Dad, 1944

Dad, 1944

Berlin, Ohio (Photographer Unknown)

My first response to this photo was thinking about its simplicity. There’s a certain spare quality in this simple picture of my father at age eighteen. He looks out at me across 70-plus years. He grew up during the Depression in a small Amish and Mennonite community. He has just graduated from high school in the midst of World War II. He has applied for conscientious objector status and is about to embark on his first adventure: three years of alternative service, which will take him to Sequoia National Park and bequeath him a lifelong interest in travel.

To my mind, he is looking out toward a life that is as yet unknown. He hasn’t accumulated what he would regard as the traditional markers of adulthood: vocational choice, additional education, marriage and family, property and house.

He went on to become a teacher of accounting, bookkeeping, and office practice, taught in the same school for 38 years, and kept track of (almost) every penny that passed through our household. When he was dying, he sat down with my mother to teach her how to balance a checkbook the old-fashioned way.

Still, I think that I am most drawn to the photo because of its plain, stripped-down nature. In a way it has helped me see my father with different eyes. I think that is the frugality of time and of the photo itself.