Siouxland Observer


Sunday, June 15, 2008

For My Father

My father never knew I went to college; I don’t know if he would have been proud of me or not.  I like to think so.  My mother’s family never cared much for education and dad was gone long before I saw my eleventh year.

Just down from the house on the farm where my mother grew up, there was a creek.  It ran through the fields of Plymouth County in western Iowa.  It wasn’t much of a creek when I played there, but it always intrigued me.  I remember it was simply the West Fork, and no matter how hard I tried I could learn no more about it.  I guess no one really knew, and I remember if I pressed the issue I ran into a wall.

Today, with computers, I might have learned more, I suppose.  I guess I could have asked someone in town, and perhaps I did query some of my grandmother’s friends.  But children in Plymouth County were to be seen and not heard, and usually I kept my mouth shut.

Thus, for me the West Fork was a muddy little stream to nowhere.  It was mind numbing, but I minded my own business.  It wasn’t until adulthood I learned the shallow, muddy creek was the west fork of the Little Sioux River, a tributary of the Missouri River that carved wide valleys and gorges in western Iowa.

It was wonderful to learn about.  I like to believe my dad would have known — or he would have found out.  Unfortunately, my dad was a bad man.  Everyone told me this again and again.  I never saw the bad man when he was around, but I guess it was true.  I heard about it all the time — whenever I asked after him.  And, of course, family members couldn’t believe I would ever want to be with him (that's the bad man and me in Canada below).

In the Omaha World-Herald, Saturday, June 14, a headline proclaims “Dads Call Their Day Second-Rate.”  I am sure this is true (it was for my father), but I will never know for sure because I have no children.

Are men lousy parents?  Everyone tells us this all the time.  Even the World-Herald article misses the mark.  Author, Michael O’Connor, tells us what we all know: “Face it, guys, we don’t always carry our load.”

I am sure this is what my father felt, even thought he paid his child support every month year after year — and alimony.

I loved my father, and missed him terribly when I was growing up.  His name was Carl DeForest Switzer, and he was my dad.

He was a strong man, a Sergeant in the US Army Air force stationed on Tinian.  He was in the First Ordnance Squadron.  He never talked much about it.  My father and mother met at McCook Army Air Field in Nebraska (she worked in the typing pool).  He was on his way to Wendover (and is kneeling in the front row to the far right in this photo from Tinian).

Happy Father’s Day to my dad.  And please, should anyone ever read this, tell your dad, or an uncle or any meaningful man in your life how important he is — even if from afar.  It will mean the world to him, I am sure.

Editor’s Note: This photo is from the The Manhattan Project Heritage Preservation Association, Inc. web site (The Joseph Papalia Collection).  I often look at photos to see if I can find him doing stuff (I don't think that's him in the upper right corner) but please visit to learn more (just type Tinian, or other keywords in their search engine).

Sunday, June 08, 2008

A Friday Afternoon At Iowa State

Something happened the other day
A wobbly table and an outdoor café
In a place called “Dog town.”
Where I walked as a young man
Dreaming of success and happiness
I forget the name, but they served a crêpe
Filled with goat cheese and spinach and fire
Roasted tomatoes that tasted a lot like the
Kind that came out of a can at the store
Peeled and boiled and round and fat
But what do I know as I sat and read and
This is an outdoor café at University
And the crêpe was warm and full of
Flavor and fun as I read and believed I
Could still succeed
There were just two of us alone
And many families and friends and employees
But what happened next is why I write
A sparrow dropped like a leaf and from
My reverie I awoke to find no one noticed
The little brown bird
Like the SUV rusting in front of us
On the street empty and suddenly there and
No one found concern or irony or fear
Of a roadside bomb placed to take us away
From our crêpes and our cappuccinos and
Our teas and salads
And the little brown bird looked under the
Empty table for scraps
Daring not to enter under the occupied
So I beckoned and he came
For some crêpe perched on my hand
And no one noticed
As he flew away still searching
No one noticed at all