Father and Son Role Reversal

1StrawberriesCoverWooden-&-Me-cover-mock-upFor a Personalized Autographed copy of STRAWBERRIES IN WINTERTIME” or “WOODEN & ME” mail a check for $25 to:

Woody Woodburn

400 Roosevelt Court

Ventura, CA 93003

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Experiencing a Poetic Role Reversal

Words from William Wordsworth’s poem “My Heart Leaps Up” came warmly to my mind recently – and with the coming of another Father’s Day seem worth sharing.

Wrote the wordsmith in 1802: “The Child is father to the Man.”

Perhaps more famously, given the influence of Hollywood’s silver screen, in the 2006 film “Superman Returns,” Jor-El – father of Kal-El, who becomes Superman on planet Earth – tells his boy: “The son becomes the father and the father becomes the son.”

Enjoying pizza, and a role reversal, in NYC.

Enjoying pizza, and a role reversal, in NYC.

So it was when I visited my own Kal-El in New York City; in many ways the 27-year-old son and the 56-year-old father reversed roles.

I embraced this turnabout as happily as I embraced him at the airport. In fact, his surprise greeting at baggage claim was the beginning of “The Child is father to the Man.”

You see, I was going to take the subway from JFK and meet my son at his apartment in Lower Manhattan. However, he was worried about me navigating the subway system and thus covertly trekked out to meet me. A very father-like thing.

So it was the rest of my visit. My son insisted on carrying my luggage, gave me his bed, lent me the jacket off his back when the night air turned cold.

The most dramatic way my Child was father to this Man occurred my first full day there. Just as I used to take my son to Ventura’s now shuttered H.P. Wright Library, he was taking me to the venerable New York Public Library.

Getting on the subway, however, I got a “Welcome-to-New-York” shove from behind just as the doors were closing. Unable to shut because of the rugby-like scrum, the doors instantly jerked back open.

My right index finger, somehow, got pulled into the slit where the sliding door recedes. The result was like a carrot meeting a potato peeler. Quick pressure with a napkin largely stanched the bleeding.

We exited at the next stop and my son located a pharmacy so we could buy Band-Aids and tape. Removing the napkin to apply a proper bandage caused the red floodgates to reopen.

“I’m taking you to get stitches right now,” the Child-turned-father-of-the-Man demanded.

At Urgent Care, my son signed me in and did all the necessary paperwork – more accurately, e-work, on a touch-screen. He even accompanied me into the treatment room as I long ago did with him numerous times.

The first of two anesthetic injections made me curse; the second was threefold more agonizing. The whole while my son held my other hand and told me how brave I was being. He then made me laugh – kept me in stitches, if you will – as I received 16 stitches.

To be honest, the pain of it all was worth the experience of seeing this side of my boy-turned-man.

For the remainder of my visit he kept the tables turned. He changed my bandage. He focused our itinerary on me. He led and I followed.

Too, the son I have always tried to be a role model for, now stepped into this role. At a jazz club one evening, we arrived early and were rewarded with the best table in the joint.

Minutes before the performance began, however, the manager asked us if we would consider changing places with an elderly man who was physically too feeble to sit on a tall stool in the back of the room.

Because my son and I are tall, the manager felt we could still see the show, but emphasized: “You really don’t need to. I just wanted to ask.”

Without a beat’s pause, my son replied: “Of course he and his wife can have our seats.”

We went from the first row to worst row – and I could not have been happier or more proud.

Wordsworth’s poem also includes this line: “My heart leaps up when I behold / A rainbow in the sky.”

So, too, did my heart leap up beholding the Man my Child has become. I wish this same rainbow, one day, for all fathers.

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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.

Wooden & Me Kickstarter Front PhotoCheck out my memoir WOODEN & ME: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece” and my essay collection “Strawberries in Wintertime: Essays on Life, Love, and Laughter” …





Dads Forge Memories

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One Role of Dads is to Forge Memories

Dads have countless roles and surely one of the most important is to forge lasting childhood memories for their kids. In honor of Father’s Day, here is one of mine.

1dadsdayThe summer of 1969, a month before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin would walk on the moon and two months before Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin rocked at Woodstock, my dad planned to take my two older brothers on an epic fishing adventure in Canada. Having just turned 9, I was deemed too young to tag along.

I felt more left out than Apollo 11’s third astronaut, Michael Collins, orbiting the moon in the Command Module.

