Saturday, July 30, 2016

James H. Reed, 1937-2016


My dad didn't particularly like the spotlight. He certainly didn't like making his business known beyond the walls of his house, or the maze of fences he erected on his property. So I feel a bit conflicted writing about him and sharing these photos. He freely admitted being a bit of a loner -- he could be social if required, but most of the time he saw no need. All he wanted in the world was to spend time with his family.

Yet, when I was a newspaper journalist, and occasionally turned to my family for writing material, he never discouraged me. So maybe he wouldn't mind.

Above is the first picture I ever took of Dad, from my first roll of film. It was 1974 or so, and I'd just received my Magimatic camera for Christmas. The packaging is sitting on the table in front of him.


Dad was born in St. Louis in 1937 and grew up in Southern California, where, driven by his Scoutmaster father, he attained the rank of Eagle Scout and learned to love both girls and math -- almost certainly in that order. He went to college -- the first in his immediate family to do so -- and went on to earn a PhD in mathematics from the University of Maryland.

As a young man, he was adventurous. In the 1950s he traveled around the country with friends from high school. He kept a journal, which I have now, recounting experiences like a fender-bender in Miami and a fancy French dinner in New Orleans.


A year or so later, he booked passage on a freighter with some of the same friends, sailed across the ocean and drove around Europe for weeks. They scrimped to make their money last, eating sandwiches outside Versailles and occasionally sleeping in the car.

After graduate school, when he was recruited in the early 1960s to teach at a new university in Tampa, he was glad to get away from chilly, gray Maryland. Being a Californian, the sun was in his blood.


Most of my dad's career was completely impenetrable to me. I can't pretend to even remotely understand his PhD dissertation. It came with an elaborate mathematical graph. You know how mathematical graphs are usually parabolas, or something of the sort? Well, this one was a huge, circular, undulating thing -- like a gigantic poppy, or a gelatinous sea creature. There was so much in his mind I just couldn't fathom.

He said he liked math because it's neat. There's only one correct answer.

He married my mom in the early '60s. After moving to Tampa, they had me, and then they had my brother. And then, in the crazy, experimental social environment of the early '70s -- when so many marriages ran off the rails -- theirs did too. My dad became quite the rebel. He got rid of any clothing that wasn't denim. He bought a motorcycle -- a short-lived enthusiasm -- and a series of Volkswagens, which he disassembled and assembled with abandon. (Cars were another interest I could never understand.)

He had a bachelor pad where he painted big, swirly, abstract canvases. (Actually, maybe just one.) There were bean bags on the floor. We watched "The Rockford Files" and ate at Steak n' Shake.

Then he built a new house and, in 1976, he married my stepmother, who brought two children of her own into our family. My brother and I adapted, but it was a process. At work, Dad's coworkers called him "The Peacemaker," and he was a bit of a peacemaker in our family, too.


He taught me how to use a 35mm camera, his own Minolta. I remember walking around the yard with him and taking photos. He showed me how to measure the light, how to adjust the settings. I often credit him with teaching me to take pictures, but in all honesty, we only did it a few times.

I don't mean he doesn't deserve the credit. But Dad -- although kind and soft-spoken, even when he was disciplining us (his anger was usually of the "I'm so disappointed in you" variety, rather than outright rage) -- could be a bit remote. He came to our concerts and plays and childhood events. He picked my brother and I up from our mom's house every Friday, dropped us off again every Saturday, and picked us up again every Tuesday night for dinner. He was there, in a way that so many divorced fathers are not.

And, significantly, he was unfailingly supportive when I came out as gay in the mid-'80s.

But he also liked doing things his way, and doing what he wanted to do. He sometimes pulled into himself, particularly as he got older. He sat at the bar in the kitchen, absently watching TV or just staring into space -- "cycling his mind," as he called it.

He once told me he wasn't a good talker, and I think he sometimes felt bad that he wasn't saying more. It just wasn't in his nature.


This is my last picture with him -- taken only two weeks ago, which seems hard to believe.

Dad died at 1:30 in the morning yesterday, before I took flight from London to return to the family. I came anyway, and I'm in Florida now. There will be no services, according to his wishes. I spent yesterday evening with my stepmother and my siblings at one of Dad's favorite steakhouses. It felt oddly normal. I had to keep looking around the table to remind myself that he wasn't there.

27 comments:

Yorkshire Pudding said...

Thanks for giving your readers such an honest picture of your father's life. Rest in peace James...we will all be following you shortly. I remember vividly my father's passing in 1979 and I have thought of him every day since. I guess it will be the same for you Steve. Gone but not forgotten.

e said...

