I have a letter from Marge, in Louisville, Kentucky. She is 32 years old and she writes:
“I wish my father could be alive to see me, I just graduated from college amidst the coronavirus and am so proud of myself but nobody else is. I hope he would be, too, but I will never know. I started college when Dad was alive and he never got to see me finish before his pancreatic cancer. Is that stupid of an adult like me to want someone to be proud?”
Marge, I remember when I was 6 or 7 years old. I remember the following day explicitly: It was summer. My father and I were in the garage. I was shirtless and sunburned, sitting before a huge Westinghouse floor fan, eating a popsicle.
My father had just finished changing the oil in the Ford. He always had a cool garage. Back before terms like “man cave” were used we just called them garages. He had a workbench, millions of tools,
auto equipment, torque wrenches, and various other welding supplies. And jet posters. Always jet posters.
My father was a frustrated fighter pilot.
If you would have asked him which outlandish wish he could have had granted—this would have been true for him at any age—he would have answered, “I wanna be a fighter pilot.”
It was an obsession with him. He aimed his whole adolescent life toward being a fighter pilot. When he was a young man, he went to take the preliminary pilot physical and the doctor discovered that he was mostly deaf in one ear. The doctor sent him away without even a “Gee, I’m sorry, kid.”
My father was a mess after that. So as a grown man, he did a lot of sitting in the garage, looking at jet posters. On the walls of his garage were—this is not an exaggeration—thousands of posters. They had faded with…