Archived Story

Even Daddy’s laughter had wisdom in it

Published 1:06pm Saturday, June 18, 2011

Column: Pass the Hot Dish, by Alexandra Kloster

“What is the one thing you would like people to know about you, Daddy?” I asked.

He thought for a second. “That I’m a world famous skier. And that’s only in winter.”

I was dubious. “Have you ever been on skis?”

“Once,” he said, “and the first thing I did was break one. I don’t even know what I did. All of the sudden it just broke.”

His answer didn’t surprise me. No matter how great his accomplishments, my father, Alexander Kloster, blows no horn. He’ll conduct an orchestra of praise for other people, but celebrate himself? Never.

I went to my family with the same question I’d put to Daddy hoping for more illuminating answers.

Alexandra Kloster

“It’s his enthusiasm for life, all of it,” my sister Barb told me. “I remember when he rode the Lake Lansing amusement park roller coaster 13 times nonstop. He was the holder of the sit up record at Great Lakes Naval Academy. (When they told him he could stop he asked, “Why?”) Even though he’ll deny it now, he always liked speed.

Once when he was state superintendent and driving a state car he had to have a Michigan State Police entourage accompany him from Detroit to Lansing just to slow him down. He found a way to get accepted at Eastern Michigan and the University of Michigan without a high school diploma.”

It’s true. My dad dropped out of school in the eighth grade to work in the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Depression. After fighting in World War II and Korea he decided he wanted an education. Never one to follow convention, he earned a Ph.D. before a high school diploma. He didn’t even have a GED. When he finally received an honorary high school sheepskin, newspapers all over the country reported on the “backward professor,’’ and Walter Cronkite announced it on the world news.

If you ask Daddy about this he’ll roll his eyes and tell you it was a slow news day.

My sister Susie remembers our father’s easy way with people. Daddy didn’t know what a stranger was. Every person he met was a friend in waiting. Most importantly, he never resorted to a quick evaluation of a person’s outside and assumed he knew what was on the inside.

“I hate to think of the people I would have missed out on knowing if Daddy hadn’t taught us not to judge people by the way they looked,” Susie told me.

She’s right. Daddy used to say to me, “You’ve got to talk to everyone, Ducky. Find out about people. Otherwise how will you know?”

“Know what, Daddy?”

“Everything.”

My mom remembers a side of Daddy that not a lot of people get to see.

“When I was sick he’d bring me a steak and a bottle of fizz.”

“Fizz?”

“Champagne. When we didn’t have much money it was cheap steak and cheap champagne, but it always made me feel better. And when my dad died he said there was only one place Gertie (her mother) should go and that was with us. That meant a lot. It made me feel very special.”

My parents will celebrate their 64th wedding anniversary in October.

Even now, as I write this, I feel like I’m cheating him. A column cannot contain my father any more than a classroom, farm, or even a battleship ever could. My husband, Graham, said it best, “Al’s a strong presence. Even age has not diminished his ability to be the presence in any room.”

Perhaps the place where his presence was felt most intensely was the classroom. Sometimes he would start a lecture with, “Listen to this because it is going to be very profound.” Then he would grin self-deprecatingly and laugh.

He was joking, but I wonder if that joke isn’t the truest thing he ever said. “Al’s word is powerful,” my friend Christina told me recently. I’ve listened to his voice all my life and I don’t remember a time when I didn’t recognize something valuable in whatever he was saying. Even his laughter, which is everywhere in my memory, had wisdom in it.

There is too much to say and my words are feeble. I’ll end where I should have begun. I love you, Daddy. Sometimes that simple message is the best a daughter can do, and she hopes that it will be enough for a father deserving of so much more.

Woodbury resident Alexandra Kloster appears each Sunday. She may be reached at alikloster@yahoo.com, and her blog is Radishes at Dawn at alexandrakloster.com.