Words of occasional wisdom from Bruce Oakley

Archive for March, 2008

Our fathers

Posted by boakley59 on March 28, 2008

My mother has a “name cloud” for the men she loves most: her husband, baby brother and adopted son. Whenever she was emotional (joyful, angry, sad) talking to any of us, she was apt to go through all three names before getting to the one she is addressing.

To me, this has always meant she has a single, stylized, beloved male in the recesses of her memory, or at the very least a unified emotional response to beloved males.

I find that I have similar thoughts when it comes to “paternals in the mist,” with Suzy’s late father, my late father and even my ex-wife’s father all occupying common memory space. In my heart and mind, I find their similarities, not their differences.

Even in their names, I see a gentle cosmic humor that befits their personalities: Bennie Lee Taylor and William Herbert Oakley are identified with initials that set the stage for all sorts of word play. Who uses his name for fun? My Dad, that’s WHO! I’m not sure BLT could stomach all that stuff, but I suppose he won’t mind a light toast to his name here.

So genial, these men. “Never met a stranger” suits them.

Dad was in advertising sales and was a natural (through long practice) at shooting the bull with anyone anywhere. He grew up German-Irish and Catholic in the Depression and that meant his was a beer-drinking family. And that meant regular gatherings for laughs and libations. Everyone was a friend, and if they weren’t, you could buy them a drink and they would usually become one. If truth be told, it wasn’t the nature of the alcohol but the nature of the man and his family that made for the fun and friendliness.

Suzy’s father was a diesel mechanic before an accident ended his career and he became an equipment salesman. He grew up poor in the Bible Belt South and that meant scraping by, doing and fixing everything yourself, and gathering around the family table to refuel, report and if you were lucky relax. When you fix everything yourself, you learn how things work and how to learn how unfamiliar things work. And when you’ve been through all of that, you can talk to anybody about what they do and what they know.

Our fathers loved cars. Dad sold automotive advertising and so every year he knew everything about all the new models, but beyond that he was just of a generation that was simply fascinated with the beauty and intricacy and usefulness of the contraptions. He knew enough to keep his cars clean and their fluids topped off, but he wasn’t really much of a mechanic. Suzy’s Dad and her uncles built kit Roadsters and restored classics. Cars were made to be cherished.

I was honored that Suzy’s Dad trusted me to drive his kit Roadster. I can never forget telling her brother that Ben trusted me to take his daughter’s hand and to drive his kit Roadster, because he knew that I knew Suzy was the greater treasure. We were in a waiting room. Just then, the doctors came to take us to Ben Taylor’s room for his last moments. Ben knew, but I write undeliverable notes every now and then to tell him Suzy is still safe and cherished.

My Dad trusted me to know everything. I was the smart one, straight A’s in school and such, and he wanted me to have the opportunities he never did. We never could talk much about school subjects or even what might be called complex ideas, because Dad couldn’t keep up. He understood people, not mechanisms and not terminology. But I eventually learned that it wasn’t incapacity so much as lack of practice. Upon his retirement after 45 years at The Buffalo News, Dad sent me a short note on News stationery. It was beautifully written — skillfully heartwarming. Intelligence can be a curse when you find what an idiot you have been, but Dad would consider it a blessing that you are smart enough to learn hard lessons.

So, these wonderful men are unified in my mind’s eye as teachers of valuable lessons about love and family, skills and knowledge, meaning and machines. I keep their memory close, and I cherish my time with them. Every once in a while, I lose myself in the mist and make sure they know that I still cherish the women they love: my mother, my sister, my wife, my mother-in-law.

Dad, Mom sends her love — every time she calls me by your name.

Posted in Personal, Philosophy/Life Lessons | Leave a Comment »

What can I do for you?

Posted by boakley59 on March 26, 2008

Friends, fans, readers: I have good news and bad news.

First, the good news: My butt having been examined by competent, certified professionals and found no longer to be abnormally perforated, sliced or otherwise newly damaged, I am for the most part as healthy as a person with a chronic illness can be.

The bad news: A relatively clean bill of health means the disability that cost me my job apparently has ended, as will the associated disability insurance benefits.

After months of enforced inactivity, it is good news that I am deemed able to return to work. After months of dealing with and pondering the extremes of my illness, though, Suzy and I are determined to be cautious. Overwork apparently makes me vulnerable to the intrusive symptoms of Crohn’s, so I will be limiting myself to part-time or piece work.

Please feel free to mention me to anyone you know who might be looking to hire someone like me. I am available for work by e-commute or within easy driving distance from North Little Rock. I have created a “Hire Bruce” island in Brulog where potential employers may find out more about my skills and my work, so direct them there.

I will, of course, be reading job ads, checking Web sites and seeking opportunities on my own, but I can think of lots of possibilities that might lie outside formal channels and where word of mouth might help make a connection.

