents for about four months. I got a job as a cabbie. I would get out of bed and work from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., which during the Wisconsin winters, is basically dark to dark. And I did that for awhile, and that helped straighten me out because I worked full time. I mean, I was working everyday five days a week as a cabbie. I’d take people out to the bars at night, and bring them home. I’d take them to the bars, drop them off, during the day, daytime drinkers. And you know, I basically just sat there for awhile. I saw a psychologist who helped me kind of get out of my depression and helped me have more forward thoughts, and so I moved forward. I went back to school at U W, and went there, and I had some good roommates who I knew, and things started to go in a more upward direction so I felt much better about myself and less confused, and I made progress.
Natalie: So when did you meet Mom?
Dad: I met Mom in August of 1985.
Natalie: Was it love at first sight?
Natalie: No? Not at all?
Dad: Well, let me describe how we met. It was a blind date, but I had met her before. What happened is, I had dated Mom’s roommate who was a court reporter and I was a lawyer. I dated her roommate four or five times, and every time I picked her roommate up, I would see Tami around part of the time, and you know, I liked what I saw. But I didn’t make any move because I was dating her roommate. Anyway, so, my good friend Z-Man, was going to go out on a date with a secretary in my office named Jane, and Jane and I worked together at the firm. She said to Tami, because Tami did Jane’s nails at the salon on 5th avenue, well, you should meet this guy, we should go out on this double date with Z-Man. And so, Tami goes well, who is it? Before we went out, she said who is it from the firm, because her roommate who I was dating had mentioned our firm, and she said well its Jim. Tami knew she was going to go out with me because she had met me before we actually went out. So she said “That’s okay,” and Jane told me. And I said, “That’s okay, she seems fine.” So we went out, and I’ll never forget it, because she had this gigantic zit the size of Mt. Vesuvius on her chin (giggles). She also talked non-stop for five hours, (giggles) and I never had to say anything (full-on laughing). But, you know, I liked her immediately because she’s such a warm, outgoing person. And she obviously was a giving person. She was interested in pursuing her career for speech therapy for kids and she was pursuing her masters, and so I felt there was a real connection there. Then we dated for about seven to eight months. We broke up once for a month and a half, then we got back together, and then moved in together when I proposed on April 20th, 1986.
Natalie: Are you tearing up there, Dad?
Dad: No, not even a little. I have a little eye problem, I just leak a little bit on my right eye.
Natalie: Ohhh, okay.
Dad: It looks like I’m a sensitive guy, but I’m not that sensitive.
Natalie: Darn, shoot. That’s sad, I’m disappointed. So what are Mom’s best qualities?
Dad: Well, she thinks of others before herself. She is not a selfish person, at all. She’s very warm and outgoing, and takes a sincere interest in other people. She tries to help other people if she’s able to. And she works hard… Larry, our friend, the USC professor, says she’s like a colorful painting in a gray room. And that’s your Mom.
Natalie: When did you know you were in love with Mom?
Dad: Probably… right before we got engaged.
Laughter from both ends.
Natalie: HA! Oh my God. Wow, wow, geezzz.
Dad is still laughing.
Natalie: Nice, nice. That’s romantic.
Dad: Well, I mean… well you have to understand I was 34 years old and she was 29. We had dated other people and we liked each other a lot, but until you have to make the commitment to you know, get married to a person for the rest of your life, that’s the moment of truth, if you will. And so, when I proposed, I mean before I got engaged, when I proposed that was the moment I made the commitment to her. And frankly, our love has grown exponentially over the years. It wasn’t love at first sight. It was the commitment to each other and the giving to each other over time that has made us deeply in love with each other.
Natalie: What were your expectations when you got married? What did you think married life would be like?
Dad: Well, I thought we would be raising a family. We would have a great time together, we had a lot of fun together, and I knew that would continue, and that she would be a person that would be there for me. And frankly, at 34, I was a little lonely. So, being together with her and having fun, and going together for all our adventures, you know all that stuff, it was a great time.
