I admit that as a kid I never thought I would be like my father, Alfred B. Eichelman, and like Mark Twain said of his own father, I was amazed at how intelligent he grew between my fifteenth and twenty first year. He was more adventurous as a young man than I was. At age eight he took a friend out on Lake Erie in a rowboat as he heard from someone that the earth would be destroyed by fire in 1911. He and his buddy wanted to see the spectacle of meteors hitting Cleveland. In upper grades he had Rheumatic Fever and was told he could not exercise. Never the less he ran and made the high school track team. Al also took violin and tap dancing lessons and after high school went into show business. After a few years in vaudeville and Paul Whiteman’s band he opened a dance studio in Cleveland. His first customers were his parents and the church they belonged to considered dancing a terrible sin and they were forced to leave it. He finally went into department store sales heading the jewelery department. It was his dancing that appealed to Ann Rentz who became my mother. It appealed enough so that on the third date he slipped a ring on her finger, they were married a month later and were united happily for forty years until his death.
As a father my Dad could be strict, but always fair. If I was working on something and got it wrong he would correct me. Then when I got it right he would act like it was the first time and praise me highly. What especially appealed to me was his sense of humor, something he used to make my mom and I always feel in high spirits even during tough times. I was in the hospital at age 9 and then age 12 and he would come by with comic books and science fiction magazines and read them with me. I was luckier than most kids whose parents objected to both. It was Dad who introduced me to Edgar Rice Burroughs and Sherlock Holmes and I was hooked for life on both.
It was Al Eichelman’s adventurous spirit that led us in 1946 to pull up stakes and head for New Market, Virginia. Quite a move for a city boy to go into a town of 700 people to first manage, then own a pottery shop. He gave me my first job at age 10, dusting thousands of pieces of pottery for a grand 35 cents an hour. Yes, he believed kids should learn the value of hard work. Dad took to the tourist business big time and was active in Rotary, the Chamber of Commerce and serving on the board that ran the New Market Rebels baseball team. Dad loved baseball and we went many times to major league games in Cleveland and Washington. To this day I can not root for any MLB team other than the Indians. Dad also was one of the townsmen to restore the celebration of May 15, as The Battle of New Market Day which led to a tourist attraction to visit the battlefield and a new museum. He also became an avid golfer. One Christmas my mom gave him a foot high golf tee and a large red golf ball so he could play in the snow. He wasn’t the only one with a sense of humor.
Both my parents believed, like most in their generation, that education was the answer to everything and they made sure I got that. One other thing we shared was a love of films and from my very early age we averaged a film a week, sometimes more. It was our shared love of films that would have great influence on my teaching and later involvement running conventions and finally Point North Outreach.
Sadly I was only 35 when Dad died. That was over fifty years ago and yet I feel closer to him today than I did when much younger. I can relate and understand him much better as I learn more about the historic time he lived. He witnessed the United States becoming the leading nation in the world, two world wars, the great Depression, the Cold War and great social changes across the land. I think this is what made him a stronger Christian as he had no doubt that faith was important in making us a great nation. I do know he would be very sad to see what has happened to us today. He also had faith that every boy and every girl could be anything they wanted to be in this nation, a feeling my mom shared. And one that I have had all my life and tried to pass on to my children, grand children and students. Today there are many who try to knock that idea down, promoting the theory that we are better off to be average and to all be the same.
I do love him and when we join him in Heaven I will not be surprised to see him playing the violin while tap dancing as he did for Paul Whiteman, and making an audience laugh with a quip or two. I doubt he will be asked to leave because he is a dancer.
Happy Father’s Day Dad from one who shares your faith in what people can become if they really want to be and are willing to work to achieve their goals in life. With God’s help and guidance of course.