Dad, Creator of that weird, electronic cult we called home

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My Dad was always searching for the next big thing to occupy his spare time. You have to admire a guy who didn’t let eight kids get in the way of having fun or fulfilling life dreams.  When a new motorcycle would show up in the garage right after he sold the old one, or when he finally bought an airplane with a partner, my mother would sigh and say “Your father needs toys.”  I would nod and think, “Who doesn’t like toys?”

I conjure Dad in my mind:  tall, blond, with hands jammed down in pockets and weight slung to one hip.  His voice was a tad on the soft side, ears a bit on the long. He had a quick temper that would scare the hell out of anyone, but the guy could not hold a grudge for long, for which I was grateful when in highschool I drove our Plymouth station wagon over a guard rail at the liquor store and bent the exhaust pipe 180 degrees back into the car.  I was afraid to drive home. Not only did I think the car would self-combust with a tail pipe jammed into the exhaust system, but I was afraid of Dad.

Timing bad news becomes an art for kids with strict parents, and I waited to tell him until right after lunch, when his stomach was full and there were plenty of witnesses.  He checked the car and was laughing within minutes, bending the rusted pipe back with his hands. He never even asked what I was doing at the liquor store.  At that moment I had a new respect for the guy.  I felt a soul kinship that went beyond father-daughter friendship and I felt that way until he died.

The way I see him, Dad was a curious, impetuous child at heart.  He would try things for a few days, and if his first experience was not a good one, he would throw the whole mess into the garbage and be done with it. He didn’t waste his time.

Tennis, for instance, was tried a few times (resulting in some injury) and then the racquet thrown to some dark corner of the garage (“Goddamn dangerous sport!”).  Specialized tools bought on an energized Saturday morning, sat unused on the workbench by Sunday night (“What SOB designed this piece of shit?”).   Exercise weights and straps meant to trim pounds gained after quitting his four-pack-a-day cigarette habit were relegated to the top shelf of his bedroom (“I haven’t lost one goddamn pound and my back still hurts like a son-of-a-bitch!”).

There were golf clubs, cross-country skis and his mail-order business debris, darkroom enlargers, intricate ham radios and unidentifiable electronics with meters and switches.  Then there was the stained glass period.  When Dad got older he got artsy and worked with stained glass, cutting and piecing together delicate slices of color despite his unsteady hands.  He saw beauty in each swirl of glass and created window designs reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright for each one of us. All his cutting tools are in a box on an old picnic table, next to a stack of flying books.

Over the years there were also Dad’s “special” projects, reserved for long winter nights and snowy weekends. Don’t get the idea that these projects were his favorite thing to do. These projects were an electronic albatross that produced incredible combinations of swear words.  These projects were Heathkits.

Being an old radio engineer, Dad had a natural ability for wiry gadgets.  Back in the ‘40s he kept radio stations across Wisconsin tuned to their frequencies.  So when he was married, Heath hired him to help in the advertising department and he worked there for many years. He was the embodiment of Heath’s primary target market: male, with a dangerous amount of electronic knowledge and enough ego to convince himself that making his own TV set was a good idea.

Most families, when they wanted a new radio or TV, would go out and buy one, but not us.  We had to wait months for the final product to come out of production from the basement.

Many a wintery night when I descended downstairs to practice the piano, there was Dad, hunched under a light at the ping-pong table, scouring for a particular miniscule part.  Scattered piles of color-coded transistors, resisters, circuit boards and wires accompanied a two-inch-thick manual of electronic hieroglyphics.  Peering through his bifocals at a transistor the size of a fingernail, he would solder it down with a deft smoky glob and systematically cross it off the manual with a scratch of a pen.

By March Dad would emerge from the basement on a Saturday afternoon and present us with clock radios that matched our bedrooms, an intercom system that connected the kitchen to the laundry room, or even better–an integrated stereo/TV system that spanned 10 feet of the rec room, probably the first surround-sound-like system of the early ‘70s.  Everything he made always worked.  For years.

At one point, everything electric in the house was a Heathkit made by Dad, including an early microwave oven, a Thomas organ befitting a church balcony and the front doorbell.  Visitors with keen eyes would remark suspiciously on the Heath brand name once they realized it was everywhere in the house, as if we were part of some weird electronic cult.

