Sunday, June 19, 2011

Bedtime Prayers with Dad by My Side

Robert (Bob) Thomas Phillips circa 1940s
During the times I lived with my parents as a small child, my Dad was without a doubt my favorite biological parent. My poor Mom was someone I tolerated, God Bless her and may she rest in peace. The most memorable bedtime ritual for me was Dad having me repeat the Lord’s Prayer after him. This nightly occurrence started when I was about age five. Eventually I memorized it. Sometimes we would say the other simpler and shorter prayer that went: “Now I lay me down to sleep, if I should die before I wake, pray my Lord, my soul to take“. We would end this mini prayer with “God Bless” any and everybody we could think of blessing.
In retrospect I’m surprised my Dad even knew the Lord‘s prayer much less taught it to me, his first born.

My Dad, Robert Thomas Phillips, was the second baby son and final child of older parents. His father, my grandfather, Thomas was born in 1877 and fought in the Spanish American War in the Phillipines. Dad’s Mom, my first name namesake and paternal grandmother, Mary was born in 1890 in upstate NY. Both grandparents were products of the Victorian Age. Dad was two years younger than his older brother, Howard, a lifelong bachelor and small time mystery writer.

Dad was born September 2, 1922 in East Syracuse, NY. Bob, as Dad was commonly called was raised as a non practicing Catholic and most of his life was actually a wantabe pagan. However from time to time Dad would practice religion to the point of even becoming a licensed minister in the late 1980s in Carbondale, Illinois. This I know to be true as I have a photo of Dad performing a wedding there outdoors. What church licensed Dad, God only knows.

Although Dad was born on Labor Day, he really wasn’t into working. Dad became well educated and respected education to no end, always encouraging me to obtain a college degree no matter what, but my Dad was lazy and messy. He was the baby of his family what can I say? The second child of much wanted children and spoiled. 

After high school Dad went to Wilson’s Teacher’s college in Washington D.C. but dropped out and began his working career as a small time baseball player. He played in Georgia while trying his hand at acting. He got married but his first wife was killed shortly after in a car wreck in Chicago. He eventually joined the army in WWII where he served briefly as a cook. Dad and Mom met after WWII by both writing and exchanging letters to the “Lonely Hearts Club Magazine“. They dazzled one another with fabricated stories on how wealthy they each were.  Mom said she was an aspiring actress living temporarily in Oklahoma and Dad a rancher from Wyoming living temporarily with his parents in upstate New York. Once they married in January 1948, after honeymooning in Niagara Falls, Dad had a heart shape tattoo on his right arm stating “Bob loves Bobbie“. Dad eventually graduated from Southern Illinois University in 1971 with a degree in Social Work. It so happened to be the same year I graduated from Oklahoma State University with a degree in secondary education.

Dad tried his hand at many professions like myself. My all time favorite as a kid was when he drove a Good Humor Ice Cream Truck in Southern Cali. When I was a toddler Dad worked in the Chicago steel mills until Mom and he decided they would be better off in California mainly because it wasn‘t near as cold. In LA Dad worked briefly as a welder. Eventually my folks became dependant on the government for supporting their growing family of five. It all began during President Johnson‘s War on Poverty. So to say my Dad knew the social work and welfare system from the inside out is an understatement, and for him to obtain a degree in it, only seemed fitting. After Dad finished this degree in 1971 he got a job driving cab in Carbondale, something he was doing in the 1940s in Chicago when I was born. He always said driving cab was his primary profession.

Dad was a Liberal with a capital L, even to the point of being accused of being a Communist during the 1950 McCarthy era. When I was five years old in Southern California, before Dad took me back to my grandparents in Oklahoma to live, that there were two grim looking men in black suites that came to our door asking to speak to Mr. Phillips. Although not quite 5, I knew it wasn‘t a good will visit. Fortunately Mom was there and began hollering for Dad and carrying on so much that I think the FBI ended up feeling sorry for him and let the whole thing go. The Lord does work in mysterious ways.

Dad would probably more accurately be described as a socialist, being for the underdog and the oppressed working class. However in 1973, Dad made a historic statement by painting his car with anti-Nixon statements and driving it from Carbondale, Illinois to Tulsa, Oklahoma, a very conservative area. My folks were there to visit my first husband, me and my Grandfather Robert. There is a photo postcard my brother, Matt, made of my Dad’s special Impeach Nixon car while in Sapulpa, Oklahoma. It happens to have my Okie maternal Grandfather Robert looking on with disgust and disbelief.

Now if there were ever two people diametrically opposite it was definitely my Dad and my maternal grandfather Robert Hillary DeLozier.  At my first wedding September 4th, 1971 Grandpa Robert was the one who “gave me away“.  Dad arrived late at the First Christian Church. He said he got lost. I don’t think so. He’d been a cab driver in Chicago and been to the small town of Chelsea, Oklahoma many, many times. I think Dad was hurt and maybe embarrassed because I hadn’t asked him to do the “giving away” bit.  I hope he  understood that since I’d lived with Grandpa, his father in law all through high school and before, spending college summers working while living with Grandpa, as well as other vacations, it seemed like Grandpa was the right person to ask. Plus I married into a big time Republican Oklahoma Oil family and of course Dad did not approve.  In the end the marriage only laste 7 years.  It was a bad fit for me from the beginning and of course an even bigger disappointment for my liberal Dad who conveniently couldn't find the church on time that wedding day.

Robert (Bob) Thomas Phillips circa 1990s

Dad passed April 18, 1999 in Carbondale, Illinois 14 months after Mom's passing.  He died in the VA hospital. Although we didn't always see eye to eye, I sure miss talking with him and repeating those nightly prayers together.

Mary Alta Buckingham - Memoir  of my Dad 2/25/2008, revised 6/6/2012 for Father's Day 6/10/2012

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