My Father has passed on

I must announce the passing of a giant, my father, John as he was known to his friends and colleagues. He was 85 and died on Jan. 8th.

My father straddled two worlds and did it better than anyone I have ever met. He was a successful salesman and local entrepreneur, and was actively involved in local politics, serving on the Republican Central Committee and, through his tireless efforts, saw many of his friends elected, including Bernie Richter. He was also largely responsible for Prop 71, the stem cell initiative, being passed.

But it was as an outdoorsman that this great man must be remembered. My Dad would work his ass off Monday to Friday, then load up the family and take us into the mountains and desert. When I was a boy, it seemed like every damn weekend we were somewhere out in the mountains, and back then, I envied my friends who could watch all the Saturday morning cartoons they wanted, while me and brothers had to go camping. But our camping trips were unique and differed from the norm; where many people sought public campgrounds filled with lots of like-minded people, my father brought us as far away from the crowds as he could, and we enjoyed not only the solace of unspoiled, breath-taking scenery, but the simplicity of a campfire and some bacon and eggs and maybe a fish or two, though none of us could be considered great fishermen.

In truth, my father was an amateur and he liked it that way; he never got caught up in the details or techniques or having to do anything exactly, especially out in the forests; whatever happened was fine as long as we had something to eat and the fire stayed lit.

But it was as a hiker and backpacker that my father stood apart. My Dad hiked every trail in Northern California, some many times, and that is fact. He hiked the Yolly Bolly, Marble Mountain, Trinity, Warner, Thousand Lakes and Caribou wildernesses years before they became popular destinations, and well before fancy, high tech equipment was the rage. No, we used Army Resale backpacks and the simplest of equipment, for my Dad was not a man of show but a man who did, a man who craved the simple and free, and he loathed bureaucracies and petty officials. I can’t tell you how many times we broke past a closed gate or went where we weren’t supposed to go, a great love of my father’s, for he strongly felt our public lands should be accessible to everyone, and a locked gate was a personal insult to him.

He never made a show of his outdoor love but his friends and colleagues knew that John could be found every weekend somewhere out in the wilds with his kids. In fact, my Dad was the cool uncle for all my cousins; they flocked to him, because he himself was a kid and enjoyed nothing more than a good football game or long day at the beach, simply walking and being with us. While the rest of the adults would sit behind glass at our family vacation home near Bodega Bay, my Dad was always with the kids having fun, and when I was a Boy Scout, our patrol was the one everybody either wanted to join or hated and resented, because my Dad did everything he could to take us out in the woods, often defying the Boy Scout hierarchy by bringing along all sorts of other kids on our adventures, but Pops could give a shit for the opinions of any Old Fogey, stuck-in-the-mud who tried to ‘invoke the rules’ over him.

Though Pops did his best to encourage us to find our places in the corporate world, and gave us all of his support and energy, what I learned and took from him was a sense of independence and freedom, the idea that our public lands were to be enjoyed by all, and that there is nothing finer or more enjoyable than the simplicity of a campfire, good food and loved ones far from the beaten path.

My Dad was not an emotionally-articulate man, he kept his feelings hidden for the most part and had to swallow a ton of bullshit from the many petty assholes who sought to drag him down. But he gave his everything to his kids and despite our many and repeated failures and disappointments, and his resentments and regrets for our failed performances, he always gave us his support, time and money.

His was a hard life. His father committed suicide with a gun when he was Three, and my father never owned, used or encouraged us to use firearms, though I went my own way on that. He was sent from one home to the next and never knew a stable, loving childhood, including being abused by a tyrannical aunt. He took a man’s job at age 13 in the Oakland shipyards, lifting buckets of hot bolts up to the workers who were building warships, and soon joined the Service himself in the Coast Guard. A handsome and gregarious man who could talk with anyone, Pops fell for my mother, Nancy, and they remained together for almost 60 years, raising four children and a handful of grandkids.

I have never known a more unassuming and friendly man than my Dad. During our summer family vacations, when we would head out on lengthy road trips to one or more national parks, once our camp had been set up amongst all the other campers, he would take us kids and walk the campground, bullshitting and meeting everyone he could with his friendly, self-deprecating manner. Not everyone, however, was open to my father’s gregarious ways, and many times he would mumble under his breath after being rudely dismissed, “Boy, what an asshole,” and those events served to teach me that, hey, you ARE an asshole if you’re not being friendly to this guy, the most sincere and friendliest man anywhere.

I will forever be grateful to him for taking my two boys out to the woods after my accident. My sons and their cousins and friends got to experience rough, crude and simple camping and backpacking like it was meant to be, and they got to experience Grandpa and his generous simplicity at a time when they needed it most, for my Dad imparted an attitude in all of us, one of ‘Just do it, no moaning or crying, and no excuses’.

Clearly he was no saint, for he carried great regrets and disappointments and could explode instantly. I know that my injury devastated him; imagine seeing your vibrant little boy paralyzed and unable to enjoy all that he once did. My injury also spelled the end of our many camping trips, though we will always have the memory of our many times at Echo or Snag Lakes with Mia and my boys and always a cousin or three and a few friends. My Dad lived for those trips with us, and it broke my heart to know that, after my injury, that essential and so important aspect of his life had been cut off.

I owe my independent spirit and constant desire to buck authority to this great man. He imbued in me the spirit of freedom and independence, with a Stoic ‘no whining’ attitude that taught me to suck it up and keep moving. He never complained about his own distresses; he’d cut himself, for instance, blood running down his arm, and simply clean it off and keep going, the very essence of tough. His focus was always on just enjoying the outdoors and being grateful for every moment he could be out there.

My father was a giant who soared above his peers, yet I don’t think he knew how truly unique he was, for he wasn’t given to boasting about his accomplishments or putting others down. He was fair and ethical in everything he did, a principled man with few equals. I would ask that any of you who had the benefit of spending time with my Dad, please fill your mind with the many wonderful times you spent with him and send him your love now, celebrate this great man’s life and let him know he is loved and respected, for there is no one who compares to my father, and with his passing, there is a great void in the world, but let us not be sad, no, Pops doesn’t want sadness now or great displays of emotion.

He’d rather we go camping.


I will be returning next week with news and links concerning my podcast; for now, please take care and enjoy your family and loved ones.

One Response to “My Father has passed on”
  1. Susan w says:

    Beautiful and moving tribute. Much love to you. S

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