T-minus two nights before our family Plymouth station wagon with faux wood side panels was to blast off, Pop’s friend, Mel Olex, who was to fill out the travel party, fell ill. It was not the first time Dr. Olex had come to my rescue: after separate accidents he put plaster casts on my broken leg and fractured wrist.

Now, he healed my broken heart because in his absence there was room for me. After all, food for four had already been packed. For me it was Christmas in June.

For Pop, now the only driver, it was a long haul from Columbus, Ohio, north across the border to Canada’s Lake Heron. We then hopped a motorboat to an isolated island where we stayed in a one-room rustic cabin at the Westwind Lodge. The name was fortuitous for it brought to mind a poem my Grandpa Ansel used to recite when he took us three boys fishing at farm ponds:

When the wind is from the north, / The wise fisherman does not go forth.

When the wind is from the south, / It blows the hook into the fish’s mouth.

When the wind is from the east, / `Tis not fit for man nor beast.

But when the wind is from the west, / The fishing is the very best.

Fishing at the Westwind Lodge thus promised to be the very best.

In the chill of dawn we would head out on the lake in a small boat with a temperamental outboard motor that leaked an ironically beautiful rainbow of ugly gasoline on the water’s surface.

By late afternoon we would have a collection of pike, walleye, perch and bass which the lodge cook filleted, breaded, fried and served us for dinner.

The first three days we returned to the Lodge for lunch before heading out for a second round of angling. This limited how far we could venture, so when Pop learned about a distant “Secret Cove” – doesn’t every lake have a “Secret Cove” that isn’t really a secret? – where northern pike the size of VW Beetles were reported to lurk, he got the cook to pack us lunches.

Next morning, Pop gave us our assignments: Jim was to make sure the rods and reels were all in the boat; Doug was in charge of the lunches and the cooler with the sodas; and I was told to put on my life jacket and try not to fall in the lake. Again.

We were starving by the time we finally found “Secret Cove” and decided to go ashore for lunch before catching some VWs with gills. We three boys bolted from the boat and soon learned an important lesson: when standing on an uprising smooth rock landscape, don’t pee facing uphill.

Pop (still in the boat): Hey, Dougie, where’d you put the lunches?

Doug (sneakers getting wet on land): I think they’re by the life jackets.

Pop: Nope. I don’t see them or the ice cooler anywhere. Dougie, you didn’t leave the lunches on the dock did you?

Doug: Stone silence.

Pop: (We boys would have gotten our mouths washed out with soap if we repeated what Pop said next.)

While I cannot state this as fact, I am convinced the true native name of that “Secret Cove” was “There Ain’t No Fish Here Cove.”

I am convinced of this, too: hippies at Woodstock didn’t have a more wonderfully memorable summer of ’69 than my big brothers and I did at Westwind.

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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.

Wooden-&-Me-cover-mock-upCheck out my new memoir WOODEN & ME: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece”

Column: A Story For Father’s Day

A Father, A Son And A Promise Kept

The boy, seven years old, was in the family barn doing chores. This was a full eight decades ago, yet the boy – my dad – remembers it like last week.

“I was cornered by rats,” Pop shares. “Big ones. Lots of ’em. To this day, I have a real phobia.”

The frightening memory of a Midwestern rat pack surging out of the hay is, surprisingly, also a cherished one because Pop’s boyhood dog, a terrier mix named Queenie, came running.

Pop, right, with grandson Greg and me.

Pop, right, with grandson Greg and me.

She did what terriers instinctively do: caught each rat in her teeth and gave it a side-to-side neck-breaking shake, tossed it aside like a rag doll, and then went after the next one and the next and the next. Lassie rescuing Timmy.

“She may not have saved my life,” Pop continues, “but at the time it sure felt like it.”

If Queenie did not literally save Pop’s life that day, it is still fair to say she was roundabout responsible for saving many other lives – hundreds, if not thousands – in the future. I will explain.

Queenie’s defining moment actually did not happen in the barn that afternoon; it occurred on a Sunday evening the following summer. The boy, now almost nine, noticed his dog was sick. Soon she went into seizure.

Unbeknownst at the moment, a deranged man had laced raw meat with strychnine – rat poison – and fed it to more than two-dozen dogs throughout the small rural Ohio neighborhood.

What the boy did know was he needed his father’s help, and urgently. Unfortunately, this was eons before cell phones so he could not reach his dad, a country doctor who was out making weekend house calls.

