By Maureen Hart – Editor
It’s June—the month to honor graduates and fathers and bridal couples. It’s got me thinking about my father and how he deeply influenced my life. If I had to name the people who have made a difference in my life and made me into who I am, my dad would top the list.
James Klaproth was a member of the Greatest Generation, and that should tell the story. He taught us about values, dedication, hard work, the importance of family, friendship, love of country, and sheer optimism. (How did people who came out of the Depression and World War II maintain that optimism?)
Even today, as a senior citizen—in fact I am older than my father when he died—I sometimes gauge what I am doing or deciding by what my father would think. That’s not a bad thing. It’s not like I’m trying to please somebody—it’s a matter of trying to do the right thing.
Dad told us how his mother managed to raise six children in the 30’s and 40’s, when people struggled for every penny and every bit of food on the table. He made it sound like fun. He remembered all the good things—he was grateful for everything they had and figured they were better off than most people.
Dad told us stories about his experiences in the Navy in World War II. He even made it sound funny—like the time the tender from his supply ship hit a big battleship in the harbor. Before the little boat could even pull away, the Seabees were over the side of the big ship making repairs. He was in Japan during the occupation after the war, and he came away imbued with an appreciation of that country’s amazing culture. This taught me not to hold grudges, to find the best in people and situations.
When the time came, he encouraged me to go to college and be all that I could be. His college experience had been affected by the war. He studied engineering for a time at Lehigh and at George Tech, and when the war was over, he used the GI Bill to attend Wilkes University, which became my alma mater. In fact, I was born on a day when my father was taking mid-terms at Wilkes. Although she knew she was in labor, my mother kept it to herself and hurried him out of the door so he wouldn’t miss his exam. When my turn came, my dad wanted me to live on campus and have a typical college career. That was a gift.
I have been so influenced by him. I favor the old World War II songs (I’ll Be Seeing You, A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square) that he would play to us on the organ. He, not my mother, took the time to teach me cook.
He appreciated my every accomplishment, overlooked my deficiencies and gave me that greatest of all parental gifts—unconditional love.
He also gave me memories.: One Christmas when he made a beautiful castle out of sugar cubes, with shiny turrets (Christmas spire ornaments) covered in glitter. The times he packed us up in the car for a day at a local state park, giving a chance for sunshine, swimming, picnicking. The times he made us penuche (a kind of fudge) or what he called “Buffalo potatoes” (sliced potatoes fried on a griddle) or taught us card games, including one grotesquely named “Blood and Guts” which my brother and I play to this day.
He took time for Monopoly and Scrabble, for watching TV with us, for making popcorn, and listening to our woes. He mowed the lawn and took out the garbage and made us cocoa and made life seem grand for we five children.
If it sounds like Ozzie and Harriet, it was and it wasn’t. There were challenges. My brother and sister are mentally challenged. Another sister suffered from clinical depression, and my parent’s marriage was strained by my mother’s unhappiness with a woman’s role in the 50’s and early 60’s. She wanted to be something glamorous, a stewardess (it was glamorous back then), an actress, a detective—anything more than what she was. She was just as dissatisfied with life as my father was exuberant about it.
He showed us the joy of simple things. He taught us the value of hard work tempered by lots of play. He taught us to shoulder on, even when things are tough. (My parents divorced. It was a major blow to this whole-hearted family man.) But he never complained. Not once. I wouldn’t trade my childhood for anyone else’s. I wouldn’t trade my father for anyone else’s, not even a little bit. I remain eternally grateful for his love and his lessons. Rest in peace, Daddy, and know that you did a great job.