Not long ago I found an orange AM clock radio in the garage at my mom’s house.  It was the radio from the laundry room where I spent hours as a child, either ironing or sewing clothes, before I discovered boys and learned how to drive.  Thrilled to find something made by Dad, I plugged it in and turned the dial.  It still worked.

For years after Dad died there was something intriguing and reassuring about opening a closet or garage in the old house and seeing the remnants of his life still there.  It was as if he was just down the hall, or reading in his chair in the other room.  But then my mom started cleaning everything out and piled it all in the garage.  The final resting place for cast-off stories of a life fully lived.

Whoever comes across that garage sale could really find something.

 

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This entry was posted in Body, mind and spirit, Children, Dad, Fearless Living, Happiness and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

240 Responses to Dad, Creator of that weird, electronic cult we called home

  1. Kit says:

    There is so much love for Dad coming out of this post! Makes me smile. Good memories. I thought he was a two-pack a day smoker–Eeesh !
    Very nice, Mimi, brought tears to my eyes.

  2. what a sweet post. i enjoyed reading the memories of your Father.

  3. This is a beautiful post and tribute — definitely made me teary just reading it as I considered my own Papa…

    Now I’m off to fill out his Father’s Day card. Because it just seems right to do so while I’m in this nostalgic state of mind. Thank you for the inspiration!

  4. emjayandthem says:

    …”It was as if he was just down the hall, or reading in his chair in the other room.”

    brilliant and beautiful, all in one!
    MJ

  5. What a wonderful, wonderful story! Thanks for telling us.

  6. Nicolle says:

    Such beautiful memories that you are sharing. Thank you.

    I can just imagine how much fun it was to watch your dad put all of those things together and they actually work.

  7. David says:

    I really like your blog. I was wondering if you could check mine out. Come and see an 11 year old’s view on all things baseball. Please feel free to offer any advice.
    -David
    http://bleacherboy.wordpress.com/

  8. Anonymous says:

    Awesome story about Dad and remarkably detailed.

    • Mimi says:

      Well, only as detailed as I remember him to be. Someone else could remember it all very differently! Thanks for the nice comment

  9. Sounds like quite the capable guy. The gadgets and toy obsession sounds like people i know. Awesome post. Congrats on fp’d

  10. kensbackhome says:

    Great story about your Dad. I got a chuckle reading about the Heathkits. My brother was an electronic tinkerer when we were teenagers, so I remember them well… 🙂

  11. Thirty-two years ago my son and I assembled 2 Heath Kit digital alarm clocks. One of them is still running and neither one of knows, or cares, which one of us built it. It was a fun project, indoors, during a cold Colorado Winter and we both have fond memories of the time together.

    Your father and the Heath Company brought a lot of families together.

    Thanks for this post,
    Allan

    • Mimi says:

      Wow! That is so cool. I even tried my hand at making a little black and white radio when I was little. Not the greatest at soldering that’s for sure! Thanks for commenting Allan. -Mimi

  12. Jim Foulkes says:

    A beautiful memory for Father’s Day. Thanks. Makes me want to go out to be garage and start building something.

  13. declanwhite says:

    You wire up them sentences well. That story works 😉

  14. declanwhite says:

    Out of writerly interest, how long did it take you to write that? I hope that’s an allowable question. Don’t mind it if it’s not. 🙂

    • Mimi says:

      Couple days. I am not quick. Thanks for commenting! -Mimi

      • declanwhite says:

        I wasn’t wondering at all if you’re quick, Mimi 🙂 It wasn’t a competitive question, as I don’t think it makes any differenc whether a good piece of writing is written quickly or slowly. The quality of the piece of writing overshadows that immediately. But it’s still just interesting in itself. If a person likes a piece of writing, they want to know a little about how it came about. That was why I was curious: about the piece more than the writer 😉 though of course the two must always be inseparable.

      • Mimi says:

        No competitiveness taken! And thank you for your comments.

  15. Kitty Schaub says:

    This made me very happy today 🙂 I always played with that orange radio when I stayed there.

