Bye Pops

I've always found it interesting that there were certain things, maybe just a brief moment in your life that you remember vividly no matter how young you were at the time. You remember them as if they happened yesterday remaining crystal clear regardless how much time has passed. Many of those moments in time involved my dad.

When I was 11 years old, my father was asked to do the Commencement Speech for the graduating class at his old high school. I remember he had me be his audience as he practiced. I had to sit there through the speech a number of times, squirming in my seat praying for it to end soon. It was not something a young boy was interested in doing. Age changes things. I'd give anything for just one more run through that speech now. This time I may even pay attention.

I remember being at the Commencement and my father at the podium speaking. I began to cry. I remember that moment as clear as day. For some strange reason the thought crossed my mind that one day I would lose him and it upset me. Jumping forward to Sept. 2008, that thought finally saw its end. Andrew Kalapach, another casualty from the WWII generation which now shrinks by the thousands per day.

Another funny, but lasting memory was my dad making his "point" when I was just a kid and we were in a public restroom. If he started the sentence with "Son...", you knew this was something serious and you listened a bit closer. He took me in the stall and said, "Son.... Always raise the seat using your foot so you don't have to touch it with your hand. It might have germs." Some 40 plus years later, I still do this and every time I do it I've smiled to myself and thought of my dad, "OK, Pops.... I still remember." (I called him "Pops" a lot, especially in later years.)

I respected my father like no other man on this planet. He had faults, but don't we all. He was a "manly" man, a tough exterior which most people saw most of the time. He wasn't one to show emotion much. If there were things that were disagreeable to him, he just chose to ignore them and put them out of his mind for the most part. If something was bugging him, your only clue was he was a bit more quiet. He would keep things internal. There was strength there, but to a fault.

My dad was extremely analytical. He use to drive me crazy doing projects around the house. He was painfully slow sometimes trying to "get it perfect". I was more from the "let's get going and get this done so we can go screw off" school. On just about any subject my dad would weigh the pros and cons from a common sense point of view. He often broke things down in the simplest terms. I find my self "dissecting" things, something I inherited from him.

My father was "old school" and a staunch conservative Republican in an area that was overwhelmingly Democratic. He use to joke with me about being maybe one of a dozen or so registered Republicans in Lake County. I remember my dad once told me, "Son.... I won't even vote for a Democrat running for Dog Catcher". Funny story about that.... My dad's career was in the Personnel Department at a major Steel Company. Back then the stupid term "Human Resources" hadn't been invented yet. He was very good friends with the Democratic Mayor of Hammond, In. at that time. My dad was quite active in the surrounding communities, something the Company he worked for liked as they wanted a good relationship with the community. The mayor called him one day asking if he thought the Company would possibly donate some pipe for make some goal posts at a football field. My dad told him, "No problem, Joe.... Just one thing." The mayor asked, "What is that?" My dad said, "Don't expect me to vote for you." The mayor laughed and said, "Oh hell Andy.... I already know that!" My dad didn't vote for him. Every Christmas there was a knock at the door. A representative from the mayor's office was the caller with a bottle of Crown Royal and season's greetings from the mayor.

The truth is, my dad did vote Democratic..... ONCE. He voted for Truman. When I asked him why he told me, "Son.... All the scientist, all the military men told him exactly what was going to happen when he dropped that bomb. He knew what destruction and death it was going to cause. To make that decision was unbelievable to me and warranted my vote."

My dad was more complicated than you would think. Being Republican, conservative, "Company man" and the stigma that comes with that, he'd fool you. My father was one to have spirited debates with Democrats all the time, but at the end of the day as he told me once, "Hell... It really doesn't matter. I really don't care about their political beliefs when it's all said and done. I consider them my friends." He had a wide cross-section of people he respected and was respected by, friend and foe alike. Being in the position he had, he often went toe to toe with the Union that represented the employees at his Company. They had their disagreements, but they also knew my dad was going to give them an honest shake. I remember my dad telling me about handling retirements. He told me the "red tape" was quite enormous and half the crap that was said in the papers nobody understood anyway. He told me, "I believed anybody who came to work here, put in 20 or 30 years deserves everything they had coming to them. I made damn sure they got it and I believe the Union knows that too. They've been told when you retire, 'Go see Andy'". Interestingly after my father retired, the Union contacted him about coming to work for them. He was flattered, but graciously declined.

I remember him telling me about an appointment he made for a position in a charity organization he was chairman of at the time. It was a rather "heated" appointment. He received a number of calls from a variety of people dismayed at his selection. Bare in mind we are going back a number of years. He had appointed a young black woman to the position. I asked him why. He told me as he told everyone else, "It's quite simple. This gal is sharp, she is going to do a good job." Six or so months later a number of people called him back saying he was right.

