Tag Archives: family

Thirty Years Gone – My Old Man

Eddie Ladd with his bestie, Fred DiBiase

Eddie Ladd with his bestie, Fred DiBiase

Thirty years ago today my father suffered his fourth, and final, heart attack. It happened while he was undergoing the insertion of a Swan-Ganz catheter to monitor the functioning of his heart subsequent to his third heart attack. He did not survive the procedure. While I don’t have a truly eidetic memory, I am cursed with a reasonably healthy ability to picture things in my head. My memory of that night haunts me to this day.

The last time I saw him, he was being wheeled out of his hospital room toward the catheterization laboratory at the Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Panorama City, CA. The man who had brought me into the world, who had carried me in his arms into my bed when I’d fallen asleep in the car,  who protected me, and who had — despite his disappointment and distress over many a choice I made in my crazy-ass life — stood beside me and sacrificed much for me, was scared. I didn’t like seeing it then and I don’t like remembering him that way now.

My old man was old school. Born in 1924, he would have been ninety on November 7th of this year.  He was the fourth child in his family; the first born in the United States after his mother and three older siblings were finally able to flee from the Ukraine and join my zeyda (grandfather in Yiddish), who had emigrated eight years earlier and finally saved enough money to bring them to Chicago. His name at birth was Isadore Edward Wladovsky and he was raised on the South side of Chicago, where he attended Washington High School.

He did not graduate, choosing instead to join the U.S. Navy when he was in his senior year. He had turned seventeen on November 7, 1941, one month before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He completed boot camp at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center. I don’t know a lot about his service, other than he was on at least one Murmansk run; a very dangerous voyage through the North Atlantic bringing supplies to the Russians via the port of Murmansk. He also wrote and drew cartoons for the ship’s news bulletin. I used to have faded, crumbling copies of some of them, but they have either disappeared or are in a box somewhere in my garage. The highest rank he achieved was Radioman 3rd Class. I remember a short vacation in San Diego when I was in my early teens and we went down to the docks to view one of the ships where they were providing tours. We were standing alongside the ship and he was able to use his knowledge of Morse Code to read what one of the Naval vessels was signaling to another.

Arctic Circle Crossing Certificate

This certificate was given to each man aboard the William H. Webb upon crossing the Arctic Circle

Every father has a chance to be a superhero for a while and mine was no exception. When he carried me in his arms as a toddler, I was invincible, and when he tucked me into bed I was safe and secure. He was the strongest man alive as far as I was concerned and he could do just about anything. Once he even convinced me, after demonstrating the fine art of blowing smoke rings (he was a Pall Mall man at the time), that he could create a smoke piano. To this day I swear I saw all 88 keys on that grand piano!

Unfortunately, time burnishes off the luster of perfection and, more likely than not, children realize their parents are — much to their horror and consternation — merely human beings; flawed, imperfect, and capable of making mistakes.

Such was my experience. I’m not sure when it happened, and I’m reasonably certain it had as much to do with my rebelliousness as anything else, but the day inevitably came when I suddenly realized how “stupid” he had grown. After that, we didn’t get along all that well for a long time. Part of the problem, no doubt, was my father’s very conservative upbringing and his propensity to criticize and seldom praise. I was expected to excel and when I didn’t, there was hell to pay.

He had a quick temper and, in today’s world, I’m reasonably certain he would be, at best, a candidate for anger management. He was quick to strike and, when he did, it was frequently with the back of his hand. If I fell to the ground to avoid the blows he wouldn’t actually kick me, but he’d push me around on the floor in frustration. To be fair, it didn’t happen often and I never suffered more than bright red hand marks on my back or – sometimes – my face. My mother often came to my rescue, screaming at him to leave me alone. He once took a swing at by brother, who ducked, and ended up hitting the youngest son of a neighbor of ours. That didn’t go over too well and I think he was so mortified he decided it was time to stop with the corporal punishment.