Natalie: How important do you think love is in life?
Dad: I think its important, I think there are a couple of different kinds of love. There’s the kind of love that you have for a family member, which is, kind of unconditional. I think there’s a love that you have, a romantic kind of love, where its love at first sight type of thing. I think that there’s a love that grows over time, that becomes deeper and deeper, like your Mom and I have. There are all different kinds of love, so its hard to really put your finger on it. The point is, if you really love a person, you will do things for them regardless of what your personal wishes may be. I mean, that’s a bad way to put it. You think of the person more, or what they want more, than you think about what you want. So what you’re doing is you’re giving of yourself by putting them above you. And if you can do that, that’s really what love is.
Natalie: Do you remember what was going through your mind when I was born?
Dad: Yeah, exactly. The minute you were born, I looked at you and I said, “My God! It looks like a baby rhinoceros! It has a big, pointed head; it’s gray; oh my God! What is this thing?”
Natalie: Wow, that’s really touching, Dad. That’s really touching.
Dad: And then, of course, I’m being facetious. And then of course, I cut the cord and then I held you, and you know, we bonded.
Natalie: Let’s back up, do you have any favorite stories from your marriage?
Dad: Favorite stories from my marriage… God… favorite stories from my marriage… everyday’s a new story.
Natalie: What about favorite stories from when we were kids? Things that we did.
Dad: Yeah, I mean, amusing stories, and stories that talk about the kids that you were.
Natalie: Yeah, what kind of kids were we?
Dad: I’ll never forget how much fun the three of you had playing together, when you were like 7, 5, and 2, or whatever. Because you would always run around together and Nina would be the little tike and you would be the leader of the group, and Kimmy, would be Kimmy. Funny all the time. So you played well together. You played well together as kids. I remember Kimmy, it just sticks in my memory, this day: she had this calendar full of dictionary words, and everyday was a new word. And one day, when she was 7 years old, she ran downstairs and she said, “I’ve had an epiphany!” (Giggles) I didn’t learn the word “epiphany” until I was in graduate school in English, and she used it correctly in a sentence. “I’ve had an epiphany” about this thing. I thought, “Oh, my goodness.” And I remember all the time you and I spent together when you were in softball. All the good times we had, going to the batting cages, we worked on your softball game. That was a lot of fun, too. Taking Nina to bass lessons and watching her get better on it than me. So we had a lot of good memories. We’ve had some good times and bad times. Mom’s back was bad for a long time and that created a lot of problems, and that was unfortunate, but we had a lot of good times, too.
Natalie: What was the happiest moment of your life if you could pick one?
Dad: Probably, I was at Stoney B. Blues jam.
Natalie: Mom would kill you. She’d be like, “What?”
Dad: Of course, my wedding. That was the happiest day of my life.
Dad: I don’t know what I was thinking.
Natalie: No, but really. Stoney B. Blues?
Dad: But after my wedding, the happiest day of my life… The day I shot 71, one under par, that was a pretty good day. And then this other thing, recently, at this blues jam this year. He has this female singer, Annette. I was just starting to play harmonica in public, and she was there late, she arrived like 11:30 and I was still there, and we had a really nice little jam going, and she started singing. She’s a terrific blues singer, she’s really got it, really got it going. She saw me, and I was playing harp, and in the blues thing they go around. The guitarist gets a solo, the sax gets a solo, then the harmonica player gets a solo. So typically, what you do is you either get one go around of the verse, and if you’re doing okay, then you get two go-arounds, but you never give anybody three go-arounds. And she was singing with me and she looked at me after the first go-around, and she said, “Come on!” So I played again, and I got a little better, I tried to give it what I could. And then the third time came around, and she said, “Come on!” So I got up there, and I played, at that point in time, I’m a little bit better now, but at that point in time it was the best I could do. I gave it everything that I had. And the fact that she asked me to do it a third time was unheard of, nobody ever gets to go a third time. So, that was kind of like a validation that I was doing something pretty good, that this blues singer who is full of energy and soul is telling me that I’ve got something going on in that regard, and to go ahead and do it, just get it out. Because, you know, with playing the harp, when I was playing the bass, it was percussion. With the harp, its like the human voice. And since I can’t sing, I can sing through my harp.
