In Memory of the Guy That Got Me Started

My father died a couple of weeks ago. Although he was not suffering from a serious illness, it was not unexpected. He was 83, and for the past two years we had watched his body slowly running down. He knew this was coming.

On his last day, he felt fine. That evening he had a good dinner, listened to one of his books on tape (his eyes were among the things that had failed him recently), went to bed and went to sleep. And just… stopped.

No one could hope for an easier exit.

He was a soldier in World War II, fought in the horrible battle for Okinawa, and was assigned to the forces that were to invade mainland Japan. When the war ended before that invasion, he said he felt that he had been given back his life. He was fascinated by the many business trips I’ve taken to Japan in recent years, and wished his health had let him go along on one of them. “The last time I was invited to Japan, in 1945, I didn’t much want to go,” he would chuckle. He often asked about my friends in Japan. “I wish I could meet them,” he would say. “The only Japanese I met were shooting at me.”

After the war he joined Southern Bell Telephone Company, and worked there his entire career. “The phone company” has, by extension, always been a part of my life. When I was a child he would take me into the switching office where he worked; I loved the racket of thousands of chattering step-by-step switches, the unfathomable miles of wiring, and the ozone smell of the place.

I graduated from college with degrees in philosophy and psychology. I wanted to continue to grad school and become a psychologist, but needed to make a little money first. My father pulled some strings and got me on with the phone company (it was South Central Bell by that time). A good paycheck led to car payments and the such, and I kept putting off going back to school.

I started as a regular “phone man” (“Where do ya want yer phone, lady?”), climbing poles, crawling through attics and under floors. I then became a PBX installer, and eventually wound up on a crew that took care of the phone company’s own internal systems (by that time I was at Mountain Bell).

A peripheral part of that crew’s duties was taking care of the company’s data communications systems. Almost everything was SNA, but there was also a new thing being used called TCP/IP. I found that far more interesting than telephone systems, made an effort to learn it, and was soon doing data communications full time.

As I progressed in what I now saw as a career, not a job, my father never gave up trying to equate what I was doing with what he once did. He could never quite accept my explanation that IP networks were more like electronic postal systems than telephone systems. Nevertheless, he is the one that got me started. Not just by getting me that first job, but by taking me as a little boy to work with him. Had all those colorful wires not gotten into my brain, and all that ozone into my blood, I would be a bored psychologist today, listening to someone whine about their life.

Instead, I’m doing something I love and that continues to intrigue me.

Thanks, Dad. 


Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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