Each Father’s Day–okay,everyday–like the movie says, I remember Papa.
We called him “Jim Pop”. He wasn’t a modern kinda guy. He was a character. He liked it that way, or wasn’t afraid to hide behind that moniker when it suited him.
What he really wanted to be was a cowboy. It’s why he moved us frm Piedmont to St. Helena back in the 50’s. No. What he really wanted to be was a 49er–but since Buck Shaw (former niner coach) never called Jim Pop would have to settle for being more Marlboro man than Frankie Albert (the Stanford Scrum Half he lost his jersey to in the ‘41 Cal Stanford Rugby match). He ended up having to sell Real Estate for a living.
He never tired of telling folks that the symbol of his company, the signature cowboy hat, was for real–that we had 10 breeders and a bull–dropping a calf apiece each year. Some years we’d sport 20 head.
I’m not sure that truly qualified him for the big leagues amongst cattle ranchers, but at least he wasn’t lying.
It’s hard to say what his first love was after our mom, Maggie.
It was most likely “the ranch”.
We called it the Lazy J, though it was just an old farm house and barn on a 12 acre “island”, up a mile dirt road, surrounded by 3,000 acres in Conn Valley. Closest folks were a mile away. In the early winters, that ‘56 Chevy station wagon would get stuck in the mud going up the road and going down. In the summers we carried rocks in the bed of our 1950 GMC pickup for traction. High school kids laughed at us.
Jim Pop named all the cows, calves, horses, peacocks, chicken, sheep, pigeons, dogs and cats. Our friends growing up were named Monte Wolly, Barnie Google, Charlie Brown, Apache, Lady, Cherokee, Jingle Bells, Orlando, and Pygmalion, to name just a few.
I will never forget one cattle auction in Dixon. I was around 10 or 12. We had two steers tied down in the back of that old red truck. We backed up to the loading ramp. I got out with my boots, hat, and chaps.
I was clearly the real McCoy—or at least felt like it.
Suddenly an authentic cowpoke spat tobacco at my boots and asked me how old our steers were.
I was about to answer, “This here critter is…”—when Jim Pop interrupted. Then he proudly spat out, “Well, David Copperfield is six and Barnie Google is…”
“Daaaad.” How embarrassing! He blew our cover.
Like many of his generation, Jim Pop cared. He prized loyalty. It was often irrational–but beautiful. Cal was better than Stanford. San Francisco better than L.A. He once threw a sandwich at the TV because the NBA Eastern All-stars were beating the West. He didn’t know a player on either team—but the West was “Better” than the East.
His was a life of the white hats versus black. Good and evil were simple and well defined. There was one baseball team–The Yankees. One University—Cal. One song, “Prisoner of Love” (the rest were cheap imitations). (We won’t even bring up rock & roll versus swing). And of course, only one haircut. The 60’s were not a fun time for him.
He admired many different men. Men of accomplishment in many different fields. Being a man was a good thing back then. And one knew what was meant when so and so was referred to as “a real man”—or a man’s man. He didn’t admire a man because he had money or fame. There was a quality which had to be there, first.
Ladies were to be honored. And in his world, they weren’t men. One didn’t swear in front of them. One took off his hat in their presence, and stood up anytime they entered the room. It was the law.
There was a right way and a wrong way to do everything. Nothing was in between. He trusted others and never broke his word. He always gave the benefit of the doubt, and was just crushed, when some sharper, slicker businessman would take advantage of him, a buyer or a seller. Often I saw him shake his head in wonder and say, “I just can’t believe So and So would ever do such a thing.”
A man of honor, he knew the code by heart, and followed it religiously.
Traditions were essential. Instinctively, he knew society’s tribal need to recognize passages. All the holidays and birthdays were family days–days to gather together and celebrate and honor what he held most dear–the family unit.
Now-a-days they have swim parties on Father’s day. Families are asked to split up, that each kid can be with his or her friends. Sure, I wish it had been that way when I was younger. It would have been so much more fun to be with my buddies, than dull old dad.
Now I wish I could be only with him—and no others.
When I was a kid, most of the fathers in St. Helena were like Jim Pop. Men who’d gone to war. Men who faced death. Men who kept their word. Men who honored heroes. Men who were fathers, not pals. Men who respected the land. Men who respected local traditions–and respected each other. And Men who expected to be respected in return. What did they know?
We were the ones with all the answers.