  16. m lewis redford says:

    what a combination – Dads and radios

  17. love this…. from the red clock radio to the title “spiral bound notebook !

  18. 4myskin says:

    Wonderful post! My Dad builds things too…our joke is they are built to last, but you can’t lift them without tons of help! lol! Thanks for sharing your memories of your Dad. 🙂

    • Mimi says:

      That’s a good one. Yeah, we had trouble getting the organ from the basement to upstairs. Must have weighed 400 pounds! Thanks for commenting. -MImi

  19. Oh, Cuz, your writing just gets better and better! Having known your Dad, this is so spot-on. And if I hadn’t known him, your skillful writing would make me FEEL like I knew him. A perfect tribute for Father’s Day. God only knows what he’d do in this current cyber-age!!

  20. Tara says:

    Great post. Reminds me of the dad in the book “Cheaper by the Dozen.” it really makes me want to love your dad.

  21. leviclyburn says:

    Loved reading about the memories of your father. Your dad seemed like an amazing person. Thanks for the post!
    Consumed,
    ~Levi

  22. kubisignori says:

    wonderful,super dad
    kubisignori.wordpress.com

  23. Miguel says:

    This was truly something beautiful to read. Truly.

  24. lexiesnana says:

    Loved your post and got a chuckle out of it too.Your dad sounds like he was a wonderful man.

  25. pnwauthor says:

    A lovely and heartfelt tribute to your father. I’m sure he is smiling on the other side. Sounds like an interesting guy.

  26. jerryjobs980 says:

    It is a radio?

  27. I love this…..I grew up with Heath kits too. I loved when my Dad and I would spend evenings together putting them together. I was so intrigued by that soldering gun. Thanks for bringing back an old and very fond memory that I had let slide out of touch. You Matter! Smiles, Nancy

  28. Oh I know this guy– well not really but i really understand what you are saying. HEATHKITS ruled in the 50s and 60s.There was a fettish for them at My house too.. I miss that time period! nice post Mimi.

  29. Novelty says:

    There is child in every man.

  30. April Marie says:

    Father’s day is one of the most comical holidays to me, there’s just something about it that makes me smile. Pasta pictures, skinny ties, hand print t-shirts- those dads get it good!

  31. Bruce says:

    A really serious and funny read. I like the bit where you waited till after lunch so he had a full stomach and there were plenty of witnesses. An anti-climax as he laughed it off. Bruce

  32. I enjoyed reading your post.thank you for sharing.

  33. Good read! 😀 Following you now

  34. Thanks for this. A poignant reminder that we once made things, now we just buy them.

  35. site says:

    I love that blog layout . How did you make it!? Its very good!

  36. Caasi Tica says:

    Fathers are the BEST!!!!!!!!!!! 🙂

  37. thatmidcenturyfella says:

    Truly special story. Great work.

  38. jatimney says:

    I loved every word of this. I laughed and cried in about equal amounts. He sounds like an amazing guy.
    I lost my Dad in 2008 and I miss him every single day. A bit like yours; irreplaceable and inimitable.
    Thank you for writing such a lovely piece.

  39. susielindau says:

    Hello Fresh Pressed neighbor! I just read your story to my husband and we both ended up with tears in our eyes! The descriptions of your dad were so fantastic, I could just see him bending over all his gizmos and gadgets!
    I hale from Wisconsin too and can relate on so many levels. Excellent story!

    • Mimi says:

      Boy, it sounds like our fathers should have known each other! My Dad was a madman too, first in radio and TV, and then for Heath. He loved it and I ended up in advertising myself for many years. I can’t believe how great it is to be Freshly Pressed! Thanks for reading Susie. -Mimi

  40. 1stpeaksteve says:

    I just finished writing a post in my blog about my father who passed away a few years back. For some reason, I have not been in the mood to read any of the blogs from Freshly Pressed and just clicked on yours as a whim. Funny! Our fathers in some respect seem to be quite similar.

    My father has left me with a house that 3 years later we are still trying to sort out. But the things we find have been nothing short of entertaining. Most gathered through years of hobbies and with values that are hard to place. Old ham radio equipment, computer parts, adapters, and on and on.