I doubt anyone will ever know the agony my father felt when the Steel Industry began to crumble and he was forced to give employees "pink slips" as the layoffs began. Some he hired 15, 20 or so years earlier. The look in some of their eyes were pure torture to him. He had to talk to so many. I remember him telling me a bit about it. He told me some would break down and cry, some would get angry. At night my dad couldn't sleep. He'd walk around the house in darkness. After he retired he told me at that point, "My job wasn't any fun anymore".

Then there was the little story about the janitor at his office. He told me the guy who cleaned his office had been working there for a number of years and you could see when he finished polishing the floors he had a real sense of pride of what he had done. Dad told me in the winter with snow covered shoes he'd be sure and spend quite a bit of time cleaning them off before he'd step on the freshly cleaned floor. He'd noticed the janitor on occasion watching the others in my dad's office file in in the morning just trampling his work. "I could see the disgust in his eyes", dad said. "I cleaned my shoes out of respect for his work and I think he seemed to have noticed it too as we got along very well."

My father's retirement, in retrospect, was probably premature even though he felt he was at the end. He told me shortly after he retired, "Son, I'm Old School. I knew it and I knew I was out of place. It was time for me to go." The Company had merged for a third time and somehow he had survived all that, but he was the "lone wolf" in a sea of a much younger and more "modern" group. His way of doing business was archaic and outdated to his peers. He was having repeated clashes on business matters. So he surprised a lot of people by quickly retiring; no big "in six months" announcement. He didn't want a party, he didn't want a gold watch. As he would later tell me, "I came to work through that side door at my office the lowest level employee and I just wanted to leave that office out the same door, just as quietly as I arrived only this time as the #2 guy." It was quick, hardly anyone knew, not even me! I called home one afternoon and he answered and I asked, "What are you doing home?". He said, "Well, I'm retired." That's the way my dad was sometimes. I know he had a sense of pride when he was recognized for accomplishments, but there was this other side that was kind of humble. He didn't want to make "too much fuss" over things. All sorts of people called asking what was going on as one day he was there, one day he was gone.

As I look back, sticking around a few more years may have been better for him. Retirement is different for everyone. I believe a little of my dad died the day he left. There was a sense of emptiness that became apparent months down the road. There was a sense of uselessness that set in on him. If there was one fault that I could point out about my dad above all others, it was negativity. It got worse after retirement as he felt more and more "put out to pasture". After health issues came into the picture, he became more and more negative in his outlook towards life.

Alzheimer's is a cruel disease. Those that have faced it in their families know what I'm talking about. It's demoralizing. It's sucks you dry of your dignity. It's painful for loved ones to watch the decline. It was painful to see my dad, the former All-State football player in a wheelchair just staring off into space wondering what was going through his mind. I remember when I was this punk kid playing ball and training in the summer for the upcoming football season. My dad was in his late 40's at the time, not staying in terribly good shape and a bit overweight. We were at a Howard Johnson's by the pool. There was an open field next door. He was asking me about working out getting ready for the season when he said, "OK, hot shot.... You want to race me?" I just laughed and said, "Dad, you can't be serious?" He said, "No... come on... let's go over to that field and we'll sprint." So I said OK. I'll never forget that run. I really didn't take it seriously because I figured I'd wipe the floor with him. When we took off I didn't go full out, but by about halfway, I knew my dad wasn't taking this thing lightly, he wasn't messing around. When we crossed the tree we were using as the finish line, I had but one step on him. He was huffing and puffing. I was a bit stunned. He just smiled, patted me on the back. He use to tell me that there was only one guy on his football team faster than him and my dad played middle guard on defense. I now believed him.

My father went through the Great Depression, flew in B-17 bombers in Europe and to see the life force sucked out of him, to see it in his eyes has been the hardest thing in my life to date to take. The last time I went to see him, I left knowing that it was going to be the last time I saw him alive. I just knew it.

With regards to his WWII service, my father did something so typical of his demeanor. It had to be about 8 or 10 years ago one Christmas he sent me a book on the History of World War II. I thought it a bit odd, but figured he just was giving me something to read about the war. He never mentioned it again. I thumbed through some of the book quickly and thought I'd get around to reading some of it one day and put it with my other books. For some reason nearly a year or so later I pulled the book out and happened to open to inside the front cover. I hadn't seen this and he certainly didn't mention it, but there was a note written by him to me. I felt terrible after reading it that I missed it, but you know what? This was so typical of my dad. "Let's not make a big fuss over some things." I broke down. I barely could finish reading it. Like at the Commencement, I thought of his passing.

I leave you with his words....

Rest Easy Pops
Your Son