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Saturday, June 16, 2012

FLOYD A. NORMAN, SR.: 1925-2008; HAPPY FATHER'S DAY.

Today is Father's Day, and if you are a father I hope you are proud of your kids and that they in turn are proud of you. 

If you are a son or a daughter of a decent and loving father, I hope that he is alive and in good health so he can appreciate the honor of the day. 

My own father left this life in March of 2008.

Lots of kids think of their father as an "old stick in the mud", especially when they are in their teens. But I can assure all you younger types that in the years to come (as Mark Twain famously observed) the old man will smarten up considerably.

Of course, what Twain meant was that the day will come when you observe a clutch of youngsters behaving like youngsters and mutter "stupid kids". And in that moment you will suddenly realize that you have begun to become your dad. You might not believe this. But take my word for it, you will.

The arc of my father's life began in the "roaring twenties" and when he was a young boy he helped his dad and his uncle smuggle Prohibition hooch in Indiana. Most of his childhood was spent in the Great Depression, and he would probably laugh to scorn the folks who are comparing our present state to that dire era.

He was the son of the (lore has it) illegitimate son of a 16 year old Cherokee woman, and our family name was taken from the settlement of Norman, Oklahoma. Being of modest means and the son of a "half-breed" put him at a distinct disadvantage.

But he did what was required of him to help his family; and he kept his sights set high.

When World War II broke out, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps, where he was assigned the job of manning the dorsal turret of a B-24 Liberator bomber operating out of Libya. When we kids asked him how many enemy planes he shot down, he dismissed the question by saying he didn't know that he downed any because "everybody else was shooting at them, too".

But once I had learned to use a firearm, I became aware that he must have known when he succeeded in downing an airplane. And I came to realize that he knew that what he was doing probably resulted in another young man, with people back home who loved him as much as his family in Indiana loved my dad; would not be seeing them again, nor they him.

And he knew what deadly cargo he was guarding. And he knew that even though the targets were military in nature, still women and children on the ground were going to die or suffer as a result of the release of the bombs he was helping to shepherd to the target.

And although Dad knew that what he was doing was necessary to prevent the world from being taken over by far worse, that he was ensuring that future generations would live in freedom, still it bothered him tremendously that any way he sliced it, he had blood on his hands.

He had done what had to be done. He was morally in the right. And yet to the day he died there was a hot little pinprick of regret that any of it had been necessary. He had been courageous, he had been heroic. But he was not proud of it.

True heroes seldom are.

I first saw my father as a hero the day I as a little boy living on South Webster Street in Indianapolis decided I was old enough to cross the street and do some exploring. I found a length of rope and - as any six-year-old would be - was excited by the possibilities of fun to be had. So I picked it up and began to trot home to experiment with tying knots, etc.

Unfortunately, the rope was what the man around the corner used to start his lawnmower with, and when he saw me walking off with it, he shouted at me to bring it back. Of course, this scared the hell out of me and I ran for home with the neighbor in hot pursuit.

It became apparent to me that I would not reach the safety of our front door before I was captured by what I percieved was a raving maniac. So I dove into the bushes and crouched in a casement, and the neighbor started clawing his way toward me, cursing.

Just as I thought he would reach me and pull me out and do God-knew-what, I heard the front door bang open. My dad stood there, and although I later towered above him on that day he appeared as a giant.

To the best of my recollection, the converation started with Dad saying "Hey, asshole, what the fuck are you doing with my boy?" It was not said gently, either. The neighbor was given the option of backing off or being killed with Dad's bare hands. He wisely chose the latter, and I was instructed to give the man his rope, and he was instructed in no uncertain terms to come to my Dad if there was a problem with me. 

Dad was a cash register repairman working for the National Cash Register Company from the time of my earliest memory. But as I said, he set his sights high. He worked during the day and nights and even weekends he took college and tech classes on the G.I. Bill and became an electronic engineer. He was promoted and we moved to NCR world headquarters in Dayton, Ohio.

One of Dad's last achievements - and like his others, he never bragged about it, I only learned of this at his funeral - was the design of an ATM to be placed on board Navy warships. The requirements were so daunting that almost no one thought it could be done. But Dad did it.

It's funny how you think that, knowing the time is coming, you will be able to handle the loss of your father. You steel yoursellf to deliver the eulogy and think you can handle it with aplomb, how you think you can keep the tears and other outward expressions of grief - real, burning, grief - for a private moment.

But then you convulse and choke back a sob, and then you have to pause to regain a bit of composure. When this happened to me, I looked out at the guests, and so many of them were weeping with me. And I realized that I was not alone in my loss nor my grief; and that I had truly been raised and influenced by the greatest man that most of the world had never heard of. To this day I think my most valuable inheritance was not the material things of the will, but the things I was taught; and mostly when I have failed it has b een because I had gone astray from these things.

If your father has passed on to the next life, God speed him and God bless you and comfort you in the loss that is ever-present. And in the moments - and they come, do they not? - when you wish you could have one more talk with the "old man"; when yu want to get his advice; then think back on the days when he was with you, and it will come to you, I promise.

And if your father is still with you, treasure these days and honor him. And if you have a difference with him, then know that the day is coming when you will wish you could have even that contentious conversation again. Then change your tone and tell him you love him. If you don't, I promise you you will wish you had when you give his eulogy.

Happy Father's Day to every father, son, daughter, and wife. God Bless You All.

1 comment:

David Miklasevich said...

Hello,

Sorry to hear about your Father. Last night I googled your Father's name but also Charlie Allman and Elmer Bradshaw.

I knew your Father while at NCR. I was out of college and he helped me enormously in my first job.

We worked together closely -- I built his first spreadsheet so he could create and change the sales forecast and budgeting with Elmer Bradshaw and stop using the taped together paper sheets (the sales team in Rockville was shocked how quickly the budgets and forecasts could be changed shortly thereafter), he showed me the underground tunnels on the NCR complex, the warehouse next to building 26, he gave me rides on his Harley in Building 26's parking lot and I helped him work on the ATM machines that went on Navy ships. Your Father designed and put the "stripping" on the ATM machines. Several times, I went with Floyd to the NCR plant south of Dayton to help put on the stripping. When the stripping was put in the ATM machines, Floyd had some outfit in Washington DC to ensure electrical signals did not emanate from them.

Your Father was a great guy who always helped others at NCR, always had a laugh and always worked hard.

Dave Miklasevich (925.337.1922)

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