    I recently had to toss out an old alarm clock which was no longer being used and somewhat worked. It was not easy to do. My father bought a kit and he and I spent many hours soldering wires to boards. He never turned me into an engineer but he gave me an idea on how to be a great father.

  41. Elisa Broihier says:

    How well I remember those long winter nights, our dad in the basement with the soldering iron. That smell always reminded me of the frankincense burned at midnight mass on Christmas. I liked the silvery splashes of solder that fell onto the table and hardened, like a decoration.

    You and I built a couple of Heathkits together, too, remember? The black & white transistor radio with the gigantic dial that was so ultra hip for two girls in junior high!

  42. Beautiful. I think Ill hug my father tomorrow.

  43. Great post. According to my mother, my dad couldn’t change a light-bulb. So, I learned the hard way, which included shooting myself across the kitchen floor when I was shocked by fooling around with the insides of my grandmother’s radio. A significant lesson was learned that day. Fortunately, fear wasn’t a problem, as I eventually learned to design integrated circuits, and built a world-wide semiconductor company. My grandfather was the likely impetus as he used to give me his failed electric motors to fool around with I used one of those to blow out the fuses for the motors running the freezer cases in our family store. Yeah, I learned everything the hard way.

    Congratulations on being freshly pressed.

  44. That was beautiful! Sounds like some awesome memories that won’t be forgotten. I noticed we have something in common-your blog name and my username both include spiral notebooks! Anyway, just wanted to say that your post was great, and congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  45. triptracker says:

    Great piece. Sometimes we forget that we celebrate fathers day to remember and cherish all those wonderful moments in live. Thanks for the reminder

  46. I love the picture you paint of your dad-its very vivid!

    Cheers,
    Courtney Hosny
    http://www.oneweektocrazy.com

  47. Beautiful piece! Congrats on being freshly pressed! 🙂

  48. Anonymous says:

    mmmhhh. nice piece you have ther

  49. fastcook says:

    Thanks, what a great way to remember Dad – and all of the dads.

  50. crampmystyle says:

    This was a beautiful post! I enjoyed reading about the memories of your dad, thank you for sharing! You truly are a wonderful writer!

  51. Fabulous post, and what a wonderful tribute to your dad!

    My father was an electronics development engineer, initially radio in the 1940s (like your Dad, I think) but mostly sound engineering, and as a kid I remember the record player and amp system he’d built complete with a bass speaker in a concrete pipe, tweaked with an acoustic doubler to get the low frequency resonances right. Even now (in his 80s) has the family home filled with gizmos, often built using Meccano parts as the frame to hold the electronics. The pipe-speaker’s still there, and when I was last visiting he was working up an idea for an ultrasonic burglar deterrent. There’s a manual to explain how they work.

    Again – great post, and thanks for sharing.

    • Mimi says:

      Yes! We still have a turntable set up and listen to Dad’s old Frank Sinatra records, etc. They fill the house with sound, as opposed to my daughter’s minimal MP3 downloads that are compressed to hell and hardly move three feet outward. At least she can tell the difference now. Thanks for writing!

  52. segmation says:

    Hi Mimi,
    I think my dad had the same radio but in tan! Your dad would have been proud of you. http://www.segmation.wordpress.com

  53. I really enjoyed reading this. It painted a vivid image of your dad. It also so reminded me of mine. If it was electronic and new tech ( 8 tracks etc.) or shortwave related, it ended up in our apartment. Thanks for sharing this.

  54. detanglingme says:

    What lovely memories to hold close. 🙂

  55. samacwns says:

    Wonderful memories…thank you for sharing!

  56. 50shadesofnonsense says:

    That’s a great insightful look at your dad and what he meant to you x my own dad is no longer with ne and we weren’t close so I am fascinated by those who are and were x

  57. Great Story Mimi! Made think of the great times I had with my dad.

  58. MegaTechToday says:

    Reblogged this on MegaTechToday.

  59. jmgoyder says:

    I discovered this on ‘Freshly Pressed’ – lovely article and beautifully written.

  60. MissMeddle says:

    This is a lovely, whimsical piece. I’m inspired to write one about my dad as well.
    Cheers.

