Sunday Stealing: Get It All Down Meme
Wordless Wednesday: Cooking With Jack

An Interview With My Father

My friend Cyndi, who lost her beloved father in recent years, posted this interview on her Facebook timeline. Since my own father is now nearly 73, I told her I would jump on it and interview my own dad. Below, you'll find that interview. I enjoyed reading his answers. Maybe you will, also.

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From: Melanie Odette

 Sent: Tuesday, June 23, 2015 2:31 PM

 To: Bob Simmons



[Questions from Brendon Burchard]
1. What comes to mind when you think about growing up in Staten Island, New York?
My grandma living around the corner from us, and my frequent visits to see her
The many honorary “aunts and uncles” I had, who weren’t relatives at all, but my parents’ friends and contemporaries, who were always nice and generous to me
Our local public school. P.S. 36  (K-8) and the family atmosphere present there, thanks to a great principal, Mr. Grimshaw, wonderful teachers, and an active PTA who associated and integrated so well with the school, and the close friendships my mother developed with the other mothers of my classmates.
The small town, “everybody knows everbody,” atmosphere in Annadale.
2. What did you love to do as a kid, before high school?
I had a handful of close friends, and liked playing with them.  Was particularly close with a boy named Brian, who I pal’ed around with for several years.
We traded comic books, and I shared my quarter allowance with him.  He was more athletic than I was, but we still played sports together.
We went to the movies a mom, dad and me.
We went to the public pool in Tompkinsville, SINY, often, when I was a kid.
I loved going to Point Pleasant, NJ for almost the whole summer when my dad worked there often. That went on for several years.  We even went there on vacation when it wasn’t work related.  Beyond Annadale, it was my favorite place, growing up.
I started building models when I was 8, and built an average of one a week.
I had a girlfriend of sorts....Barbara....who I liked for several years.  She was in my class...she died of cancer in 2010.
3. What did you love to do in high school?
Look at the
Pal around with my best friend, Glenn  (who is now sickly, married for the 5th time, and living in Edgewater, FL)  We were VERY mischievious together. Played lots of practical jokes together.
Listen to rock and roll, especially Elvis.
Sneaking in some driving whenever the opportunity presented itself.
4. What do remember most about your teenage years?
I was a bit of a nerd in high school....decent student....mostly honor roll, but wanted to be thought of as “one of the guys.”  I dressed like Fonzie when I was in high school.
I hung around with 2 or 3 different crowds....Glenn and that bunch, but others from Annadale, as well.  Mostly older than me...didn’t fit in well.
I smoked then.
I liked school....fooled around a lot out of class; was strictly business in class.
Being a bit distant from my family...less interested in family outings.
Arguing with my dad over college vs, becoming a harbor pilot.  (did neither).
5. What do you remember most about your mom (my grandma)?
My mother was saintly to me. She was also very pretty. She was well liked by everyone. She was the one person I could count on to help me.
She cooked well, and kept a nice clean and neat house.  I sort of attribute my fastidiousness to her; but I was seldom pushed. I cleaned up on my own.
Grandma Simmons lived with Uncle Bill and Aunt Elsie when I came along. She was quiet and unassuming...she did jigsaw puzzles and we played dominoes together whenever we visited.  She died in 1952, in Pennsylvania, when I was 10.
Grandma Schneider lived around the corner from us.  I visited her almost daily. She was a simple woman; not worldly at all. She was a great cook; mostly German foods. She was 21 years younger than my grandfather, and raised his 2 teenage kids, who respected her as their mother.
She died in 1970, at 89.
6. What was most important to her?
To my mother?  To stabilize our home, and keep peace and harmony since my dad struggled with depression, and to see to it that I behaved decently.
She also was devoted and dedicated to her church (the church I grew up in.) and she was committed to making life as pleasant as possible for my dad.
She didn’t work outside the home, but she shouldered all the domestic duties, except taking care of the car and the yard. (My dad did that.) She managed the family finances, as it upset my dad too much to do it.
7. What do you remember most about your dad (my grandpa)?
My grandpa Simmons died in 1939, before I was born, from injuries sustained in a car accident.
My grandpa Schneider died when I was 2.  I have no recollection of him at all.
My dad was kind of serious...a shy man, publically, but had a small, but close circle of friends and contemporaries, whose company he enjoyed.
He was very protective of me (too much, really....both my parents were that way).
He liked to fix up old cars as a sort of hobby, but the cars he fixed were also his daily driver. Not uncommon to have 2 or 3 different cars in a year. We had quite an assortment over the years.   He wouldn’t let me touch his tools.  I had to watch from a distance.   He was very mechanically inclined....had an engineering mentality.....also a voracious reader.  He could read a 400 page book in a night!  We made an almost weekly trip to the library in Tottenville, SINY. He’d take out 4 or 5 books each week, and read every one of them!
He was as introverted as I was extroverted, and we turned those qualities ( also mentioned above about him) into a car buying duo by the time I was 11 or 12.
If he saw a car he was interested the paper...I’d make the inquiry calls, and we’d go look at them together, and if he wanted one, he’d nod to me, and I would negotiate the deal.   I even got to drive the new purchase home!