I also think he was haunted by the many fitful nights he spent aboard ship in the North Atlantic, knowing they were being shadowed by a German Wolf Pack and could be torpedoed and sunk at any time, a fact made evident by the ships around his that suffered such a fate. Survival in those waters was very unlikely and I can’t imagine it was easy to get any real deep sleep. On those occasions my mother would ask me to wake him, I learned very quickly not to be within striking distance, as he came out of his sleep as though General Quarters was sounding.

Despite our troubled, angry, and frustrating relationship we loved each other and, thankfully, in the two or three years prior to his death we were enjoying a growing closeness — even a budding friendship. We had worked together in the business he started, which transformed from Ladd Meats to Edward Ladd & Sons, my brother having joined it years earlier.

He took up golf late in life and became a scratch golfer. He wanted me to golf as well, but the grief he gave me over being left-handed (I tried to learn right-handed, but just couldn’t get comfortable with it) and the proximity of the ocean, where I had learned to surf, doomed that venture to failure. I didn’t come back to golf until I was 46, nearly a decade after his death. I have few regrets in my life, but one of them is never having played a round of golf with the old man. I drove him around in a golf cart many times, but never played back then. Shortly after I started playing, I went to Porter Valley Country Club, where he had been President of the Men’s Club one year, and had played there a couple times a week for many years. They still had his picture on the wall and gave me a cart to drive around the course, which I did, trying to imagine him playing each hole.

We buried him in his favorite golf clothes, clutching his favorite putter, which we believe he would have liked. I’ve been told the groundskeeper at Porter Valley lowered the flag at the Club to half staff when he learned my father  had died. I think it choked me up more than any reaction I heard about.

Eddie Ladd

The Old Man at About 50

After he died, I can’t recall how many times something good would happen to me and I wanted to let him know, sure he would be proud or excited for me. Anyone who has smoked and quit knows the feeling of absentmindedly reaching in one’s pocket for a pack of cigarettes, only to discover there’s nothing there; then remembering you’d stopped smoking. That’s how it felt – only worse – when I wanted to share something with my dad, and the realization he was gone would hit me. The hole in my heart dropped down to my stomach and it took a few minutes to shake off the hollow feeling it brought.

About two or three years after his death, I dreamed I ran into him on a cliff overlooking a beach. I don’t know where the beach was, but in the dream we spent the entire day together, exploring caves, sharing a meal, and talking. We talked about my life and he assured me he was fine and happy to see I was doing well. I don’t believe in an afterlife, so I don’t believe I was really talking to my father. However, I do believe I was putting a few “ghosts” to rest by dealing with some of the unfinished business from my perspective; some of the things we never got to do together. It was the best dream I’ve ever had and I remember it to this day. Not in great detail, but definitely in terms of how it made me feel.

He left little of material value, save a moderate life insurance payment that went to sustain the family business, which provided for our mother and our sister who was, I believe, just entering her last year of High School or who had just graduated and was still living at home. I got a piece of jewelry and some clothing, some of which I kept for many years afterward. I still have the pendant, which was custom made for him by an old friend of mine. One of the non-material things he left me was an ability to recognize absurdity and the willingness to comment on or satirize it. He also had lots of silly sayings the family still refers to as “Eddieisms”.

He was a hard worker who was able to move from behind the counter of a small deli in the Grand Central Market, to owning a small truck with which he would purchase and transport distressed merchandise to some of the poorer markets and butcher shops in and around L.A. He was a peddler, once the “broken hot dog king” of the City. He had a wonderful singing voice and many times, during the shows our temple, Valley Beth Israel, would put on for the congregation, people swore he was lip-syncing to Sinatra. He wasn’t. Most everybody he knew loved him and, true to the stormy nature of our relationship, I many times referred to hm as a “lovable asshole”.

To say I miss him would be both an exaggeration and an understatement. I don’t think about him every day. It serves no good purpose and I have a life, a wife, and two young children who still depend on me being with them every day in many ways. Nevertheless, he will always be a part of my life and there are numerous times when I think of him. I would give anything to be able to tell him how much I love him and how much he remains a big part of my life and who I’ve become.