Natalie: Nice. What was the worst day of your life?
Dad: The worst day of my life was the day that… let’s see, the worst day of my life. It had to be when I was a lawyer. Yeah, I was in trial, and I was kind’ve not doing a real good job on an expert witness who was my own witness. And I asked him some questions that were dumb and I was kind of stuck. Basically, I asked him a question which turned the tables on me and my case. I just did a very, very bad job and it was bad for the client, it was bad for me, I was embarrassed in front of the group, so that’s probably one of the worst days. But there have been a lot of great days, too. Its just that sometimes if everything doesn’t go real well, you feel real bad about it because you don’t want to lose the case.
Natalie: What three adjectives would those closest to you use to describe your personality?
Dad: I think probably consistent, smart, and dependable.
Natalie: So I know you’re not a very spiritual person, but do you have any spiritual beliefs? At all? (Laughing) Do you think there’s anything out there? At all? Have you ever experienced… well, answer the first question.
Dad: Well, I’m probably an Agnostic.
Natalie: What do you mean by that? I know what that means, but I would need to look in the dictionary…
Dad: Well, I was raised as a Lutheran. I went to church every Sunday, I went through catechism, I’ve had a standard upbringing. I know and I’ve thought about all the various philosophies and religion. I studied the philosophies of India: Buddhism, things like that. The Bhagavad Gita, Tao… I took philosophy classes as well. I’m really convinced in my own mind that the human being is… it has a lot of spirit and aspirations. And that we have something that is like a soul. As to what happens to that soul after death, that I’m not sure. I think we have a soul, I think we have unique vision about things and that we can participate in the Universe in a lot of different ways through our own expressions of how we interact in our environment, but I’m not sure what happens after death.
Natalie: What do you mean by soul?
Dad: Well, I think there’s something unique about us that… I’m not sure if that thing that is spiritual inside us continues after death. But I think while we’re here, I think that there’s something about us, inside of us, that’s greater than the sum of our parts: Greater than our intellect, greater than our thoughts, greater than our living body. I think there is something about us that is like a soul. That is unique and greater than the sum of our parts. As to whether that continues after death, no one knows the answer to that question. I certainly don’t. I find a lot of fault with the way that religions have the position that they’re the only true religion. And that other religions must be wrong. I find that has created a lot of religious intolerance and religious intolerance is the cause of many wars throughout history. The Crusades forward. I think that that’s part of the reason I’m not really wedded to any one type of religion of any kind.
Natalie: Have you ever had an experience that made you think… you know, you talk about the soul, that made you convinced that there’s something beyond? For instance, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a miracle, but there have been experiences that have made me feel as if there’s something else out there. Have you ever had any experiences like that? You know, just sort of uncanny, not like a coincidence, but…
Dad: I’m not sure. I’ve had a couple of experiences that I’ve been unable to explain. One of the experiences was with your grandmother. Walking downstairs, after laying healing hands on Tami right after her back surgery, and I touched her hands and her hands were as hot as a stove. There is no explanation for it. And so, I think that there are things that are going on. I don’t know if I attribute it to some power beyond, or human capabilities, because I think human capabilities are amazing. Our brains are untapped. If we choose to do something, we can accomplish things that are incredible. I’m just not sure if I believe… I’m not sure if I believe the human desire for immortality of the soul is consistent with my beliefs, which are making the most of what you have right now.
Natalie: You know, I… I don’t care about what happens to the soul after death. I’m more interested what you’re talking about, tapping into our capabilities. Can you elaborate? Do you have any tips?
