The improbability of my dad’s life

Today would have been my dad’s 93rd birthday. As I was thinking about him I couldn’t help but wonder about how unlikely it was that he became my dad.

When we look back at our lives there’s a good likelihood we can identify some points where things could have been completely different had even a seemingly minor detail been changed. For me and my dad, there are actually a bunch of them, and some weren’t minor at all.

My father’s father was born in what was then called Russia, but it was really the part of Poland that had been taken over by the Russians (the other part was taken over by the Prussians). He had been “drafted” into the Tsar’s army at age 16 but managed to escape (or desert, depending on your point of view). Although he had managed to elude capture, marry and  start a family he never felt secure and in 1912 left his wife and two children to sail to America (including a voyage on the Lusitania to Liverpool). When he had made enough money he paid for my grandmother and two aunts to come as well. There were more children until my dad was born in 1921, the youngest.

Dad didn’t want to be dependent on his parents for anything and joined the US Navy in 1939. Thus he was already serving when the war began in Europe and when the US joined it in 1941. He was assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Wasp (CV-7) as an aviation ordnanceman, responsible for loading ammunition and bombs on the various planes.

The Wasp‘s first assignment was supporting England against the Nazis but following Pearl Harbor, the bulk of the US Navy’s offensive forces were redirected to the Pacific. Wasp was assigned to the group that attacked the Japanese on Guadalcanal. During a lull in the fighting Wasp was hit by a torpedo from a lone Japanese submarine and despite a tenacious effort by the crew the captain ordered abandon ship.

Since this was an aircraft carrier, that meant jumping into the ocean from the flight deck, and distance of approximately 50 feet. My dad was ready to jump when he noticed two other sailors near him who were afraid to make the jump. He told them he would jump with them, linked arms and all three went into the water. All three survived, as did almost all of the crew save those lost in the initial explosions and fire.

Following rescue, my dad was assigned to one of the islands that we had captured from the Japanese to build landing facilities. During this period, the island was heavily bombed by Japanese planes. My dad had hid in a fox hole while everything around him burned. When it was finally over, he thought he was the sole survivor but it turned out that everyone else had fled to the sea to escape the explosions and flames.

Once the war ended, Dad was discharged and returned to the NYC area. He took a course in electronics on the GI Bill and prepared to enter the workforce, eventually taking a job with the Bell System’s Western Electric division as an installer for telephone switching offices. He dated, apparently a lot, but hadn’t found anyone he wanted to get serious with.

Somewhere along the line, his niece (who he had grown up with) introduced him to her best friend from high school. They hit it off and were eventually married. After living in a number of apartments in the city, they bought a house on Long Island in a small village called Floral Park.

Things were going well except for one little detail: children. After years of trying the doctors told them my mother had a “twisted uterus” and would never have children. Resigned to this unhappy fate they adopted a dog and settled into what they thought would be a childless life. My mom became pregnant with me in less than a year.

I’m not a statistician but you can probably imagine the odds of my dad living to 92 and my being here to write this are both incredibly low. But life has a way of thumbing its nose and laughing at the odds. All I know is that it gave me 56 years with him and that’s all that matters.


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