by Glenn Fairman
My father was born on Nov. 18th 1933 to Fred and Mary Fairman in the Los Angeles area. They have both since passed on but their marriage produced seven children: My father Fred Jr., My lovely Aunt Marylyn, My handsome uncle Mike, My uncle Dennis the Marine, and “Little Dorothy” who introduced me to the Beatles and pop music when she lived with us for a time. I have not forgotten my Uncle Larry and beloved Aunt Martha who have passed — Larry as a young man and Martha some years back from cancer.
Now, my father married my mother Carole and they raised seven children: me, my brother Gary, sister Jeannene, brothers Eric, Shawn, and Dennis — and little sister Stephanie. My father and I were both the eldest of seven. Dad and mom have twelve grandchildren.
My father was a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne, and the fond memories of his experiences were the subject of many stories; and they were highly interesting — even after having heard them many hundreds of times. My dad once served as an Honor Guard at the White House, a story that filled him and his family with pride.
My father worked at several jobs, but his main employment was as a Slitter Operator for Bernard Epps which became MSL and finally Kaiser. For those of you who do not know, a Slitter Operator cuts 50,000 pound rolls of coiled steel into strips that are in turn rolled and made into tubing. It was here that he supplied his family with our livelihood and their homes in Pico Rivera, West Covina, Rowland Heights, and finally in Rialto.
These are the bare vital statistics of my dad. However, they do not reveal my father’s essence — an essence that I initially found very elusive to pin down. Now, those of you who know me even marginally are quite familiar with the knowledge that I have always had my nose in some book or another. And in thinking about a eulogy for my dad, I really wish that he had written something that I could analyze and distil, so that I could offer up some declarative statements to you on who my father was — and what he meant to us.
And then it occurred to me that my father had indeed written a book: and in fact, we all write such books. We write a book with the lives that we live — not only with words, but in our actions. Some of us write long boring ones and others write steamy romance novels. Some books are sacred and some are profane. Some are heroic and others are merely comic books. With your actions, you are all writing a book right now and this should be a sobering thought.
Well, back on point: they say you can’t judge a book by its cover. But if you dig a little deeper, you can find evidence lying just below the surface that reveals the essence of a thing — of a life. The book of Fred Fairman is an amazing one: even if there are no dragons or car chases. And I would like to take the time to summarize a few chapters of that book as I see it now — now that the book has an ending.
Chapter one is called “The Look.” Now those of you who knew my Dad know what it was when he gave you that look. It could melt steel into lemonade and it was what I remember as a child about him. (My children tell me that I have inherited that look.) Not that he was a tyrant or mean, but because there was something about him that inspired awe. You don’t hear that word too much anymore — now that our young children are considered our equals and our best friends. I think that I preferred my mother more then because she was an earthbound creature like me. But for me as a child, my dad was kind of a demigod; and like the Greek gods, he could be: playful, fun, interesting beyond all bounds; yet there was that lightning bolt he carried. When he gave you that look, the optimal response was “check yourself!” Being precocious and having a big mouth, I seemed to get that look often. That look could be seen through windows or over fences, and most of the time it was when I was doing something “inappropriate” — which just added to the whole demigod thing, since it just fed into the notion that he always seemed to know what I was up to. Intimidating? Oh Yeah!
A score of pages later we have a chapter called “The Standard.” Now in a nutshell, the standard was the “line that we were expected to toe.” We were to do nothing to either disgrace ourselves or bring negativity to our family. In school, we were expected to try our best. We were to make use of every advantage that had eluded my father and mother and we were enjoined to be constructive people. We were expected to rise to the level in which we were individually capable of achieving–whatsoever that was. This translated not only to grades, but more importantly, to our deportment — how we presented ourselves to others.
