My dad’s birthday is March the fifth. Today he would have been 101 years old. This post is written in his honor and in his memory.
My dad had a hobby that not too many folks around us had. Yep, we were the family with the giant TV antenna on our roof. My dad was a ham radio operator.
Most nights after dinner, my dad would go downstairs into the basement where he had his “shop.” The “shop” was a room built in the corner of our basement where he kept his tools and had a couple work benches. In one corner of his shop was his ham radio equipment. The equipment was a collection of metal boxes with various knobs and dials. My dad also had a heavy microphone on a stand.
The shop was a messy room. One wall had a supply of “tubes” which he used when he had his own business as a TV repairman. The walls over the L-shaped work benches were made of pegboard and were a disarray of tools hanging in an unorganized and scattered pattern. The wall behind the ham radio equipment was lined with “postcards” and a world map. The “postcards” had been sent by those he had made contact with over the radio waves. The map pinpointed, with bright red dots, the areas he had contacted using his ham radio equipment.
Later in the evening, when he went upstairs, he often mentioned what country he had spoken to that evening. “I talked with someone at the South Pole today.” “King Hussain was on tonight.” As a kid, I didn’t think much about it. It was just what my dad did.
If I happened to be in the basement and heard my dad talking over the radio waves, the conversations didn’t seem all that interesting to me. It seemed mostly like he and someone else were discussing strength of the signals. I heard words like “QSO”, “73s”, and my dad’s call letters “K0CRU” – “Charlie Roger United.”
Years ago, when my mom broke up that house and moved into a villa, the “postcards” were taken down and put in a shoe box. I took that shoe box, and it’s been in my basements for over 20 year with only a glance now and then.
Last night, I spent a couple hours with those postcards. It turns out there are 134 postcards in that shoe box. Thirty-seven of the postcards are from foreign countries, and ninety-seven are from the United States. The oldest card in each category is 1955. The newest postcard from a foreign country is from 1974. The newest postcard sent from the United States is 1985.
Even the years tell a story. There are lots of postcards from the 1950s. And then lots of postcards from the 1970s. Nothing from the 1960s. I’m not sure why there were no postcards from the 1960s, but the sixties were the busy years in our family of six kids. The eighties had a few postcards with a single one from 1985 – right around the time my dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
The countries include Antarctica, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Columbia, Liberia, Mocambique, New Zealand, Tokyo, Uruguay and more, of course. The states include Alaska, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington and more, of course.
Most of the postcards feature the call letters of the radio operator. Some of postcards showcase something from their state. Some have a humorous picture. On the back of the postcards were places to fill in all kinds of radio information. Most of the cards had an area where a note could be squeezed in. I read many notes expressing enjoyment at the conversation – “great talking with ya” and wishes to meet again – “Hope to see you in the air waves again.”
Some postcards asked my dad to send a confirmation of their contact. Apparently, this kind of confirmation was needed when applying for license upgrades. I am sure my dad complied. The early postcards cost two cents to mail.
As a kid, because of my dad’s hobby, I knew what a “phone patch” was. I can still see the small, square metal box with a black switch and the words “PHONE PATCH” handwritten on it. Somehow my dad would be talking with someone over the radio, call someone here in the U.S. and “patch” them through, so they could talk with each other.
The phone patch was often used for Father Jorge and Father John. These two friends of my parents were Redemptorist priests who were stationed in Brazil. Father Jorge was also a ham radio operator. From what I recall, these priests only came back to the U.S. every seven years. My dad and Father Jorge would regularly make contact over the ham radio waves. My dad would “patch” Father Jorge or Father John through, so one or the other could talk with his respective mother.
My dad also used his hobby to enrich someone else’s life, too. I’ll refer to that someone else as “J.” J was a young man, probably in his 20s or 30s. Most every night, during the good weather months, J would walk all around our neighborhood. J’s walk was struggled and staggered, much like a drunkard, but it wasn’t because he was drunk. He was disabled for some reason. His speech, while understandable, was slurred, and his face was disfigured as well.
Most ignored J, but I always said hello to him, sometimes chatting for a bit. My dad and J connected as well. My dad got J interested in amateur radio. I don’t recall exactly if J got a license and equipment, but I vaguely recall he got some kind of initial license. I know J would often stop by the house to talk with my dad. I would guess, because of his disability, J was lonely – at least at times. I like to think because of my dad, he was a little less lonely.
We often think of our hobbies as selfish indulgences of our interests. Something we like to do – for ourselves. But is that all it really is? Our hobbies do enrich our own lives as we follow our creative pursuits.
I like to think though, that our hobbies, our example, our sharing of what we love enriches and inspires those in our lives. Even if those in our lives are only there for a brief time – a few hours on a summer evening, some shared moments on a Saturday morning in cyberspace, a passing conversation in person where someone’s passion is expressed and absorbed by another.
The impacts of our creative works may even reach those beyond our current and direct contact. Who knows what heart we may heal or spirit we may lift when we share a photo we have taken, a poem we have comprised, a story we’ve told, a picture we’ve painted, or a post we have written? Is it too demanding to say we may even have a responsibility to do so?
So,Thanks, Dad, for having your hobbies. For giving me the example of interest and passion pursued. I accept this generous gift, and I intend to carry on the tradition as best as I can. I hope you do, too.