Thanks for sharing this wonderful tribute, so like the generous son you are. I enjoyed meeting your Dad in December and remember how happy he looked sharing that special day with you and Dave. My condolences to your family.

Dave said...

I love you, Steve...and your Dad did too.

STL inker said...

I am so sorry Steve. You did a wonderful job telling us about your father. He had an interesting life and you really knew him.
I will be sending loving thoughts and comfort to you today.

Marty Damon said...

Oh Steve. I'm so sorry. Your dad sounds like a man worth knowing. What a remarkable life he had.

Lynne said...

Oh Steve, I am so sorry he passed before you could get there. Thank goodness for your recent visit and the quality time spent with him then. From now on you'll remember him that way instead of sick in a hospital bed, or even his own bed. My last memory of my father was in the hospital and to this day I can't get that image out of my mind. The way he grasped desperately at my hand and told me he loved me.

I think your dad would approve of your words here today. You didn't get too personal, yet I get a good idea of what he was like. He must have been brilliant, and those kind of people do stick to themselves and their own minds. My dad was an artist and similar in behavior.

You are exactly where you need to be -- with family. Hugs to you (and Dave holding up the fort at home). Losing a parent is rough, but they will always be right there in your heart.

Catrina said...

I believe your Dad is proud of the way you told his story. I'm so very sorry for your loss.

Ms. Moon said...

I wish I had words to say that would sound wise and be comforting but I'm not sure there are such words. Life and death- it's all part of it and you did a beautiful job here of writing about your dad's life.
It was the very best thing that you could be with him two weeks ago when he was up and about and y'all could talk and everything could be easier. I know he must have been so proud of you. I know he must have loved you so.
He is obviously a part of you in many ways and always will be. No getting around that. Is that a comfort? I hope so.
I'll shut up now and just tell you that I'm glad you had a father who so obviously cared about you.
And to remind me that you are loved and cherished by many.

37paddington said...

I am so very sorry to hear this. Your dad was still wearing denim till the end, I see. It is a gift to have had a good father. Those memories will ache but they'll warm you too.

MaryAnn said...

Thank you for sharing the memories

Cheryl West said...

My sincere sympathy to you and your family. Thank you for sharing your fathers' life with us.
You had a loving, supportive relationship and I hope that is a great comfort to you.

Lynne said...

And oh my gosh, you certainly resemble him!

Sharon Anck said...

I'm so sorry to hear about your dad. What a wonderful memorial to him you have posted today, beautifully and lovingly written. I certainly can see a very strong resemblance between the two of you in that last photo. I'm sure it is very comforting to be with your family at this time.

jenny_o said...

I'm so sorry for your loss, Steve. Thank you for allowing us to know him a little better through your writing. He had an interesting life and it's good that he was a dependable and supportive dad to you. Glad you had a visit just recently and were able to talk to him by telephone before he passed. Those things are important too. Take care, and my best to your husband and family as well.

Linda Sue said...

this is the best post I have ever read.I have never made it in time for any of my family when they died, two of them were over the phone, and then , silence. I am sorry for the big silence left by your Dad, learn to hear differently, I reckon. So glad that you are with your family now. Much love to you, and Dave and Olga, the family across the big water.

ellen abbott said...

I'm sorry you weren't able to get there before he died. You had a good father and you look so much like him!

Jane said...

I am glad you had had the recent visit to see your father. I thought the blog post was a heartwarming and insightful memorial to his life and also your place as his son...

Coppa's girl said...

So very sorry to hear the sad news about your Dad, Steve. Hope happy memories will ease the pain of losing him.

Lorianne said...

I'm very sorry for your loss. This is beautiful tribute to your dad. I especially love that picture of your dad as a young man with the wheelbarrow, and the final one where you two look so alike.

I hope your memories of happier times bring some comfort, and I'm glad you're able to be with your family at this difficult time.

Red said...

Sympathy to you for the loss of your Dad. There's no easy way to lose somebody. You gave a good history of your Dad. You look like your Dad.

N2 said...

So sorry to hear of your loss of your Dad, Steve. Thanks for sharing him with us. Sending hugs, N2

Jennifer said...

I'm so very sorry for your loss, Steve. Thank you for sharing your wonderful father with us here. May you and your family find comfort and peace together in remembering him. Hugs.

Steve Reed said...

Thanks so much for your kind words, everybody. I've gained so much from the support of my online friends, both here and on Facebook. You have no idea (or maybe you do!) how much your comments mean to me.

Sabine said...

My heart goes out to you. Steve, do sorry for your loss.

The Bug said...

Much love from Ohio....

utahDOG! said...

And yet he will always be there.

rockygrace said...

I'm sorry.