I know blogging has been slow, and I apologize for that.
But it’s gonna be slower for a while. My dad died last night (January 23), and I was reminded by my cousin Pamela that he died 15 years to the day after his father, Charles Thayer Featherstone, died in 2002. I hope this is not a pattern.
At any rate, I have no ideas at this point when regular, proper, religious blogging (as opposed to me merely riffing off news items in my thoughtful and pessimistic way) will resume. Have faith. Things may be happening, and while I’m not entirely hopeful — I have learned not to hope anymore — there are possibilities at work out there.
About my dad. Charles Leslie Featherstone was born on September 25, 1943, in Provo, Utah, to Charles and Avis Featherstone. A little bit about our middle names. It has been the custom in my family, since the first Charles Featherstone in this lineage emerged from Ohio in the 1840s, to take the middle names of sons from the mother’s family. I am Charles Howard, named after my my mother’s father, Howard Marsh. My father’s middle name came from his maternal grandfather, Leslie Primo, a French-Canadian who married sweet Sophia Carlson on the dry plains of Eastern Montana.
I’m unsure where Grandpa’s middle name comes from, save that someone on his maternal grandmother’s side had it.
Dad played baseball, and was apparently very good at it. He likely could have been a professional, and for years he regretted not pursuing that. But he also wanted to be an Army officer, though in the late 1950s, his astigmatism kept him out of West Point. He attended Washington State University where he majored in Science (he told me a chemistry degree, which he really wanted, required foreign languages, at that time German and Russian, and he was never very good at languages), and then received a commission as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army upon graduation in 1964. His specialty as artillery, and he spent 18 months or so in West Germany before returning to the United States, where he ran the rifle range at Ft. Lewis training troops bound for Vietnam. That’s where I was born.
He spent a year in Vietnam, something he promised to write about — apparently, my first birthday in 1968 was a traumatic day he has only described to me as “mass killing.” I don’t know if he ever did. After that, he specialized in air defense artillery, and even spent a year in the South Pacific helping to test the Safeguard anti-ballistic missile system. After that, he learned he wasn’t going to be promoted past the rank of captain — in fact, he was, for a time in the mid-1970s, the ranking captain in the US Army.
My father was a gifted mathematician. He could do sums in his head faster than then most folks could do them on a calculator or a cash register, and it was always amusing to see him calculate his change faster than the clerk could. And more accurately. I, of course, inherited none of that. He did a masters degree in some kind of advanced math at the Naval Post-Graduate School in Monterey, California, I think creating a type of statistical analysis of small arms fire still used today. I have seen his thesis, and it makes no sense to me.
Because, well, it’s higher math.
After the Army, he worked as a program manager for General Dynamics in Pomona, California. He wasn’t an engineer — he hired and wrangled engineers. And he worked for GD for 15 years, I think, until they laid him off with the downsizing of the California defense industry at the end of the Cold War. That was a crisis in his life, and one that changed him for the better once he faced himself.
My parents didn’t have a particularly good marriage, at least not from my standpoint, though they did both love each other. To get some sense of how they functioned, just watch the first few seasons on Mad Men, and see how Don and Betty Draper relate to each other. That was my parents’ marriage. Toward me, my father was for a long time violent and indifferent. But he was my dad, and while I was terrified of him, I also also ached to please him. And I wanted his approval.
I got it. When he faced his demons after losing his job at General Dynamics, after his second marriage went kablooey, he saw who he’d been, and what that had done to me, and he changed. He was kind, supportive, encouraging, and a good friend.
During the third act of his life, he taught math in the Rialto public schools, and focused mostly on teaching remedial students. He was good at teaching high school (a few days at a junior high, however, left him anxious, exhausted, and hospitalized for stress), and he also coached girls junior-varsity basketball, which he loved no end.
His mom’s death a few years ago allowed him to retire early. Which he did.
His death came suddenly and without any warning.
This is my favorite family photo. It’s from 1973, and we were living in Colorado Springs at the time. I was either in or had finished kindergarten, and we would soon move to Monterey. My mom was going to modeling school in Denver at the time (you can see January Jones playing her, right?) and that meant sticking me in the Ft. Carson daycare. Dad would come and pick me up in the afternoons, and he was kind. He would sometimes bring me bubblegum cigars. (After one work-related trip in Colorado Springs, dad brought me home a great big jawbreaker, and after that — for years — I would always await his return from business trips in the hopes he would bring me something, though I don’t recall he ever did.) Because of that, I will always associate that uniform with redemptive kindness. It was safety, even if he wasn’t always safe.
I will miss him.