While the 3 of us (mom, dad and me) went to the pool in Tompkinsville as a family, quite often, I went just as often with only my dad.  That was fun.
My dad had a “green thumb,” so our shrubs, trees and flowers always bloomed and looked very nice.
8. What was most important to him?
In a nutshell...that I eventually become a Sandy Hook Pilot. That was his main and only vicarious dream for me.
He also was a staunch Republican, so keeping Democrats out of office was important to him.  He didn’t like government much, and resented any intrusion into his business, especially as it may have involved our home.
9. If Grandma and Grandpa had a message to you and their grandchildren, what do you think it is?
Do your best in life. That’s as much as you can do. Be happy with simple things.  Be content with what you have.
10. How did you meet Mom and know she was the one?
As you know, I’ve been married 5 times; but only once your mother.  I won’t discuss the other 4; there was little that was much good, that I’d care to recall, much less discuss.
I met your mother in 1970, as a result of a sort of pre-Internet dating service in Manhattan.
I bought a “skeptics’ list of 13 names, addresses and phone numbers for 20 dollars, based on criteria that I enumerated as important to me.
I dated each one, in order of appearance on the list, once each.  Your mother was about the 6th or 7th on the list.  I went no further. She was the one! We were inseparable from then on, and I proposed (and your mother accepted) on our third date. We married a year to the day after we met.  I’ve never regretted it...ever.
We just fit together like a hand in a glove....
11. How did you choose your career and what was your favorite part about it?
I didn’t choose it....I just sort of fell into it.   I capitulated to my dad, and enlisted in the Coast Guard right out of high school....much to my regret.  He wanted me to become a Sandy Hook Pilot so badly he could “taste” it.  I went along, as sort of my caste birthright.
I became involved with wife #1 midway between my active duty status, in 1961.  We were...mmm...”active” almost from the beginning...sexual roulette...really.
When I was separated from active duty in 1962, I assumed that I would begin the apprenticeship right away. My sponsor advised me otherwise, and suggested I go to school or take a job until called.
I took a job as a bank teller with a large New York bank to wait out my time, until I would be called.
When wife #1 became expectant, we married (seemed like the only right thing to do.) My dad was horrified, as were most of our parents and extended family and friends.  Without any consultation with my dad or others, I gave up my place as a pilot candidate on the advice of my sponsor.
Therein began my “career” in financial services.
For me, there was little to like....but I was proud to have made it into bank management, in 10 years, without a degree. Even in the 1970s, that was an accomplishment.
Later, in the insurance business, I was proud of my sales successes in my very early years.
12. What made you successful at work?
Tenacity, and determination that I would not be precluded from management despite not having a degree.  I was very orderly and organized then, and could easily catch on to banking principles....I worked at it, and worked hard....(as opposed to long hours;  I’m a working quarter horse; not a long distance runner thoroughbred)  I skipped lunch often....took banking courses at AIB  (American Institute of Banking), and asked questions.  I was a fast learner, and I made several strategic moves, whenever I felt I was in a dead end situation.
13. What did you believe about yourself that helped you become successful and deal with hard times?
I trusted in my native intelligence to get through.  I was never satisfied to lie within a comfortable status quo.  I had wanted to become an officer in the military, and was damned if I would be denied that in business.  Once divorced from #1, and happily married to your mother, I made quantum leaps in my career.
14. What times in your life truly “tested your mettle,” and what did you learn about yourself by dealing (or not dealing) with them?
Without a doubt, your mother’s passing was undisputedly the most difficult experience of my life.  I didn’t deal with it well or intelligently, and made some very poor decisions in the aftermath of her passing.
15. What three events most shaped your life?
Resigning my candidacy as a Sandy Hook Pilot, thereby relegating me, owing to family responsibilities, to a career I would not have otherwise chosen.
Meeting and marrying your mother.  My single best life decision up to this point.
Your mother’s passing set the stage for a decline in my life’s fortunes, lasting to this day.
16. What do you remember about when each of us was born?
Stacey came first, and prior to her birth, I shared your mother’s happiness at becoming parents.
I enjoyed decorating what was to become the room you shared in the Monroe house.
Stacey was born with huge almond shaped eyes. I’ll always remember that.  She was a good baby; never any trouble.
You were born with claims of birth related problems. (leave it at that for now).  They were quickly and completely healed in Christian Science.
You seemed to be smiling all the were a very happy child; but would not go to sleep at night!  Night times were tough when you were a baby.
I remember carrying both of you in my arms and walking and talking, with both of you, often.
17. Were you ever scared to be a parent?
No....reluctant, at first, to go around again, after my first miserable foray into marriage and parenthood...but never scared.
18. What three words would you say represented your approach to parenting and why?
Loving discipline....(essential for getting along in this world),  early learning skills, for the same reasons....reasonably cordial interaction with others....again, for the same reasons.
19. When you think about {your sibling}, how would you describe him?
I have no brothers or sisters.   Only vicarious observations of you and Stacey together.
