James Russell Hamilton

August 21, 2013 is the one year anniversary of my father’s passing away from cancer. Two months prior to my father’s passing, my beloved mother-in-law passed away from cancer. About two months ago, my lifelong friend, who I’ve known since childhood passed away from cancer. So the last year has been a very hard one for me and the topic of cancer is one I try to avoid. My tribulations with cancer have inhibited me from talking much about my father until now.

My relationship with my father was strained for many years. When I think about it, the dynamics between my father and me wasn’t much different from many father /son relationships. As I look back now, I am happy I wised up in my forties and decided to work out my issues with my dad. Before my father’s passing, I had a lot of years where my dad and I were actually friends.

It wasn’t easy being my father’s son while growing to adulthood. He was as handsome as Alan Ladd, had the persona of James Dean and possessed the Scottish temperament of John Wayne. Besides all of that, as the actor Walter Brennan once said in a scene from the TV series The Guns of Will Sonnett, “no brag, just fact,” my father was a genius. Especially when it came to mechanical things created in any shape or form. By age 16 he had put a V8 engine in a Model T Ford. After he went into the Navy during the Korean War, every time my mom would go out shopping in my father’s white, Ford convertible the police would follow her around thinking it was my father looking for someone to race. My father once told me that he was more a concrete thinker and my capacity to think abstractly was far superior to his. I responded, dad I believe that ability comes from you teaching me how to conceptualize, identify the certainties, imagine the possibilities and then systemically map out the path to be taken along the road to problem solving a situation. Dad just looked at me and laughed. My father religiously read books about science and loved reading books by Carl Sagan. His knowledge of science inspired many interesting philosophical conversations when friends and relatives visited that lasted for hours. You know the discussions that start out with the question “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

My father was the first one in his family to graduate from high school, his father only had an eighth grade education. After graduation, dad went to work in the family trade, ironwork. The Hamilton family has over the years worked on most of the structures built in Michigan. My cousins and their families continue this rich tradition to this day. However, after 10 years in ironwork my father broke the mold and quit to start his own business in the trade of water well drilling. This business endeavor started my father down the path of entrepreneurship which would be the defining mark of who and what my dad was as a person for the rest of his life. This business venture as I now realize in my mid-fifties, provided me with the skills that have made me successful in my own endeavors. Later in his life my father expanded his business empire when he bought a hardware store from his cousin. Dad was well respected in the community for his business acumen, ethics and industriousness. I was reminded of this when one of my dearest friends mentioned after my father had cleaned the family water well, when he was told they didn’t have the money to pay, he said pay me when you can. To a well driller, their well logs are like the bible. After dad passed I was paging through his logs when I came upon an entry from 1963. Included was an invoice which at the top was handwritten Hamilton & Sons Well Drilling. At that time I would have been six years old.

Dad was no doubt as they say, “a man’s man.” I once heard him say, “No man stands in my face.” One time in a barroom brawl he took on five men and put one of them in the hospital. The police held him at the hospital until the man pulled through. At an early age I was no longer allowed to hug and kiss him, I had to shake his hand like a man. The ironic thing, my children, his grandchildren when they visited him, they would jump in his lap, hug and kiss him and he would then smile as big as the moon. My father did some things in life I consider unforgivable. Although, after raising three children of my own, I’ve come to realize my father did the best he humanly could when raising me. I cherish every moment he spent with me.

A few months before my father passed away, I rounded up my three adult children and took them to visit my dad. While there dad showed me a flatbed trailer he had just built to haul away his junk (dad amazingly worked in his business up to a few weeks before he died). I had rented a brand new Chrysler 300 at the airport to drive up to see him. Dad took one look at it and became instantly giddy like a child. He then proceeds to tell me a story I never heard before. “One time a Chrysler like this came along side my Ford and wanted to race. I floored my car and when my pedal was to the floor with nothing left, the car blew right buy me.” Dad paused for a moment and then said, “I think I’m gonna buy one of these.”

Enjoy your father’s company every chance while you can.

~Keith Alan Hamilton~

Dad, mom and me…