Growing up, my father and I had a strained relationship. He was fanatically neat and organized, I was (and am) content to live in “controlled chaos”. We were never close, nor did we do things many sons and fathers do. I can count maybe a half dozen things we did together in all those years from seeing a 49er game to my going with him on a trip to Las Vegas in the early 80s to attend a Mobil Oil Convention.
It has only been since he died 6 years ago that I have also seen some similarities. I’ve come to believe that a lot of the difficulties has been because we were both hard headed. With a background of both German and Scots, was there any other outcome? My summer in Sequoia was a result of a drag-out fight one evening that made me so angry that I just got in the car and started driving south on Hwy 99 all night. With no destination in mind.
He’d tell me to do things and I would rebel. He was an officer in the Army and told me to go to OCS, so naturally I was content to be a Private. Even though the Army asked me 3 times if I wanted to go to OCS.
He was such a disciplinarian that I made my late aunt laugh when I told her that Army Basic Training didn’t bother me a bit. It was a summer camp with push-ups.
It was only on his deathbed that I told him that I should have done some of the things he told me.
Never could understand why he never cared to go camping with me. It was only after he died that my mother said that he lived in a tent in Korea for 2 years. He was of the generation who volunteered en mass to join the military after Pearl Harbor. He left UCLA finishing 3 years and a semester to join the Army in late 1942. He never returned to get his degree after the war because he felt he should start making some money. He joined the 82nd Airborne, telling his mother that “promotions were fast”. It was after the war when he met my mother that she asked him if he considered why promotions were so fast. It’s the Airborne who jump behind enemy lines and are immediately surrounded.
He finished jump school at Ft Benning, and was helping a friend jump out when he fell and got his leg stuck in the static line. Ended up recovering in a hospital for 6 months while his unit was sent overseas. I doubt that I would be here writing this but for that hospital stay as after the Sicily jump his unit suffered 80% causalities – KIA and wounded.
The Army offered him a medical discharge, but he wanted to stay in so he ended up as the Special Services officer on the Queen Elizabeth as they ferried troops from New York to Southampton.
He had a strict moral code. One that was unbendable. “The losers in life always have someone else to blame”, he told me more than once. Which is true. To assign your problems to outside factors abrogates your own responsibility for running your life.
I can remember just one compliment he gave me. It was when we had to get up at oh-dark-thirty to meet the bus at the main post office at 0500. I was going to the draft induction center, military branch and station then unknown. We walked through a crowd of draft protestors in the darkness, and he saw me get on the bus.
“The Army’s getting a good man”, he simply said.
For the 1st 10 years of my life, I grew up in Los Angeles. I viewed that as an idyllic time. I didn’t realize that the import-export business he had from his father was slowly failing. His main business was with the Philippines, and I can remember him going once a year on the Pan American Stratocruiser, and his main customer sending us a case of San Miguel beer every Christmas.
He bought a franchise in Fresno, and worked many hours trying to make a profit and support his family. During the first month or so, he was delivering his accounts to the clients and they told him that they didn’t owe him any money. They had paid the seller for 6 months in advance. The seller, of course, said nothing about this in the sales negotiations. So he worked for free for 6 months, still paying the office rent and the home rent.
I suppose these days one would sue the seller but I suspect that would have been like getting blood out a turnip, a lot of effort and energy expended in vain.
In any event, he didn’t even consider that but just buckled down.
He sold the Fresno franchise in the late 60s, and during the 80s, when I returned to Fresno selling a related service, some of the old customers fondly remembered him. Noting my name, they asked “Are you related to William Brandt?”
I guess all we really leave behind in this world is our reputation, and how we affected others.
So today at the VA cemetery I left behind all my resentments and thanked him for instilling in me a sense of right and wrong.
And staying with his family through the hardships.