Natalie: Well, you know…
Dad: I like to do things that make me feel good. So I, I like music. I think that transcends yourself. When you’re with a group of people and you’re playing music together, and you’re all participating and forming something. You’re enjoying and listening to this forming sound that’s coming out, which is a sum of all of the parts. And there’s got to be harmony, obviously. I mean harmony among the players as well as the harmony you’re creating. And when you work together to participate to make this really unique sound coming out of six or seven people, I think that’s pretty cool. I think that’s joining together, each expressing something and making a group product, if you will, that is greater than what you can individually put into it because it blends with other things.
Natalie: You’ve never seemed like someone who has a lot of self-doubt… I mean, when you put your mind to something, you sort of do it…
Dad: Well, I have a lot of self-doubt. I have a lot of self-doubt, but what I try to do, is I try to overcome it. Whenever I am standing over a three-foot putt, whenever I’m playing golf, I have a lot of self-doubt. (Giggles) About whether I’m making that putt or not, but I try to overcome it. This is a really old story, when I was first a lawyer, I went down to the court and did a horrible job, because I had been an English major and I never really did any public speaking. I got up in front of the court, and one of my senior partners was sitting in the courtroom watching me do this oral argument, and I just did a crappy job. And so I spent money and I took a class, a public-speaking class, to improve myself, and now I can stand in front of anybody. I’m a trial lawyer, and a law school professor, lecture for the San Diego Bar Association and all this other stuff just because I felt that I could do it. But I have self-doubt everyday. I have self-doubt everyday, its just a matter of overcoming it. Everyday.
Natalie: Very nice, very nice. Um, what’s your favorite book?
Dad: Favorite book… The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway.
Natalie: Good one.
Dad: “Wouldn’t it be pretty to think so?” That’s what Jake says when the Lady Brett comes into the cab and they’re on their way home and she’s suggesting they could have a romantic encounter, and how things would be beautiful if he was able to be a whole man when his war injury was in his groin area. And he said, “Wouldn’t it be pretty to think so?”
Natalie: I like that. Alright. So sixty years is a lot of time. What are the most important lessons you have to impart to the younger generations?
Dad: I would say if you have good, basic core values of: being good to other people, working hard, being confident in yourself, those are the things that are going to make a difference over time. I look at my Dad, who is 93 now, who grew up in the Great Depression. He never had a bicycle, his Dad rented land to grow potatoes on to make a couple dollars so his family could eat, he had three kids, this is my grandfather, Herman. I mean, those are difficult times, but they persevered, they got through, he started a feed store at age 61. There’s so much that other people have done under more difficult circumstances than in the present time, and things could be worse in the future. You know, the greatest generation was the generation that went through the Great Depression and World War II, like my father did. And so we had a little more privileged life when I was growing up. But if you stick with the same core values of working hard, being self-reliant, being confident, being good to other people, then you can probably adapt to whatever is coming into the future. And it may or may not be as good as it was in the past. But as long as you find your own happiness, try to do the things that you want to do, find those things that you enjoy doing, including work, or other parts of play, you should be able to be okay.
Natalie: What are you proudest of in your life?
Dad: I think being a good father.
Natalie: Awww, you’re just saying that because of the audience…
Dad: No, because that’s the hardest thing in the world. I mean, I think that I’ve been a good father because I’ve spent a lot time trying to take care of my children, and doing whatever I could to do that. Whether it be financially, or other kinds of support, and that’s something I’ve done for other people. And since I act a lot for myself, with all my little hobbies and things like that, pursuing good times, I feel like my work doing for other people is one of my proudest accomplishments.
Natalie: Who has been the biggest influence on your life?
Dad: My father.
Natalie: What did he teach you?
Dad: To be truthful. To be able to get up in the morning, look in the mirror and say, “You’re doing okay.” All the good qualities like ethics, never tell a lie, work hard, take care of other people who are relying upon you. Be responsible. And come through in the end, be dependable. I mean all those things are things that my Dad did in his life, and I aim to follow him. I follow consciously or subconsciously those lessons my father taught me.