Reflecting on a Deep Personal Loss

The middle of next month will be the 30th anniversary (is that a good word for it?) of my father’s death. While 30 years is a long time and I’m quite used to his absence, I find certain little things are affecting me in ways they normally don’t. Some stories and videos on Facebook, as well as some of the dramas I like to no-brain out on with television, are having a disturbing effect on me.

I’ve been thinking about the blog post I want to write to commemorate his passing and to share a little bit of the joy and pathos that was our relationship. It was a loving and stormy one, I’ll tell you that. I suppose thinking about it has been making me a bit melancholy. I used to be able to talk to my mother about him, but she’s been gone almost nine and half years and my brother and sister and I just don’t talk about him that much. Thirty years! Hard to believe.


Shalom, Salaam, and Hallelujah

I came across a post on Facebook today and I just wanted to share the videos that were in it, along with a few thoughts about the tune and what listening to the two versions did to me. The song is Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, recorded and released in 1984. It is one of the most beautiful melodies I have ever heard and, as you’ll see in the following videos, the words are somewhat irrelevant . . . at least for this post.

I listened to both of these in the order I’m presenting them. Both brought me to tears for a couple of reasons. The sheer beauty of the melody was certainly one of them, but the quality of the performances, as well as the identities of the performers was a factor as well. The first is a performance by a group from the IDF, the Israeli Defense Forces; the second is sung by a young Arab boy, accompanied by the Voice in a Million Chorus.

The struggles of Israel and the Arab world, especially the Palestinians, and the tension they caused between my father and me, were probably significant in my response as well. This is no doubt because next month he will have been gone for thirty years and he’s been on my mind more than usual. Somewhere in my head I felt the pathos of these struggles and the frustration that they’re still going on, as well as recalled the countless family arguments and disagreements encountered over meals both mundane and special.

It’s difficult to write about the feelings this particular juxtaposition of artists and performances evoked, so let me just drop the videos below and allow you, should you care to, listen to them both. I don’t expect you’ll feel exactly as I did, but I can’t help but think you will feel something powerful.

The IDF

Mikhael Mala and the VIAM Choir

I hope you enjoyed and, perhaps, even felt something a little special. As the original poster said: “On the day that Arabs and Israelis can celebrate TOGETHER, peace may be round the corner. Salam and Shalom.”


It’s OK, Beth. We’ll Carry On From Here

Beth Thompson

Farewell, Beth. You touched a lot of lives and will be sorely missed

I posted the following on Facebook two days ago and I want to share it here as a tribute to my friend and former colleague:

I am beside myself with grief. A couple hours ago I received a message from a friend who wanted to confirm what he had heard – that our former colleague and good friend, Beth Thompson, had passed away. I started frantically contacting as many people as I could think of, all the while hoping it was just some stupid Internet screwup. It was not to be. Apparently, while preparing to leave for work this morning, Beth suffered a heart attack and passed.

Beth was one of my first friends when I joined the Program Office on the Space Shuttle Main Engine program at Rocketdyne. Her good humor and iconoclastic attitude helped me ease into the corporate world, a world I didn’t join until I was 40 years old, and was ill-suited for. Along with many others I’m proud and happy to still call good friends, Beth was family. I still have the card she picked out for me and had everyone sign when I left for what turned out to be a short stint back in my family’s business. That was about 17 or 18 years ago.

She moved up to the Seattle area with her husband, Paul, and their three children, where she continued to work for Boeing, one of several major players that passed Rocketdyne around like a financial hot potato. This is tough to digest. My kids have seen me cry for the first time in their memory. People who are younger than you aren’t supposed to die before you do. It’s just not right.

We hardly saw each other in the past few years, but we liked and commented on each other’s FB posts now and again. At least I knew she was there and I got to see a little bit of her life and happiness. That is now gone and my world is poorer for it. Goodbye, Beth. I love you and will always remember how you brightened my world and the world of so many others.