  61. Lovely post ! good memories .very well written .do visit my blog , I write inspirational stories and share random thoughts ,i lost my mom 5 years back , but thankfully my dad is 80 and still living

  62. Tanzeel says:

    I lost my dad on 30th March 2012 but after reading this peace I am motivated enough to pen down my thoughts on him positively realizing the fact that everyone has to leave . Thanks for sharing : )

  63. jjyesitsme says:

    Nice post! dad’s and grandads, none of us would be here without them, please check out my blog, I was remembering my grandad just today!

  64. Just beautiful, i don’t know you but I can feel your story on an emotional level. How befitting, on Father’s day. You and your dad must have had some great adventures.

  65. tanushreesri says:

    i think what you write is brilliant.every work of yours is a master piece.i am so inspired by you now.i have just started my blog.i would be deeply obliged if you could go through it once and tell me the flaws.you know a kind of feedback.i know i write pathetic because i have zero experience and i am only a couple of days old too 😛
    so if you have some time then plz go through the blog once 🙂

    http://privyplace.wordpress.com/

  66. Very touching. I miss my dad every day too :*)

  67. Long-Distance Dad says:

    Beautiful post. Reminds me of my father down in the workshop on rainy Saturday afternoons.

  68. dakrizzz says:

    interesting, but too long…:(

  69. jbuggs1229 says:

    Mimi, this is so good! I wish I had known your dad better.

  70. Chad Crow says:

    Nice post, I really enjoyed it Please check out my blog @ onlychad.wordpress.com and subscribe if you like what you see! Thanks

    • Mimi says:

      Thanks Chad. How’d you get that music on your site?

      • Chad Crow says:

        I used soundcloud! It’s SUPER easy, visit soundcloud, set up an acount, once you have done that you can browse for music. Once you find the music you like, you hit the share button (normally located under the picture) and select wordpress, from there you can either get the short link, or customize the color of the music player, and then get the custom short link. Once you get the short link copy it and paste it under one of your post! It sounds hard but it’s not. Thanks for checking out my blog! 🙂

  71. Okese says:

    Reblogged this on okese.

  72. dadmemoirs says:

    What a beautiful tribute to your father. I’m a Dad myself, with two young boys. If they ever felt strongly enough to share my idiosyncrasies with others, I would be an incredibly proud father. Love it…

  73. jadieighties says:

    This is endearing, nostalgic, and a great way to memorialize someone who obviously produces “gifted kids”… Cheers to you and your father alike. 🙂

  74. geneshizz says:

    Good post! I just started blogging two weeks ago and I would love to hear your feedback on my posts! 🙂

  75. mirikush says:

    Very touching post Mimi 🙂
    It feels wrong not to follow you after reading it..

  76. My Dad and his AM radio in the garage sitting on his workbench. You conjured up a memory of which I am extremely fond.
    Thanks for that.
    http://twitter.com/rdubhall

  77. Frances D says:

    I could practically hear the music playing on that radio.
    What a wonderful guy he must have been.

  78. zulothman says:

    Reblogged this on Epistemology – What? and commented:
    Sometimes there’s not much a father would want from their kids other than be remembered fondly…

  79. krkilmer says:

    Most memories of my day we of him tinkering as well, and some of my most prized possessions are the things he made. Great post!

    • Mimi says:

      Yeah! So glad I found the radio. I happen to know all the ham radio stuff is still sitting there and it probably works too! Thanks, -M

  80. scribbleofhappygoluckygal says:

    :):) dad’s always are super stars:):)

  81. N says:

    While I was reading this, I couldn’t help but be amazed. I’m a 24 year-old Asian guy. But it is as if you were writing about me the whole time. Yup, I don’t have kids yet. I’m no yet married. But I do have tons of hobbies, my temper’s often quick, and I always try cool things around me (then when I find out they’re not to cool actually doing it, off I go to the next “thing”.) Like your dad, I don’t waste time. But when I find my passion, time ceases. I’m into sculpting and sketching. Someday, I’ll get married. It’d be nice to have a daughter like you.

