Saturday, November 21, 2009


This is a word that many have used to describe my unique, intelligent, generous, sometimes-difficult, funny father.   I knew him as Daddy for the first half of my life and for some reason after I got married and had kids, I started calling him what everyone else called him, Dick. My oldest brother, my father and my grandfather all share the same name, Richard, so hence the shortened nickname.When my older brothers were kids, they called him Dick, and my dad insisted that their friends call him the same.  For some reason that did not carry over to my childhood and my friends, because he was known as Mr. Hughes by all of them.  That still didn't hamper his reputation as the most fun kid on the block.  Kids on my street would ring the doorbell and ask for Mr. Hughes to come out and play.  He would come out, grab them by their hands and flip them over again and again.  Or, he would lead a neighborhood hike to the ice cream shop on Saturday nights, trailed by 8 children and a neighbor's poodle who would be tethered by the belt my father removed from his pants.
In his later years my father used to tell a story over and over again that actually had some basis in reality because here's the picture to prove it!  He was the emcee for his company's Christmas party and brought me on stage to ease his nervousness.  I was not quite 2, yet he always claimed that I charmed the audience with my remarks to the mayor of Montreal (where we lived at the time).  According to Dick, he gave me the honor of introducing the mayor and wishing him a Merry Christmas, all in French! So, Joyeux Noel, Monsieur Mayor!

My father was a child of the depression.  He went to work at the age of 12 to help support his family.  Family lore has it that since he could play just about anything on the piano by ear, he would sneak off and play in the evenings at the "speak easies" for tips.  Sometimes this was the only money for food his family had each week.  My grandmother made a lot of macaroni and cheese and tapioca pudding to sustain them, he told me.  He wouldn't eat either of those if he could help it as an adult.

After securing a college scholarship at Cooper Union in NYC, my dad worked as a soda jerk somewhere in Manhattan while he lived at the YMCA.  He studied chemical engineering and that appealed to his brilliant mind.  I still have some of his college chemistry books with his meticulous notations in the margins.

Dick married his "first wife", as he liked to call my mother, in 1943.  They were both 25 and WWII was in full swing.  I don't know the exact time frame, but one of my dad's first jobs was at Columbia University working on a project for the government, The Manhattan Project.  He was sworn to secrecy and couldn't even tell my mother what he was doing.  I think this was very heavily engrained in his mind, because he was always a little paranoid about being abducted and made to spill his knowledge about the project. When we moved to Florida in 1974 he listed our phone under my name so no one could find him and I was instructed about what to do if anyone approached me about him.  Among his stories (that he would share) about The Manhattan Project was a brief encounter with Albert Einstein and meeting Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower.

Dick and his "first wife", Maude, on their 50th wedding anniversary

My dad had a thirst for knowledge that never was fully satisfied.  He was a voracious reader, something he passed on to his children.  His love of travel was taken to a different level when he learned to fly at the age of 47.  My mother was a nervous flyer and only went up once with him, but I was his co-pilot for many trips including our most challenging one when we flew from Toronto to Los Angeles in 1969.  This trip included flying along the rim of the Grand Canyon, spying a meteor crater in the desert, stopping in New Mexico to visit the Pueblos, rambling around the Las Vegas strip (where we got thrown out of a casino because he was showing me a slot machine) and finally getting to my personal mecca, Disneyland.  I don't remember how long the trip took us, but it's one of my best childhood memories of my father.

Dick and his beloved "Romeo".  Named for it's call letters RGE, Romeo Gulf Echo.

When Mr. Tennis and I got married I told my dad that he would be gaining a son and he said, "Well, I already have two of those".  Nonetheless Dick and Mr. T got along very well.  My dad appreciated the intelligence of my husband and they had many long discussions and epic backgammon games.  Mr. Tennis always treated my dad with great respect and in his later years, tremendous patience and affection.  In the last years of his life, my father would always greet his son-in-law by saying "hello Basso Profundo!" referring to Mr. T's deep voice.  The respect, affection and admiration was returned by my father and I think he enjoyed having that third son after all.  My mother and father dancing at my wedding in 1981.

I always felt that my dad had an overwhelming sense of responsibility from a young age and that's why he enjoyed my childhood so much after he had "made it" in the corporate world.  While he could be a bit of a tyrant about school, piano lessons and household chores, another side of him would emerge when my friends were over for a sleepover. All the lights would be turned off in the house and my friends, me and my two parents would play hide and seek.  And no one would shriek louder than Dick Hughes when his hiding spot was found and he had to run to home base.  I saw this same enthusiasm for childish fun after my children were born.  Christmas 1963, Toronto.

Suddenly the taskmaster was gone and "fun grandpa" emerged.  He had boundless energy and patience for his grandchildren and they could do no wrong in his eyes.

The Writer and The Maven were two of my father's biggest fans.  He always did everything to the max when they were visiting.  Who can forget the "special" desserts complete with "fluff" and umbrellas that Grandpa and his grandchildren would create and parade out each evening? Or hunting for "palm tree monsters" with flashlights on nighttime walks?

Grandpa Hughes and The Writer blowing bubbles in Dunedin

Grandpa giving The Maven a treat.

Maven's first Christmas, 1989.  Not sure how long it took Grandpa to get up from that position, but he had his granddaughter's sympathy since she was still crawling as well.

Watching birds at the little beach at Med Manors.

                                                                                                                                             People always told me I took after my dad and that used to mortify me.  I definitely have his stubborn streak, his quick Scottish temper, and I'm pretty quirky as well, but surely I couldn't look like him!  Then I found this picture of the two of us and I can see the similarities in our faces.  The nose! The eyes! The mouth! And by the way, my glasses in this picture were seen as a total extravagance on my part by him.  I was usually given the choice of perhaps two frames in the bargain section every four years.  When I was a junior in high school I finally asked for some more modern frames and he, ever the frugal Scot, said I had to pay the difference in price.  He always called these my "fancy frames" and claimed that they were the reason I finally started going out on dates.  I guess he was right because these are the ones I was wearing when I met my future husband.  They were worth the extra money!  1979. My father and me at my brother's wedding in South Africa (yes, South Africa! The travelling bug was definitely passed on to my brother)

There are many more "Dick" stories. Family members, friends and acquaintances could fill a book with their recollections of this unique man.  But I have one final remembrance and that is:

Happy Birthday!
November 22                               


eggzachary said...

Another great post. You really conveyed the essence of the man.

And that first picture is perfect. I'd never seen it before, but it captures something.

Happy birthday, Grandpa Hughes.

Orlando Grandma said...

I have Dick's birthday circle out in my calendar because it reamins me to include him in my prayer list this Sunday.
Thank you for sharing in such an exellent
way a little of what Dick was all about.
I always enjoyed visiting with him,such an intlligent and personable person but most important to me he was family.


Mullin Avenue Workshop said...

I enjoyed reading about your Dad here. He seems to have had a great talent for life.
This is a wonderful tribute.

Debby@Just Breathe said...

I truly enjoyed reading this post. What a beautiful memoir of your Dad. ❤❤