June 19, 2011

Feelin' Kinda Sunday

When I was a child, I had my own interpretation of saying my evening prayers. "My Father who is Art in Heaven." What I failed to grasp until a bit later was that my father's name was Howard, not Art, nor was he in Heaven...but rather the assistant principal at the local high school.

I remember Dad as a career man, visible at school functions, either playing donkey basketball with the rest of the faculty, attending football and basketball games, or glad-handing local celebs when he was out about town. I didn't know much about his work at the school, other than he had an office and a secretary, but I did recall Jac LeGoff, a Detroit Area news anchorman for WJBK during the 50s thru 70s, walking through my living room to attend the party in the basement, so that sealed Dad in my eyes as a local celeb.

Howard Guy Robinson climbed a steady success ladder right out of Denby High School, Class of 1947. He went on to graduate from Michigan State in 1951 with a BS Degree and teaching certificate, and later a Masters in Business. He went into the Army and was assigned to the Cryptographic school as a teacher. In 1953 he was hired to teach mathematics at South Lake Junior High School, and in 1956, he was promoted to Assistant Principal at the age of 26. Ten years later he was promoted to Principal of Lake Shore High School (1966-1969). In 1969 he was promoted to Assistant Superintendent of Lake Shore School District, and finally, in 1985, Superintendent.

He joined the Kiwanis Club in 1963 and was the longest serving member of the club for 47 years.  He served as President and was given the Hixon Medal and Tablet of Honor awards.

Behind every successful man is his wife and family...telling him what he's doing wrong. He met my mother, Nancy Dehn, in the 10th grade. At 17 they had their first date, a Sadie Hawkins type of dance where Mom invited Dad out. The date was recorded for posterity in the local newspaper.

They were married in 1951 while on Christmas leave from the Army, and lived in Georgia while Dad at stationed at Camp Gordon.

They were a handsome couple, with my petite, dark-red-haired mother supporting his image in the community by threatening to kill my sisters and I if we so much as crossed eyes when out in public.

Mom was a typical 1950s housewife, raising children and keeping the homestead fires burning while Dad carved out a living. Dinner was always at five o'clock. Dad walked in the door and we sat down to eat. Mom wasn't much on cuisine, so we had liver and onions, Brussels sprouts (which to this day make me gag!) and Swanson's TV dinners. On Friday, always, we had chicken pot pies. I'm kinda understanding now why Dad elected to eat out at so many school and community functions. You can only take just so many Swanson dinners before you cry Uncle!

Being the only male in a houseful of women, Dad tried to deal with our hormonal mood swings and volatile tempers, but eventually he carved out a place for himself in the basement, an office, closed off with a partition and a door. There he read his Bible, wrote in his journal, and occasionally invited us in to hang out.

One such time for me was to record a father/daughter melody previously recorded by Frank and Nancy Sinatra called Feelin' Kinda Sunday. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3f26_MlCjf8  To this day, my heart swells when I hear this song and while our recording is gone, disintegrated on an old-fashioned kinda of tape recorder, I can still hear his voice blending with mine...albeit both of us off-key.

Dad loved to camp, and dragged my family around Michigan, Canada, the East Coast, and out West, pulling a pop-up camper behind him. All I can say is...bless my mother for going along with that idea. Three sweaty, bratty kids in the backseat pinching and fighting with each other must have underscored every trip. Still, I can picture Dad standing on the edge of a cliff, binoculars focused on some distant mountain (probably wishing he could find a way to escape us and have a real vacation.)

Being a teacher, our vacations had to have some kind of historical value for Dad. We never saw a beach or an amusement park. However, we saw Mount Rushmore, Mount Vernon, Gettysburg, Williamsburg, Quebec; Booth Bay Harbor, Maine (where I got food poisoning for the first of many many times--yes, while camping.) Later in life, his favorite vacation places were Tobemori, Michigan and Corpus Christi, Texas.

Dad was an avid golfer throughout his life. Golf was a major part of our family while growing up. My mom golfed, and subsequently, so did I. Dad shaved down his wooden golf clubs (can you imagine...wood!) to make me my own set when I was about six. I promptly gave my baby sis a black eye when she stood behind me while I swung. I was then sent to Golf Lesson Hell at Burning Tree Golf Club. I have a memory of me and my friend, Karen Baxendale, who was the daughter of my parent's friends, lugging our clubs around the course, grumbling about how we didn't want to golf, but rather play in the pool and eat brownies.

When Mom passed away unexpectedly at age 42, the light went out in my Dad. He remarried, but it didn't take. He tried again...nope! I told him, three strikes and you're out. Just enjoy life without commitment. Yeah, I was giving my father permission to live in Sin!  But he decided he would honor his Lutheran teachings and just date. He brought a few of his lady friends home to meet his family, but the one we enjoyed the most was Carole Krantz, who had known Dad when they were 14 and in the same catechism class. In fact, I have their photo from their catechism graduation, along with Don Rutter, who's son became pastor at St Paul's Lutheran Church where my sisters were baptised, and my Dad, in June 2009, was given a proper send off to his final reward.

That my dad passed away a couple days before Father's Day, 2009, doesn't sadden me as you would expect. As a Christian, I knew he had gone on to a better life, without physical ailments and heartbreak. And as a Christian, he too knew there was something better coming his way. He didn't fear death, that I know.

I left Michigan shortly after my marriage, went into business for a number of years, and came back for occasional visits, especially around the holidays. But in between there were phone calls and letters. Dad was a journalist, and a letter writer. I have some of his journals, and many of his letters written throughout the years. And then later, his emails when my sisters and I dragged him, kicking and screaming, into the Age of Technology. Dad savored the feel of putting pen to paper. The whole email computer thing felt impersonal to him. In fact, he would write out his emails on a legal pad and then transcribe them into the emails. You might be thinking, awww, he really loved the old-fashioned style of correspondence, but actually I'm thinking he wanted to make sure he had a back up copy of what he wrote to us, just in case he got called on the carpet for some misunderstood word choice.

In those journals and letters, I am able to understand my father far better than I ever was in person, talking to him. Dad was kind of clueless about women in that...he never truly understood my sisters and I. He tried, though. He supported us, and took an active interest in our lives. But he was wired from another time, and that time didn't always jive with the women we had become, especially in light of growing up without a mother to guide us into womanhood. We had to do that with a stepmother or two whose ideas and personalities were at drastic odds with the woman who gave birth to us. But in the end, we all turned out okay. My sisters went on to have families, making our father a grandfather, and I went on to have cats...but that's another story.

And so, this week, on June 16th I think about how that day was the last time I heard his voice, in a phone call. We talked about what, I can't really recall in detail...but I know we said I love you, and the talk, while brief as Dad was not a chatty phone conversationalist, made me warm and fuzzy when it ended. Two days later he passed, after a pleasant night out on the town with his best girl, Carole. I'm certain in my heart, Dad would not have wanted to go any other way.  He passed with dignity and knowing he was loved by his daughters.
Happy Father's Day, Dad! I love you! Kim


  1. What wonderful memories. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Oh, Kim, this was so very dear a memorial to your Dad. I really enjoyed it--made tears spring to my eyes. I know he is sittin' in heaven enjoying the essence of it, and proud of his little girl who has grown up to be quite a writer and a lovely person to boot!