06/16/2014 12:32 pm ET Updated Aug 16, 2014

Random Remembrances of Dad

Dad didn't go to college.

Dad served in the U.S. Navy in the Philippines. He was in the Seabees. He helped survey and build the Subic Bay Naval Base.

Dad once caught and cooked a wild jungle boar.

Dad worked for the same company his whole life: Baker Engineers. He worked in their offices in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Virginia. I used to drive past the company's blue and white sign in Alexandria on the way to my apartment. I looked at it every time.

Dad and Mom adopted me as a baby. Dad wanted to call me John Kevin, while Mom wanted Kevin John. Dad won. This time.

Dad never, to my knowledge, listened to a song or played a record for enjoyment. He couldn't understand why I would want to buy an album when the radio was free. There was a rumor that as a young man he had a crush on pop singer Teresa Brewer, but that was unconfirmed.

Dad's voice was recorded once. He got me a tape recorder for Christmas with a five-minute cassette tape. That's right, five minutes. One Sunday morning I taped a Popeye cartoon off the TV set. Halfway through I heard his voice: "More orange juice out there, buster." My response: "Yup." I listened to that tape over and over again. A few years ago I bought that same Popeye cartoon on DVD. I can still hear his voice.

Dad and Mom had a dog named Tiny. She was getting old when I was a toddler. After Tiny died we buried her in the backyard with a cross made of two sticks. A few weeks later, Dad tapped on the window of the church basement where I had my weekly Cub Scout meeting. He took me out of the meeting to go to a farm to pick out our new puppy, Muffin. Muffin later chewed up the cross-sticks. Circle of Life.

Dad was a gardener. His favorite hobby was sifting rocks from dirt. It made quite a big pile of dirt, which was fun to play on, until the day the ants found me.

Dad would ask me to measure the wood with a red pencil before we cut it. There's no greater pressure than trying to hold a 2-by-4 steady while Dad sawed it in two. Trust me.

Dad helped me make my Pinewood Derby car. We painted it dark blue. It lost every race.

Dad took me fishing, where I tried to fight off the gnats flying into my ear, nose and mouth. Dad watched me play Little League baseball, where I tried to play right field while gnats flew into my ear, nose and mouth. Dad took me golfing, where I tried to -- well, you get the picture.

Dad lost his little motorboat during Hurricane Agnes in 1972. The Susquehanna River water level reached 32 feet. Our cellar reached four feet. Tiny got there first, almost drowning while walking down the cellar steps.

Dad said "we'll see" a lot. It usually meant "probably, but don't make a big deal out of it."

Dad invented a phrase: "Ship, ship." It was an expression of mild exasperation and resignation. "Dad, did you hear the Phillies lost the game on a Dave Parker home run?"
"Ship, ship."

"Dad, can we go to Kings Dominion for summer vacation?"

"Ship, ship. We'll see."

Dad could be silly, but he wasn't a clown. I was. I can't remember how many times he called me "goofball." It seemed like a lot.

Dad took me for milkshakes at one of those 1,000-flavor places once. He asked me what flavor I wanted. "Grasshopper!" I said with a grin. He looked at me disgustedly and said I would never finish it. He ordered vanilla. Mine sucked. I couldn't finish it.

Dad also let me choose the color when it was time to repaint my bedroom. "Raspberry!" I said. He had the same look on his face. Ship, ship.

Dad dropped the F-bomb only twice in my presence, both times while he was behind the wheel. Stupid drivers.

Dad tried to teach me how to drive stick shift. It didn't really take. He didn't have the patience, and I didn't have the skills. I only learned when the college sandwich shop where I worked asked me to drive the Ford Fiesta for the lunch rush. In the rain. I think I only hit one car.

Dad bought our first air conditioner when I was about 13 years old. Don't ask me about the summers before that.

Dad helped me put the Sunday papers together when I got a paper route at age 10. We would load the green wooden wagon and walk to every house together. Then I'd get in the empty wagon and dad would push me down the hill on Concord Street. Then we'd all have breakfast at home, usually pancakes.

Dad and Mom took me to the drive-in theater growing up. I saw Superdad, Benji, Bugsy Malone and who knows what else. It's a supermarket parking lot now.

Dad took me to Penn State football games. To beat the traffic we left the house before 7 a.m. I would wake up early and deliver the newspapers in the dark. You've never seen a more excited kid.

Dad would drive us to Pop-Pop's apartment in Coaldale, Pennsylvania. Along the way we'd pass a billboard of a giant glass of beer, about to tip over. "Nope, hasn't spilled yet," Dad would say, every time.

Dad and Mom got me the very best cards for my birthday. I still don't know where they found them.

Dad didn't like his cards sealed shut in the envelope. Just tuck the flap in. That'll do.

Dad and Mom and me lived about 10 miles from Three Mile Island. During the 1979 accident, half our friends evacuated for the weekend. We stayed put. Okay, we might have packed one bag.

Dad was usually mild-mannered. But he could anger in a hurry. One night a neighbor kid, a bad influence type who was two years older than everyone else in his grade, threw eggs at our living room window. We were in the living room. Dad left the house and chased the kid down, nearly breaking his finger from what I heard. Dad never talked about it.

Dad bought the groceries in our family. He always took me along. After a few years of walking the aisles with him I got smart. I would head straight to the cereal aisle, pick out a box, throw it in the cart, then park at the magazine rack and read all the Mad and Cracked magazines until he was done.

Dad and Mom and I picked strawberries on a local farm every May.

Dad always made fruit salad on Thanksgiving and Christmas morning.

Dad took up smoking as a young man. Marlboro Reds. Mom quit in 1980. Dad never could.

Dad cried once that I know of, when my Aunt Helen died. I wasn't there. I think I'm relieved I didn't see it.

Dad kissed me goodnight every night until the night he suggested we shake hands instead. We did, from then on.

Dad used to drive us to Fort Indiantown Gap to show us where he wanted to be buried. I would yell "Dad! That's morbid." He'd just smile.

Dad would have been 80 on July 2nd. He's buried at Fort Indiantown Gap. I miss him. Happy Father's Day.