  82. Alyssa says:

    Your dad must be your hero. You have so much love for your dad. I’m pretty sure wherever he is right now, he’s happy watching over you being so proud of him. 🙂

    ————-
    colorado springs divorce lawyers

  83. simplycessie says:

    hi mimi! just finished writing my post for dad when i came across yours. funny that reading about yours, reminds me a lot of mine. mine, too, had a fiery temper and can be a scary guy but also does not hold a grudge. he’s also an active, curious person who has dabbled on many things, bonsai and bowling included. he, too, has already passed. we’re a also family of eight kids.

    • Mimi says:

      Wow. I figure if a guy has the guts to have eight kids that says something about his character. Not too many of those around. Lucky us! Thanks! -M

  84. Some articles get freshly pressed because the writer already has a legion of followers (which can be okay, because you can read back and probably find something cool).
    But some articles get freshly pressed for pure awesomeness. This is pure awesomeness.
    Right now, my daddy is in heaven helping yours with a snowmobile and yours is helping mine with a stereo system (for the garage, mom won’t allow it in the house).
    Amazing post, and I am so glad you got a well deserved Freshly Pressed!

    • Mimi says:

      I am SOOOOOOOO happy you noticed. I’m tryin’. Thanks. -M

      • I love that you comment to your replies. Now that you are rich (in words) and famous, this will become increasingly difficult.
        Most of my daddy’s cool stuff was in the garage or the shed even when he was still alive. I guess my mom had a limit on how much “cool” could be in the house. Or maybe how much “combustible.”

      • Mimi says:

        The hubbub has dwindled, so I’m back to normal now. I’m going to check back on your blog. You’re pretty funny!

  85. tinamen says:

    nice one indeed! 🙂

  86. love your ode to your dad :))

  87. Jim says:

    Nostalgia. Have used Heath gear when I was young.
    Love the description about their target audience – male, dangerous amount of electronic knowledge. I remember setting the carpet on fire when I used the wrong type of wire straight across a car battery. Character building stuff!

  88. Ahhh, what a way to reminisce about dear ol dad, especially around fathers day. But the world is really that big to us when we are little aren’t they? I just always found it fascinating how much parents can rub off on their children and cause them to pick up similar traits and confirm how much that apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. But either way you were lucky to have yours and he lives through you now -,o

    http://wp.me/2aAA8

  89. claytondiggs says:

    Superb post, ma’am. You’ve truly brought to life your father’s memory. I too am often inspired to write of family matters. Should you have a moment, check out the short piece I did on my infant son: http://claytondiggs.wordpress.com/2012/05/20/my-son-clayton-jr-is-the-coolest-guy-on-earth/

    All the Best! I’ll certainly be in touch again.

    Clayton Diggs

    • Mimi says:

      Your boy is a cutie fer sher. Nice writing, too, although personally, I could do without the butt and anus shenanigans! Thanks for commenting. -M

  90. adventures says:

    Your dad sounds lik one cool dude! 🙂

  91. towera says:

    Lovely post, really enjoyed reading about your Dad! Sounds like he must have been a really fun guy to know, I can sense the warmth and love through your writing. All the best, Towera

  92. Hans says:

    Reblogged this on Ham Radio Weblog PD0AC and commented:
    Just couldn’t resist sharing this.

  93. Absolutely fantastic! And just in time for father’s day! I haven’t lost my parents however I can’t imagine how it will feel. And how I’ll look at it afterwards the same way you have shown in this post.

    Very interesting!

    Katie
    http://katieraspberry.wordpress.com/

  94. Really touching story about your dad. My dad isn’t much like yours, but I still found myself smiling and getting choked up thinking about him. Thanks for sharing.

  95. Really great piece! Graet Dads bring it every day, and for that we thank them. Well impressed!

  96. pennipete says:

    What a loving legacy!

  97. magento123 says:

    Very nice sharing.. thanks

    • Mimi says:

      Thank you so much. I checked out your writing and found your “about me” page beautiful all by itself. Are your posts considered flash fiction?

  98. Suryansh Pradhan says:

    This is the best blog post I’ve ever read. It reminds of my own crazy but lovable dad and his weird antics (e. g. :- Putting ice cubes in my shirt to wake me up). He has the same enthusiasm for electrical devices, but his only purpose seems to be playing pranks on us. I wonder what mischief he is up to now?

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