On My Father’s 95th Birthday

 

Cleveland, OH:  Anne Kinder's wedding.  June 1942
Cleveland, OH: Anne Kinder’s wedding. June 1942

          My father, Gordon T. Kinder, Jr., was born on May 13, 95 years ago.

           The picture accompanying this post was taken in June 1942.  My father in his dress uniform, a second lieutenant, had come to Cleveland from Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, for a family wedding.

           As at least two generations of men in my family regularly did, he sits at the feet of his cousin and great friend, Anne Kinder.  His brother, George, in a blazer, sits to my father’s right.

           The photographer – the album where this picture resides proves him extraordinarily talented – caught the three dear friends as I choose to remember them:  in boisterous, good-humored conversation.

           But with rare and treasured exceptions, my memories don’t picture my father like this during the 30 years after I was born in 1946.

           With the lucky ones who survived the war, my father returned from Austria to catch up on his schooling, then practise law working long hours (with no real vacations for more than a decade) on things for which he wasn’t particularly suited, supporting his wife and four sons while tending devotedly his aged parents.  His health was always fragile, his back always prone to excruciating trauma.

           I think of him in those years as weary, impatient, present but absent, often bedridden.

           Only in his mid-50s could he grasp an opportunity to build up manufacturing businesses, something he loved.  Shortly thereafter, he suffered a near-fatal heart attack.

           Of course, he stopped – cold turkey – smoking two plus packs a day, began exercising – something one of his sons should have done at the same time.  But more importantly, without announcing it, he set out to become a model father, an indispensable part of his adult sons’ lives.

          His actions spoke clearly.  He earned his place with wisdom when – and only when – asked, with money when needed, and with regular phone calls.  Like me, he hated picking up the phone, but he did it.  His business advice, I can testify, was always good, often brilliant.  Even at a distance, he knew character.

          From that time into his 90th year, friends and acquaintances called him ‘youthful’, ‘joyful’, even while he endured diverticulitis and kidney failure and other banes of aging.

           His wit, his love of people, and his engaged conversation shone and were examples to his sons, in laws and grandchildren.  These had returned.

           When I look at the picture with this post, I see the man I didn’t know and the one I did, before and after.  How he loved parties!  How he loved his family!  How much fun he was!

           And, there’s a back story.  The night before the picture was taken, he’d met one of Anne’s bridesmaids, a classmate from Vassar, at drinks before the rehearsal dinner.  He then shot into the dining room and rearranged the seating cards so he’d sit beside her.

           Twelve months later, they married.

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