Only about one person in 1,461 is born on February 29. They’re the 0.07%. My father was one of them.
Today would have been his 22nd birthday.
Yup, and that’s the way he would have put it. I don’t know if it was just my Dad or if all other February 29 babies did it, but he sure enjoyed it, and having to watch people’s mental gears grind.
But I played along. And that meant that, when I was in college and a non-leap year rolled around, I would call him right at midnight between February 28 and March 1, just to try to squeeze it into the right place.
Here’s the oldest picture of him I can find.
He graduated from High School at 16.
And went to Northwestern University, getting a degree in Industrial Engineering.
Here’s a picture of him trying to look studious.
But it wasn’t all studying. Here he is at a college (probably fraternity) formal, with my mother.
While at Northwestern, he participated in Naval ROTC. Here he is as a Lieutenant JG.
During World War II he served aboard the USS Kwajalein. It was an aircraft carrier that had the job of ferrying airplanes to where they were needed. Part of my Dad’s job was calculating the right places to put the planes to keep the carrier stable. He also told me that, at one point with a big storm coming, they had to dump a bunch of planes overboard to preserve the ship.
When he came home from the war, he and my Mother got married.
Not too long after that, they built a house. Here’s my Dad, along with my two grandfathers, clearing brush on the empty lot.
When my Dad was at Northwestern, he did a co-op with International Harvester (now Navistar International). His father worked there, too (and at some point, so did my Mother and my Brother). After the war, he joined up with them for his career. That’s from back when a person could have an entire career with the same company and they would fulfill their obligations, both legal and societal.
Here’s a picture of him from a 1955 copy of their internal magazine: The Harvester World.
My Dad always liked puzzles and games, and figuring things out. I remember that, as a kid, he’d always be presenting us with puzzles. He was also a bit of an iconoclast. He was always writing letters to the newspaper point out some idiocy or another. Before he retired, at the Research area of IH, one of his jobs was interfacing with OSHA. He was always amazed (and annoyed) that they’d be trying to make rules that made no sense, or that displayed a lack of understanding of how things were really done. I remember one story in which OSHA was making a rule regarding conveyor belts and said that they had to be inspected every day. My Dad had to point out that Harvester had some conveyor belts that were over a mile long, and were completely covered. Inspecting them would take more than a day, so each day they’d fall farther and farther behind and never get any useful work out of them.
I think I got a lot of my own iconoclasm from him.
As he got older and had kids, there are fewer pictures of my Dad. Isn’t that almost always how it happens? It’s Dad who is always responsible for the picture-taking (particularly back then, when cameras involved this obsolete thing called “film”). But every now and again . . .
Another of the things I remember are the vacations. International Harvester did a plant shutdown every year in July, so that is when we took vacation. As Dad got more vacation time, we’d do these long trips (at least one of them was a full month) traveling around the country. Also, with my birthday in July, that meant an awful lot of my birthdays occurred while we were on vacation.
Here’s a picture of our family at Mesa Verde, during a camping trip to California. Well, the trip was mostly camping, but every few days we’d stay at a motel just to recombobulate and get cleaned up.
And here Dad is at another trip out west.
It looks like he got my Mom to take this picture.
And yet another western vacation. This was one of those 4-week trips, and we went up into the Canadian Rockies.
My father retired in 1982. International Harvester was going through hard times, so he took a special retirement package and retired down to Florida.
Of course, he came to visit when I had kids of my own. This is a typical activity.
It’s funny how he used to play Sorry! with us kids when we were young, and just keep doing it when I had my own.
As I get older, I find myself seeming to get more and more like him. Sometimes I’ll look in the mirror and see part of him looking back at me. Sometimes I’ll smile and realize that I am doing his quirky little smile. And now, when I get up from the floor, I find myself doing the same moves trying to overcome the stiffness that comes with aging.
I miss him.