A Generation Gone

Eddie Ladd with his bestie, Fred DiBiase

Eddie Ladd with his bestie, Fred DiBiase

Tomorrow would have been my father’s 89th birthday. It’s also a couple of months into the 30th year since he’s been gone. Over a generation has passed since he died a couple of months shy of his 60th birthday. I don’t think of him that much anymore, but when I do I miss him; sometimes terribly. Like so many men of my generation, I had a very stormy relationship with my father. He was a veteran of the U.S. Navy and had served during World War II, and survived the deadly Murmansk runs through the North Atlantic. I know his time aboard ship affected him deeply. I made the mistake – though not very often – of waking him when I was standing too close to his hands and arms. He did not wake well, especially when I was young. I learned to stand back and gently touch his foot or call out to him.

He was raised by a very stern Russian-Polish immigrant who I never got to meet. Assuming my father learned much of how to be who he was from his father, I figure Max Wladofsky was a stern and difficult man to please. My old man really wasn’t capable of showing too much affection, nor was he capable of much in the way of praise. For years after his death, I found myself thinking (after something special had happened to, or because of, me) “I can’t wait to tell Dad.” Of course, that was followed immediately by the recollection he was gone and would never know of it, or have the opportunity to be proud of me. I wanted desperately to please him. Fortunately, in the final years of his life he and I settled our differences somewhat, and finally began building what I’d like to think would have been a wonderful friendship . . . had he not died so very young.

He really was a loving man, but I believe circumstances conspired to make it difficult for him to show affection and acceptance. He was a member of what we now refer to as “The Greatest Generation”, a generation of hard, stoic men who “saved us from Fascism” and, after the war was won, brought home the bacon. When he left the service, he was able to purchase a modest, new home in Panorama City, a suburb in the San Fernando Valley, just north of Los Angeles. I grew up in the 50s and 60s, and have to say much of my life was pretty idyllic by most standards, thanks to his dedication to his family and his hard work.

He was, I believe, scarred forever by his experiences during the war as well. He never saw combat as a soldier, but he spent weeks aboard ship, in convoys being hunted by German U-Boats and sailing through waters in which hypothermia would have killed survivors of a torpedoed ship within minutes. I doubt many on those ships slept very soundly. I’m sure he didn’t.

I hardly ever saw him when I was a young boy, as he worked six days a week at the Grand Central Market, in downtown Los Angeles. He left the house before I arose and frequently didn’t get home until after I was in bed, asleep. Sundays were usually spent with other members of our extended family and, if memory serves, the adults kept mostly to themselves and the kids played together. I got to know my cousins pretty well, but I didn’t get to know my father until much later.

Because I had been told most of my life that I was exactly like my father, I spent quite a few years after his death thinking 59 would likely be the end of the road for me. Since I’m now 66, I’m thankful that didn’t turn out to be the case. Still, I think I would gladly give up a few years if I could have had a few more to enjoy with my father. I wish he were here so I could wish him one more happy birthday tomorrow. I guess I’ll have to content myself with spending a few minutes writing this post and thinking about him . . . and how much I really do miss him.


Out of the Mouths of Babes

Rick's visor

What Geordi La Forge’s visor would look like if it was designed by the British Royal Family.

My youngest daughter, Alyssa (9), says I need to write more blog posts if I expect people to visit and read. Why didn’t I think of that? I don’t know what it is, but sometime you just don’t have a great deal to say. Sure, I frequently post things to Twitter and even more to Facebook, but this is my blog. This is where I give vent to the things that are most important to me . . . or, is it?

I have to admit I’ve always had trouble writing about certain things, not the least of which is my becoming a first-time adoptive father at the age of 55 . . . and doing it again at 59. I want to write about the experience, but I also have long felt the need to protect my daughters’ privacy. It is, after all, their story to tell, and it’s far more about them than it is about me and my wife. I think there may be a happy medium, however, and I’m close to figuring out what it is.

