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Tell Me Your Story: Days with Dad: Camping, fishing, learning the rules

June 19, 2011

In honor of Father’s Day, several prominent local men shared remembrances of their dads.
Ed Hughes, North Kingstown’s new harbormaster, said: “When I was a kid, the big family thing was baseball. I would say I was going to Little League but I would really sneak out with my fishing pole and go fishing.
“It worked until my father came to see a game and I wasn’t there. He made me play baseball for two hours and then he took me fishing.”
Jim Wilson, who, with his brother Craig, has taken the reins at Wilson’s of Wickford, the venerable Brown Street clothing store, recalled learning the ropes of the business from his dad, Paul.
“When I was 10 or 11, I wanted to help in the store,” he said. “I’ve been wrapping Christmas gifts here for 40 years.”
He recalled seeing lots of Red Sox games with his father. “We were there for the last game in ‘67 when they won the pennant. People stormed the field. I was 10 and I wanted to go out there but my father wouldn’t let me.”
There was the occasional misstep.
“When I was a senior in high school, on a Friday night we did a Chinese fire drill on Post Road and got pulled over by a state trooper. I went home and Dad said, ‘Anything up?’ I told him what had happened.
“Of course everybody trooped into the store to say ‘Gee, I heard your son got pulled over by the state police.’ I was really glad I’d come clean because my dad [was able to tell customers], ‘Yeah. He told me.’”
Milton “Milt” Abrams, president of the Abrams Agency, a branch of Allstate Insurance, grew up in East Greenwich where he was raised by his paternal grandparents.
“My mom passed on weeks after I was born,” he explained. His grandfather, Jacob – known as Joe – had a shoe store on Main Street and his uncles owned a nearby Buick dealership.
“My grandfather came from Latvia and you could hear him singing downstairs, in Yiddish. Every year he we would celebrate Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Hanukkah in the house. He took me to his synagogue in Providence and, during the days when you were supposed to fast, I’d get hungry and he’d give me two dollars. I slipped out for a devil dog and a soda.
“He was a good man. My grandfather bought his shoes in New York City and Connecticut. The joke [as he got older] was that he knew every gas station bathroom on the Merritt Parkway.”
Milt remembered tragedy, too.
“We had over 100 people they were trying to get out of Latvia in the late ‘30s. There was a big list of displaced persons in New York City. My father and grandfather would go to see who had survived. Nobody survived.”
Kerry McKay, of the local furniture dynasty, learned responsibility from his father, the second Ken McKay. (His grandfather was the first; the list now stands at Ken McKay V, who just graduated from high school.)
“My brother Keith and I went to work around 12 or 13, hanging off the back of a furniture truck,” he recalled.
His father may have invented the phrase “tough love.”
Kerry said, “My dad’s way was to get up, get out of bed and go and take care of business. You were responsible for what you did. If you broke something, you got a job to pay for it.
“The two things in my father’s life were family and business, but they were separate. If you worked in the store, it was business. I got fired a lot; so did Keith. It was my father’s way or the highway. It was his domain.”
And discipline?
“If you got in trouble at my house,” said Kerry, “you didn’t want to be home when my dad found out.”
Jack Kliever’s father was born in the Kansas City area, became an Eagle Scout and moved to Manhattan, where he was a psychiatrist.
A Newport police sergeant who lives in Exeter, Jack said of his dad, “For a guy who lived in a city he liked to do outdoorsy things,” Jack recalled. “He had a little sailboat that he sailed in the East River. I remember one time when I was about seven or eight he decided it would be great to take a trip into the Hudson in a small boat with an outboard motor.”
When they were out in the traffic lane where tankers and other huge craft ply the waters, the outboard died.
“We were in the middle of the Hudson and he had these horrible emergency oars that were virtually useless. He rowed for hours and hours and hours; my mother called the Coast Guard. I don’t know why we weren’t killed but at the time I thought it was great fun.”
Jack’s dad also liked to rough it in the outdoors.
“His idea of a camping trip was to go into the mountains with a big jug of water, a tarp, some rope, a couple of sleeping bags, dried fruits and nuts and a little portable radio so he could listen to classical music.”
They would stretch rope between two trees and string up the tarp. “My dad thought all this modern stuff was for sissies,” Jack recalled. “He was bookish with woodsy skills.”
His German-Swedish father was stoic and formal.
“He would put on a tie and jacket on Saturday morning because that’s what you do. His secret vice was reading. He would actually read all day. When I was six, his idea of a good time was to take me to a diner on Saturday morning and read the New York Times cover to cover. My mom was so flamboyant, it was a nice change.”

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