BEST OF JODY’S BOX: AS HARD AS WE TRY WE CAN’T ESCAPE OUR GENES
I’m the son of a career U.S. Air Force pilot. I admired my dad for flying 25 missions over Germany in a B-17 and rising to the rank of Colonel. When I was a kid, he would take me hunting, fishing and carousing through the hills in his Jeep. My fondest memories are of when he would put me on the gas tank of his Indian and blast down country roads with me giggling all the way. It was a great childhood, but we grew apart over the years.
I like to think that my dad changed as I got older, and the situation between us became tenser, but that’s silly. My father was a military man. He was incapable of change. He was a rough and ready guy—a throwback to the wild and woolly days of flying and riding Indians, hanging out in duck blinds, and tromping through the woods looking for an eight-point buck. Heck, people shot at him every day during the war. He was a man’s man.
In truth, he didn’t change as I got older. I changed. The Winchester .30-30 he gave me when I was 12 hung on the wall and went unused by the time I was 16. I didn’t want to rattle around in his V8-modified, slab-sided Willys Jeep station wagon with two howling bird dogs yapping out the back window anymore. I was tired of hearing how he asked for an 11/32nd wrench and I gave him a 5/16th—or being the guy who always sat in the driver’s seat when he worked on an engine so that someone would be there to press on the gas pedal when he yelled, “Floor it.”
So, I did what any self-respecting, rebellious, long-haired teenager of the 1960s would do—I disappeared from the family dynamic. I stayed in my room for endless hours. I would leave at 5:00 a.m. to go surfing and not come back until 10:00 p.m. At the dinner table, I would never speak. I would only communicate with my mother by hand signals that meant, “Pass the potatoes,” “Butter, please,” or “Can I go now?”
MY FATHER WAS DISAPPOINTED, HE SAID. “I PAID TO SEND HIM TO THE UNIVERSITY SO THAT HE COULD BE A SURFER WHO RACES FOREIGN MOTORCYCLES IN A FIELD SOMEWHERE. WHAT DEGREE IS THAT?”
My father hated the silent communication and would say to my mom, “Helen, make him ask for it.” She never did. When I went off to college, I never came home—not even to get my laundry done. When I started racing motorcycles, my father was disappointed, he said. “I paid to send him to the university so that he could be a surfer who races foreign motorcycles in a field somewhere. What degree is that?”
A few years after my father died, my mother came to stay with “Lovely Louella” and me at our house in California. She was like everybody’s mother when they come to visit. She wanted to help. She wanted to cook. She wanted to clean up, and she wanted to give Lovely Louella advice. That was when I heard mom tell Louella, “Jody is just like his dad. He looks like him. He sounds likes him. He acts like him. His dad was always wasting his time out in a field with a shotgun, fishing in Canada or flying that stupid airplane. Jody is his dad, only with a motocross bike out in a field, in his workshop or flying that stupid airplane.”
For a split second, I flashed back to the sound of that Indian echoing through the trees, the fresh morning smell of the air rushing by and the warmth of my father’s embrace.