My Dad–Lt. Col. Bernie Claxton, USAF-Retired
Happy Father’s Day 2014.
It happened in 1974 or ’75, perhaps’76, but he was our coach. The umpire was making calls that Dad felt weren’t being evenly distributed, and he said something to the effect of, “you should call things the same way for both teams.” I didn’t hear what he said cos I was standing out at shortstop. But I will never forget seeing that big umpire come up out of his stance, take his mask off and say, “All right coach, that’s it, you’re out of here.”
And so the lesson stuck in me. If you feel that an injustice is occurring, regardless of the consequences, you speak up. I think I’ve lived that out fairly well throughout the years that have followed. It’s brought about good things and bad.
In the 8th grade in Atwater, CA, I got an F on an assignment in our Journalism/Yearbook class. The maternity leave substitute, Mrs. Reid, decided we needed to write a fictional story in our journalism class. I resisted. I protested. I wrote my “story” about how we shouldn’t be writing fiction in a journalism class. My grade for the six weeks was a D. But I didn’t get in any trouble from either of my parents.
My senior year of high school, the DECA advisor at Jefferson Davis High School in Montgomery, AL was $2,000 in the hole because her students had been stealing candy money out of her classroom closet. I found out about it and wrote about it. Anne Hubbert, Paul Hubbert’s wife, was my anatomy and physiology teacher and in the middle of class one day was taking me to task cos the paper was “writing about things we shouldn’t be.”
My senior year of college, I got the one copy of the AIDS list being allegedly kept by the Montgomery Police Department and reported on it. It became a national news story. At the same time, I was outlining why Larry F. Chapman, the coach of the AUM Senator basketball team, shouldn’t have signed as a surety on an ROR bond for three basketball players because it was a violation of NAIA bylaws. I had baseball team members wanting to do me harm, let alone basketball players. But my Dad and Mom, stood by me.
In tribute to my dad, who thankfully, is still alive, I want to say thanks for all you’ve done for me and taught me throughout my life. The past four years have been horrific for me and they’ve been the most painful, but from all the pain, losses and injustices imposed upon me by dishonest and crazy people, I’ve learned a lot more about me, life and people than I think I have the other 44 years of life.
It’s also forced me to learn new skills like video editing, graphic arts, audio work, development of books for iPad, etc. And I’ve learned new boundaries that I simply won’t tolerate being violated ever again.
And through it all, my Dad and Mom, (I don’t want to create any unnecessary animosities) have stood behind me. Dad and I were discussing an option to pick up and move to Florida a few weeks ago and he said, “It’s your life, you need to decide, but I will support you either way.” You just don’t know how amazing that was to hear.
But that is my Dad, and that’s the way he’s taught me to live. I’ve tried to be that kind of father to my daughters. I don’t micromanage their lives and I offer them encouragement and support. But ultimately, they are the ones who have to live their lives and make the decisions about what they do with them. (And they all know, they’re free to go to any college or university they want, so long as it’s Auburn.)
I wish I had been able to spend more time with my Dad when I was young. But dad was in the Strategic Air Command and flew B-52s. When we were stationed in Northern Michigan at KI Sawyer AFB from 2nd-6th grade, Dad spent a lot of time, at least a week a month, over at the Alert Facility, just 13 minutes away at any time from taking off into the wild blue yonder to go attack targets inside the Soviet Union. During the beginning of my kindergarten year, he was in Viet Nam flying in an elite helicopter group where he even got shot down just two days shy of my fifth birthday.
It’s hard to imagine what life would have been like had the bullet that went up through the floor, between my Dad’s legs and up through the roof of the Huey, had hit him instead. Sadly, his gunners that day both got hit, and one of them died.
My Dad has taught me to love this country and has shown me what it’s like to risk life and limb to protect it. Admittedly, I get choked up when I hear the National Anthem played. For years of my life, I was on air force bases at 5 p.m. when it’d play on loud speakers and everyone stopped their cars. If you were in uniform, you got out of your car in the middle of the road and stood at attention and saluted in the direction of the music.
With my asthma, the USAF kept me from following in Dad’s footsteps, but it was like God had another path for me all along anyways. Dad may not could always be there at sporting events or school programs or for a game of catch in the front yard, but there were many times when he was, and my mind is full of memories of some of those times. In the late 1980s when Field of Dreams came out, I bought two gloves and a ball so even in my 20s, Dad and I could still “have a catch.”
Dad’s in Indiana these days. I’m here in Texas. It’s been a couple years now since I’ve even seen him. We don’t talk as much as I’d like to on the phone but we still talk. Damned Cat’s In The Cradle….
I love my Dad. I love my Mom, three brothers and sister. I’ve been lucky. I know it. And I’m thankful. Lord knows I’m thankful as I can be. Happy Father’s Day to one and all.