This is a tribute to my father, my first father I should say. He is not my father through biology but through loyalty, love and betrayal. I say this because I was named after him at birth. He was married to my mother and believed that I was from his seed. He loved me, supported me and found out 9 years later that I was not his child. In spite of all of that he still loved me and I more importantly loved and still love him.
It is hard to see him waste away with Alzheimer’s. He was a brilliant successful man. He was an inventor with the mind of a mathematician. I not of his biology never inherited that gene. He only had a high school education but was a very successful businessman. He was not so lucky in love, until he married my stepmother. She is not really my stepmother because he was not really my father. I call him my first father, because he was.
Shannon, and those of you, who know me, knows that the deceit that was carried out by my mother was obvious because she named me after him. I am Shana. He and a high school classmate, Hugh Rush invented and constructed one of the first Strato-towers in the world. Around here we call them cherry pickers. He patented the Strato-tower and sold the business upon retirement.
The article by Jan Corn about the Indy 500 brought back many fond memories to me about the Strato-tower that my first father invented. As a young child my brother and I, who were not supervised would ride up and down in this thing. My brother a year younger than I had a mind a lot like our father, although he was not his biological son either. He was extremely inventive and creative.
I always thought that my brother was much brighter than I was because he had such great ideas and knew how to do things that I didn’t; things such as driving cars, which we did, through fences. This was accomplished with not such positive results at the ages of 4 and 5. He also knew how to make the “boom,” which we affectionately called the Strato-tower go up and down. We got in trouble for that one, but not much. I remember riding high up into the air with my brother in it one time without an adult because my brother said he knew how to make it “go.” He did too, but my mother yelled out of the window for us to come down from there.
I am getting off track. My father went down to the Indy 500 in his Strato-tower to take photos from the “boom, for the race for several years. He had a great vantage point from the bucket of his Strato-tower. As technology improved his photography services were not necessary but he had fond memories of his times taking photos from his beloved Strato-tower at the Indy 500.
He was a gentle man though not very talkative. As a result of a near fatal fall from his Strato-tower in Chicago he lay in a hospital bed for about 6 weeks. He fell 15 feet onto the railroad tracks and broke his back, and sternum, along with other injuries that they were not sure that he would recover from. He was not a religious man and when the sisters at the Catholic Hospital asked him if he wanted “last rites,” he said that it would be hypocritical to become religious then. He had his fall the first week in November of 1953, and came home right before Christmas. I thought my prayers had been answered. He was in the hospital bed for about 9 months. He was not to sit or walk for fear of severing his spinal cord. They do things differently now, but then he was restricted for many months.
We got our first television set when he was recovering. I would look forward to watching Captain Kangaroo with him every weekday before I went to Kindergarten. He taught me to tie my shoes on his bed. I was left-handed and he wasn’t but he was still very patient with me.
When he had to learn to walk again I went with him down the street to the creek and back. I don’t remember talking but I enjoyed the time that I got to spend with him. When he was able to walk again he needed to get back on the road to sell the Strato-tower. I thought that my life would finally be normal.. I couldn’t have been more wrong. We were spirited away by our mother when Shannon went on one of his business trips to Rochester, Indiana. It was a devastating time in my life. I didn’t realize as a child, that I was not the only one suffering.
I do remember lying in bed at night in the apartment in the dark, watching the glow from the streetlight, thinking that he must be dead, or he would come and rescue us from our lunatic mother. I blocked out the visits from him, because they were so painful to see him leave each time.
I saw a photo of him recently given to me by his stepson from his second marriage, and in it he was smiling. I realized then that I didn’t remember seeing him smile when I was a child. He always looked very lonely and sad. I think he really was in denial about my brother and I not being his, although I think that subconsciously he must have suspected it.
We were able to reconnect as adults although it was sad, because years had been stolen from us. Stories had been woven by my mother that tainted our relationship. Our relationship grew but it was not the same as it would have been if we had not been kept from each other for those many years.
I now see him and he smiles with a glimmer of recognition. Alzheimer’s has robbed his mind. He is always glad to see me. I don’t know when that will change. For now I am still grateful to have him here. It is more stressful for my stepmother who is still trying to take care of him. They live with my stepsister and brother-in-law and it is taking its toll on them. I dread the day when they have to make the decision to let him go to a nursing home.
I am grateful for the relationship that we have had over the last 35 years, and especially for years that I had with him as a child.
This is my tribute to you my father, Shannon. I know that you will never know about it. I don’t know if I could read it to you because I don’t think I could read it to you without sobbing, maybe I need to anyway. It has been healing for me to write it. I am proud of you, I am proud to say I am your daughter. I love you and thank you for all that you gave me, but especially for all that you have been to and for me. God bless you and I hope that you will find peace and joy on the other side. I know that in your later years you have found peace with God. I have heard you many times say that you thank God for all that he has given you in this life. I love you Dad.