20. What message do you have for {your sibling} that you want him to always keep in mind?
Doesn’t apply to me.
21. When you think about Mom, how would you describe her?
The only spouse I care to think about would be your mother, and I thought of her as the ideal, quintessential mate for me. We interacted effortlessly.  Never any awkwardness between us, or ever any doubt that there wouldn’t be lasting happiness between us. She was smart as a whip, and innovative, supportive and helpful to me.  We had a lot of fun together. She was perfect for me.
22. What message do you have for [spouse] that you want her/him to always keep in mind?
To Rest In Peace....that I wish I could have saved you; would do things differently, if given the opportunity.
23. What three words would you say best describe who you tried to be in life and how you want to be remembered?
I like to be thought of as Humorous....funny sense of humor......Loyal to family and friends, and Compassionate  (to those I deem deserving of compassion.)
There certainly might be others, but those 3 come to mind.   Warm, Tender, Loving....might best fit as it may apply to a love interest.
24. When they think about their careers, what do you want your children to focus on?
Doing something that interests you, and that hopefully you are good at, and enjoy.  Being unscrupulously honest  (even with government and taxes, though they may not deserve that kind of integrity much of the time), and giving more than is expected and giving it cheerfully.
25. What have you learned about other people in life? 
That there all kinds.  It’s impossible to pigeon-hole people into a few small categories, accurately. Humanity is complex...changeable, yet static...vulnerable, opportunistic yet compassionate.  Human life can be hard, and some people handle the vagaries of life better than others.  Life is short....yet we fail to recognize that when dealing with our fellow man.
26. What do you think the world needs more of right now?
Leadership!  Morality!  Integrity!  Honesty!  Honoring time tested (and well proven) social, civil and financial values.  Civility....toughness....
27. What do you believe people want the most in life?
I now tend to believe that as technology evolves...faster and faster all the time, that people [silently] yearn for a slower, gentler, more predictable life. I also believe that too many people want financial equality given to them, without earning it.  I am afraid of the creeping liberalism/socialism of this age.   I’m not sure many people truly do know what they want in life.
28. What were the three best decisions you’ve ever made?
I’d say for every good decision I’ve ever made, I’ve made 3 bad or unwise ones...but, up until this point...right now....#1 would have been marrying your mother, #2 might have been this move south, in 1994,  and perhaps #3 might be to have stayed the course with Christian Science, as it has both healed me, and guided me through some treacherous times in my life....not always quickly or easily, but always with an eventual good outcome.
29. What are you most proud of in life?
You and your sister, and how well both of you have turned out in life.
30. What were five of the most positive moments of your life?
Wow! Five??   Becoming Salutatorian of my class when I “graduated” from primary/elementary school from the 8th grade.
Graduating high school in the top quartile of my class of about 250
Meeting and marrying your mother
Becoming dad to you and Stacey  (equal weight to both of you.)
Being told numerous times, by many kids, that I was the best, and their favorite, substitute teacher.
31. What message would you like to share with your family?
That these are tough, complex, difficult times for our country and the world.  Values are constantly being degraded and eroded. Morality and decency is derided as racist and a hate crime....stick to the truths and values you were exposed to growing up....learn from my many mistakes....stick with your family, and don’t believe everything you’re told.
Be compassionate and hard and be as independent as possible. Take nothing for granted and be grateful for everything that’s good in life, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant.  Don’t trust government to do what is right without having to make them constantly accountable for their actions.
32. What are you most thankful for?
I want to be forward thinking, and looking, when I answer this last question.  I think that the things I have been most thankful for, in my past, have already been acknowledged several times in several questions.  Certainly I am always thankful that we, Stacey, and me, share very warm and loving family ties right now.....very very joyously do I realize that.  I’m thankful, that despite much heartache, and many tough times, I’ve managed to survive it all, and [I] live a relatively stress-free life right now....perhaps not as full and rich (beyond money) as I might hope for, but OK.....there is one special thing.....right now, though, that has brought me much peace and joy this year, since the early months of the year.  A lady I met online in 2012, who had simply been a warm and close friend, with whom I could discuss nearly anything and everything, has become my love object and very significant other.  Moreover, I think it’s safe to say that she perceives me the same way.  We share a very special and unique kind of relationship, and I have little reason to suspect that that will change....ever. It may be a bit premature to say so, but I don’t think so.  There are life details that both of us need to complete and clear up, but I see bright times and happy days on the horizon.
Right now...with all else I have to be grateful for....I’m particularly grateful for her.
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Thanks for doing the interview, Dad. I enjoyed reading your answers and learning more about your background. I only wish I could get answers for Mom, too.