My dad expected us to show deference to adults and to be polite and cordial. My father, whatever his true feelings about a person, was always cordial and polite. He would say: “Thank you, young man” to strangers or “Thank You, I appreciate that.” Heaven help you if some word came from school that you were “screwing around.” I once brought home a note that said I was jumping and clowning around in school-most likely with my friend Mike. My dad gravely said to me: “You like acting like an idiot, eh?” He made me jump up and down and say “I’m an idiot” over and over and after about 45 minutes, the humor of the entire experience had somehow worn very thin. My dad was deadly serious in these matters. Dad often devised punishments that were highly effective and they worked because I can remember them vividly today. He liked to combine calisthenics with his correction techniques: jumping jacks, push-ups, sit-ups, duck-walks. No “naughty stool” or “time out” for us. It was more like: “Go out in the backyard and pick up anything out there that doesn’t grow.” Punishment and yard work! — my dad loved multi-tasking.
But it worked! We all stayed out of trouble and we didn’t roam the streets. We all graduated from high school and went to police academies, beauty colleges, AA, bachelor and master’s degrees. No one saw the inside of a jail except for me and that was when I was picked up on a forty-dollar hitchhiking warrant. I still remember the disgusted look on my parents’ face when they bailed me out long after midnight with forty dollars worth of nickels, dimes, and quarters from the change jar. I was Glenn Fairman: Public enemy #1. I rarely saw my father drink alcohol of any kind and it was not kept in the house — that would have violated the standard. You see, even my dad held himself accountable to the standard.
A dozen or so chapters later we come to one that I guess should be entitled, “Sacrifice” for lack of a better term — only my pop would not have called it such. A working man who gets up at 4:30 in the morning to drive forty miles to work in traffic and doesn’t get home till 5 or so doesn’t have a lot of free time to self-actualize or to contemplate the universe — especially when he has a half dozen mouths to feed and clothe on one income. This means no lavish vacations, nothing spent on yourself and putting yourself last even if it means going without decent clothes, a jacket or shoes so that your kids can have them. I really don’t know how they both did it — stretching a dollar and pinching the nickel till the buffalo squeaked. But even when times were tough we always had good food. We went to school with the proper materials and there was always some treat that we got.
It sends a chill down my spine when I remember him out front in the dark predawn getting in his car and hearing him hacking his lungs up from his smoking before driving away in the old car. And every day, he would get up and do it again. Sure, he could have shortened the drive considerably by living closer to L.A.; but he wanted us to live in the suburbs and away from any influences that might derail us from our collective destinations. I literally saw him with shoes that were falling apart and he didn’t complain. He was just walking the walk that most people only talk about. He was definitely “old school.”
A little later we come to a section called: “A Simple Man.” Now, one should not misconstrue my meaning, for I offer this up with glowing intent. My dad didn’t need much; he didn’t spent money on himself. He liked simple unpretentious food. I don’t think he ever ate lobster and he only tried shrimp once in the Convalescent Home because his eyesight was so poor and because I told him that it was chicken. He loved: hamburgers, pastramis, Orange Julius, macaroni and potato salad. He watched TV and I don’t remember him going to a movie when I was little except to a drive-in with a carload of kids and the infamous “pee-can”. He never went on a cruise and I think the last time he was on a plane was when he jumped out of one. He liked talking to people and helping them. He wasn’t religious but he loved the Christ story. He hated injustice and seeing the little guy get the raw deal. He was patriotic and loved his country. He loved Sinatra, animals, and sports. He loved humor and I wish I could relate to you his healthy infectious laugh.
He could be angry for a moment and tender the next. He was a giant. I only saw him really cry two times, although I’m sure that there were more. One was when he watched me walk away from him after we had quarreled again and I set out to hitchhike across the country in search of my foolish self. But the most poignant was when I was just a boy and he received a call telling him that his brother Larry had been killed in a car accident. Then that giant of a man slumped to his knees, and clutching the receiver of the wall phone in his fist, he buried his face in the wall paper and shook and sobbed so that I thought he would die of grief.