So . . . here are a few goals of mine. I want to continue writing about some of the things that are of interest to me professionally, e.g. Knowledge Management, Social Media (especially as it affects business and civil society), Politics, and Religion/Philosophy. I also want to share some of my personal experiences, especially those I know are a bit out of the ordinary, e.g. International adoption late in life, retirement, becoming a man in the 1960s (including my political activism back then), and maybe some things for which the statute of limitations has thankfully run or for which the trail of evidence is too dry for me to worry about. :)

This is a process and involves (I think) my re-doing how this site is set up. I’ll be getting to that soon. Right now I’m busy looking for ways in which to supplement my retirement income. I’ll probably be writing a bit more about that as well. I have always been somewhat of a late bloomer. Now I’m just hoping I live long enough to see my latest “career move” come to fruition. I greatly appreciate those of you who take the time to visit and read. I think, perhaps, another goal of mine will be to see if I can’t elicit a few more comments. I wonder if writing about controversial subjects will accomplish that? We’ll see.

Here’s a thought. Anyone interested in the intricacies . . . and the legal and moral issues . . . of International adoption should read this. It’s one of the issues I plan on writing about as I loosen up on the subject. It was not something we thought about prior to our first adoption, but was definitely part of the thought process when we adopted our younger daughter. Now it just haunts me. One of my goals is to live long enough to see my girls to adulthood. Then I’ll be able to discuss it with them. The reality is we just don’t know for sure what happened before they came into our lives. I’d much rather it haunted me, and not them.


Dream On!

I posted the other day about my vision getting to the point where it seems everything I look at has a drop shadow and one of my friends tweeted me the following:

This got me to thinking about dreaming in general. I don’t know about others, but I hardly ever remember my dreams nowadays. I assume I dream because I’ve read we all do and, sometimes, I have somewhat of a recollection of having dreamed. I just can’t seem to recall what it was I dreamed about. I think that’s likely a good thing, as I interpret it to mean I’m not terribly troubled.

Which brings me to nightmares. I suspect if I had a nightmare I would remember it. My eight-year-old has them occasionally and she seems to be able to remember them pretty vividly. On the other hand, my 10-year-old has them but refuses to tell me anything about what they are. Drives me crazy! I want to be able to comfort her, but she’s having nothing of it.

I’ve also come to the conclusion not having nightmares is an indication that I’m pretty well grounded and don’t harbor any unreasonable fears about the unknown or . . . even the known. The closest I come to a nightmare is worrying about having enough money to take care of our bills, maintain our current lifestyle, and have enough left over to send my kids to a reasonably decent institution of higher learning. Trouble with those nightmares is they keep me awake, so they aren’t really nightmares I guess.

Speaking of dreams, the last one I recall vividly happened many, many years ago. It was a couple of years after my father died in 1984, shortly before his 60th birthday. One night I dreamt I was on the beach (I had been living a couple of blocks from the ocean in Playa del Rey, CA for some time) and I ran into him. Now my father and I did not get along all that well for most of my adolescence and a substantial portion of my adulthood. However, we had begun to get to know each other better and were growing quite close when he died. Though I missed him terribly, I was happy we had left none of the really difficult issues unresolved before he was gone.

In my dream, I approached him and asked (somewhat incongruously), “Where have you been?” to which he responded . . . actually, I don’t recall what he said. What I do recall is the dream seemed to last an entire day, during which time I was able to share with him how my life was going and enjoy what was a real deep sense of peace and contentment. We joked, relived some old times, and generally just basked in each others’ glow.

I haven’t dreamed about him since, though I do miss him sometimes. I think the quality of that dream allowed me to move on a little more comfortably with my life. I know it left me with a sense of accomplishment that I still feel the residue of, nearly a quarter century later.

So here’s some unsolicited advice. If you have a parent you are a bit estranged from, make an effort to resolve whatever issues remain. Don’t take a chance of having nightmares after they’ve gone and you no longer have the chance to bury the hatchet. That is all.


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