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In Body or Spirit, a Dad Is Never Far From His Kids

JERRY HICKS

June 15, 1996|JERRY HICKS

County Supervisor Marian Bergeson tells endearingly about a man taking his young daughter to the old Clover Field in Los Angeles, long before air travel was commonplace, so she could watch wide-eyed as the planes came in. An ice cream cone afterward was always a part of the ritual.

Bergeson was that girl, and says her father's influence has guided her career. "He was a risk-taker," she says. "And he raised me to be one too."

Stan Oftelie, director of the Orange County Transportation Authority, remembers ballgames with his younger brother and their father, and good-natured kidding they took from him because their sister was the best athlete in the family.

"My father was the funniest man I've ever met," Oftelie says. "He was just a wonderful man."

Sunday is Father's Day, when many men will revel in letting their children enjoy them, and millions of Americans will lavish attention on their fathers, to remind them on this official day how much they love them.

But Father's Day is also special for a lot of other people, from teens to those in their 90s, whose fathers are no longer with us.

"Your dad is always your dad," says Bergeson, whose father, Ivan Bersaidsman, died 10 years ago.

I talked to many people this week whose fathers are no longer alive. None of them could think of anything to talk about except the good times, and how the pain of a parent gone is always there.

Pat McCormick of Seal Beach, winner of four Olympic gold medals for diving, says it was 40 years ago this year that her father died--alone on Skid Row. She had just won the last of her medals and was the world's most famous athlete that year.

"They found nothing on him but my press clippings," she recalls. "He was my hero and he always will be."

Her father, Robert Keller, had been honored after World War I with France's greatest medal for valor, the Croix de Guerre. But Keller suffered tremendous illness because of exposure to mustard gas during the war. It deprived him of any chance at a career and affected his ability to function well in the family.

"But it was my father who was my inspiration, who kept telling me I could reach just as high as I wanted," McCormick says. "I mention him in every speech I give. And every Father's Day, my thoughts are always of him and what a special man he was."

In the 16 years I've worked in Orange County, I've not come across a public official with a better--or at least more interesting--sense of humor than Stan Oftelie. He quickly says it all comes from his dad, Mons Oftelie, an old and proud Norwegian name.

"The older we get, I think the more we become like our parents," says Oftelie. "I think that's a great compliment to them."

You don't have to have a close relationship with your father to love him deeply. I wanted to talk to Billy Bathgate, for years one of the county's most successful small farmers. I thought perhaps it was his father who had instilled in him a love for working the land.

It turns out Bathgate was headed for a career in engineering when his father, Billy Bathgate Jr., died in 1953. Bathgate had to switch gears and come run the family's 75 acres of orchards. Truth is, Bathgate says, they weren't particularly close.

But you have to remember, Bathgate says, that his father had to work during the Depression, which was harder on farmers than it was for most. Just surviving and caring for his family took his father's energies.

Running the farm, Bathgate kept coming across signs of his father, how he'd set up an irrigation plan, or something he'd built to improve the operation. Signs of what the land--and his family--had meant to him.

"We lived for many years in the house my father built," Bathgate says. "And today I still use many of his tools."

Tools that he will some day pass on, with love, to the next generation. Just as his father had.

A Step Up: Gary Granville, the county clerk-recorder, knows he will have special memories Sunday of an extraordinary man. He explained it to me: "My father deserted my mother when I was 3. When I was 11, she remarried. There were three of us children. I'll never forget how my stepfather stepped right in to take care of us, treating us as family. I know it was a lot for him to adjust to."

Granville is a deep-voiced former newspaper city editor, someone I've known casually for years. He's friendly and approachable, but our contacts always have been professional. When he talked about his stepfather, the late Roy Granville, it was with the kind of tenderness that he probably doesn't show to most acquaintances. I thank him that he shared with me.

The Obstacle Path: One of the stories that moved me most came from Fran Williams, whose father is still alive and very close to her. Williams, a Rancho Santiago College humanities professor and a civil rights activist, says they've always been close, despite all the years they were separated by 2,000 miles.

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