My dad was stoically simple and didn’t need or want much because he knew what he was all about. He loved his family and took great pleasure in them. He would diminish so that we might increase. He had enough internalized self-dignity to know what was right and what his duties were. And he took his duty seriously. He endured through a myriad of financial problems stemming from his disability but he and my mother dealt with them. When some men would have said, “screw it,” he dug in his heels and persevered. He loved my mother and was married to her for fifty-five years of beautiful and hard times. And in the process, he passed through the fire and came out a more gracious, more forgiving, and more thankful man.
The final chapter of this wonderful book is the best and I suppose it should be called “The Payoff,” but it could be subtitled: “Ye shall reap what ye sow.” Now, most of us have varying interpretations involving what they mean by success. My dad had no pretensions about the big bankroll or the home on the hill or in idle days of tropical leisure and luxury. His payoff was us — his kids; and more so, his grandchildren. In passing through the fire he became “Papa:” the kindly old grandfather. Bill Cosby tells a similar story about his parents’ metamorphosis into grandparents in one of his funniest routines. When we all eventually had families of our own, Mom and Dad would do day-care and the kids loved “Nana and Papa” They would say: “We want to go see papa.” I would say incredulously, “Why Do you want to go over there?” They replied: “Because Papa buys us candy and ice cream and doughnuts. Papa’s funny. Papa plays with us.” I then would look at my wife Darla and say “Are you sure you are dropping them off at the right house?”
But it was true. While I had been busy self-absorbed with studying and working myself ragged, my dad had reinvented himself. I hadn’t noticed, but he had long since ceased being more “fire than blood” and now was the apple of his grandchildren’s eyes. And irony of ironies, I had become the standard bearer; it was I who gave “The Look.” I had become my father –and a poor facsimile of him at best. How exceedingly bright the fires of irony reveal to us our misperceptions and melt away that silly veil of pride and self delusion.
When Dad got sick in 2010, the payoff continued to reap its dividend. All of us stood by him and the name “Fairman” at St. Bernadines became synonymous with “flash mob.” Grandchildren spent the night with him and I know that he had more visitors than anyone — much to the staff’s consternation. When he went to the Convalescent Home the throng followed like he was Elvis. And not content to leave him there to languish, we worked him out every day. We walked and exercised him as payback for all the wonderful things he did for us. And damn it if he didn’t walk again! We piled up all the weights on the vertical press so that he could rehab and once again stand and I swear that in time he lifted them up and did 40 reps with them. My dad became the Charles Atlas of Physical Therapy. And finally, even after the man we nicknamed “Dr. Death” swore that he wouldn’t make it — he went home. We got another year with dad — redeeming our efforts and his. And it was through this process that I finally became reconciled with my father; and discovered in my soul that he had never stopped loving me.
In the spring of 2011, when Dad went back in the hospital and things went awry, the payoff continued still. The same mob returned and even though his responses were muted, he fully appreciated the company — even if he was so tired. On that last day, an old man in Critical Care Unit #22 lay spent and withering. He could not talk or open his eyes anymore. He could offer nothing of himself — all used up. So many people die alone for various reasons — but on a very late Saturday night, despite hospital regulations, over a dozen people spirited themselves through an unmonitored emergency side door like they were sneaking backstage to a rock concert to honor my Father and keep vigil. They whispered to him, shed tears, and even told jokes about this loving man who has forever burned his imprint into our lives. My father continues to collect his payoff. He still reaps what he has sown. And while this book is finished, I believe a new one has begun.
For those of you who might examine your own book and find that its content is perhaps a bit shaky, or its theme is unclear, might I point you to the following verse from that Book of Books: the book that promises to turn all sorrow into joy and make all old and tired things new. In the Gospel of John 11:25 it reads: “and Jesus said unto her, I am the Resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” For those who have no hope or faith, death holds only dread and manifold terrors or it renders this life an utter absurdity of eventual extinction, of meaninglessness — of passing from the memory of the world. For those of you who partake of the paradox of the tragic and beautiful cross: the symbol of transcendent suffering redeemed unto an unspeakably abundant promise — your book, the Book of Life in Christ, proceeds on forever and ever, Amen.
Glenn Fairman writes from Highland, Ca. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. • (912 views)