Who might need my skills?

I am a writer and editor by training, with long experience, and I can teach those skills as well. People or organizations needing help with communications, newsletters or Web pages, or needing tutoring, coaching or classes in any of those areas could benefit from my experience. Students in need of tutoring, or professors in need of ghost writing or editing, also would find me helpful.

I am an organizer and technophile with computer programming experience and broad exposure to a wide variety of applications. I can automate procedures in applications from e-mail to word processing to image editing to document design on most computer platforms. Small businesses or individuals struggling for increased efficiency with their computer applications might find their operations streamlined with a few macros, scripts or utility programs, or just a bit of tutoring.

I will be adding details on skills and past projects to “Hire Bruce,” and I can be reached through the “Comments” links for any questions. Please keep me in mind if you have friends or contacts in need of the help I can provide.

Friends, fans, readers: Thanks for letting me conduct a bit of business in this mainly social domain.

Posted in Health, Personal, Work | 1 Comment »

Always there

Posted by boakley59 on March 5, 2008

Dad was always there. My heart remembers it that way, even if it’s not exactly true.

In the earliest years, when I was in grade school, it was Mom who was always there because Dad was at work. In his last years, Alzheimer’s left him without reliable memory of me and so in one sense my father wasn’t there anymore.

But my heart knows different. Even in those last years, the core of his character that made my father wonderful remained. His only reliable memories were of family and duty: He remembered his youth and especially his mother, and he remembered going off to basic training in California to serve in World War II. It is befitting that he was buried on Pearl Harbor day in 2006, this man for whom the equation was so simple: You fought for your family, whatever the world threw at you.

Dad was a fighter not so much in the Rambo sense as in the Lassie sense. He loved and protected and always found some way to get his family what they needed. He could be menacing, too, in a quiet way. Once, my aunt, Dad’s older sister, had a pool party. I didn’t like water much, but my cousin’s husband decided I should get wet. I was a scrawny young teen, but I could run. And I did, into the house, but he caught me and tried to carry me back out to the pool. I grabbed at every door frame along the path, and when we finally got to the doorway to the back porch and I was still saying “Noooooo!” and clutching at woodwork, Dad just quietly said, “Put him down.” That was all. It was over and I was safe and dry and loved. A few minutes later, I high-jumped the wall of the above-ground pool and splashed in. It was my decision when to get wet, and my father who gave me every opportunity.

I said I could run, and my fondest memories of my father go with running. I ran cross country and track in high school and Dad found a way to come to almost every meet. We typically had very cold days, sometimes even snow by the last races in October, but Dad would try to arrange a call away from the office or just take a break so he could come stand out in the cold and watch us run the park lake course. You can’t see much of a race on a 1 1/4-mile lake loop, but watching me for a few hundred yards was plenty for Dad. Track meets in the spring might last three hours, and my races would amount to about seven minutes out of that time, but Dad was there.

He wanted something different for me than what he had. Dad was a very good baseball player, good enough to be on a sort of division traveling squad during his World War II service. But his father worked in a factory and didn’t get to see him play. Dad said he was playing in a high school all-star game when his father walked by the park on his way home from work. He said his father stopped him after the game and said, “I didn’t know you could play.” So much his father and he had missed together, and Dad wasn’t going to have that for me.

Baseball players didn’t make much money in those days and Dad became a newspaper man, eventually becoming an advertising salesman. Ad salesmen didn’t make a lot of money in those days, either, but Dad found a way to send me to Catholic grade school, high school and university. When I married and became a father myself, I tried to always be there for my son. But his mother and I divorced, so I missed many of his formative years. I missed Courtney playing on his state championship soccer team. And though we were a two-income family, we had no hope of being able to afford to send him to a private college and it would have been tight to send him to a state college. I am not a big spender and my degree presumably puts me in a higher pay bracket than that of my father, who had one semester of college, and yet he shames me as a provider for my family.

The difference is the fight in him, the fierceness of his loyalty. Whatever sacrifice it took, even giving up baseball dreams or hope of going to college, Dad did it. I did almost whatever it took, but ultimately I was so important to me that I couldn’t find a compromise to keep my family together, let alone provide for them. “He was always there” will not be the way my son remembers me.

Would Dad be disappointed in me? No, he would try to find some way to take away the hurt, some way to persuade me that families are harder to keep together these days and failure isn’t necessarily anyone’s fault.

Of course, he also raised me to believe that no mountain is too high when you put your mind to it and keep going. Now there is a mountain of absence between us. But when I think I have fallen and need a lift, I know where my thoughts must turn.

As the friends of William Herbert Oakley often said when he came into a room: “Look, WHO’s here!”

As Dad would say, “You bet he is!”

Through tears, his only son whispers, “Always.”

Posted in Personal, Philosophy/Life Lessons | 2 Comments »