It would have been no problem had the boy known what patient his dad was visiting. Back then the boy did not even need to dial local phone numbers – he would just pick up the telephone and tell the woman operator (it was always a pleasant woman) the name of any person in town and she would connect them simple as that, the operator all the while chatting with the boy until the other person answered.

Tearfully, helplessly, anxiously the boy watched out the front window at 210 Henry Street for his dad to get home.

“I was so scared for Queenie,” that boy, now 87, recalls.

At long last the boy’s dad – my Grandpa Ansel – came home. It proved to be a life-changing “house call.” Ansel put down his well-worn black leather doctor’s bag and checked out his critical “patient.”

Immediately he suspected poisoning and took out a bottle of ether he kept in his medical bag for emergencies such as putting a patient to sleep before setting a broken bone.

Humming softly, Ansel gently held an ether-soaked cloth over Queenie’s snout in the same gentle, caring fashion he used to calm a frightened child crying in pain until the anesthesia took its hold.

The ether-induced unconsciousness temporarily stopped Queenie’s potentially deadly seizures, but when the potion wore off the fierce convulsions would return. It was imperative to keep the dog asleep until the poison could hopefully run its course; however, a continuous does of ether would itself prove fatal.

Hence, Ansel had to constantly monitor the dog’s breathing and administer a brief whiff of ether when necessary. By doing so he was able to keep Queenie precariously balanced on a high wire between slumber and seizures.

Throughout the long night, Ansel kept vigil by the ill dog’s side while the boy kept vigil by his country-doctor-turned-veterinarian father’s side. Soon, Ansel had two sleeping heads on his lap, albeit only one required ether’s aid.

“The next day Queenie was better,” Pop shares, his voice filled with marvel and gratitude all these years later. “She was the only one of all the poisoned dogs to live. The only one. All because of my dad.”

And here is the most important thing. Pop adds: “That dog, that night, changed my life. Right then I promised myself I was going to become a doctor, just like my dad.”

Happy Father’s Day to that boy who kept his promise.


Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.

Check out my new memoir WOODEN & ME: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece”

Column: Dads, Sons and Daughters

Ignorance, Bliss, Dads, Sons and Daughters


Father’s Day arrives tomorrow, so it seems apropos to begin today with a hallmark quote from yesteryear. Actually nearly 140 yesteryears ago when Mark Twain famously observed:When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”


Charles Wadworth expanded on Twain’s thought, noting: “By the time a man realizes that maybe his father was right, he usually has a son who thinks he’s wrong.”

Dallas and Greg, who make being a dad so great!

Dallas and Greg, who make being a dad so great!


Clarence Budington Kelland, a 20th century novelist who once described himself as “the best second-rate writer in America,” made a first-rate compliment about his own father: “He didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.”


Similarly, from Mario Cuomo: “I watched a small man with thick calluses on both hands work fifteen and sixteen hours a day. I saw him once literally bleed from the bottoms of his feet, a man who came here uneducated, alone, unable to speak the language, who taught me all I needed to know about faith and hard work by the simple eloquence of his example.”


From attribution unknown comes this eloquent pearl: “One night a father overheard his son pray: ‘Dear God, Make me the kind of man my Daddy is.’ Later that night, the Father prayed, ‘Dear God, Make me the kind of man my son wants me to be.’ ”


The rock band Yellowcard offers this lovely lyric about the power of a dad as a role model: “Father I will always be / that same boy who stood by the sea / and watched you tower over me / now I’m older I wanna be the same as you.”


PBS book talk show host Barry Kibrick told me of raising his two sons: “I never worried about over-praising them and building up their self-esteem too much because there are plenty of people in the world who will try to tear them down.”


Author Jan Hutchins had a similarly wise dad, sharing: “When I was a kid, my father told me every day, ‘You’re the most wonderful boy in the world, and you can do anything you want to.’ ”


Or, as my good friend, author and coach Wayne Bryan advises parents: “Shout your praise to the rooftops and if you must criticize, drop it like a dandelion. On second thought, don’t criticize at all.”


Hall of Fame baseball player Harmon Killebrew apparently had a Hall of Fame Dad, the son recalling this: “My father used to play with my brother and me in the yard. Mother would come out and say, ‘You’re tearing up the grass.’


“ ‘We’re not raising grass,’ Dad would reply. ‘We’re raising boys.’ ”


A great attitude for dads of daughters, too.


Speaking of girls, John Mayer strikes the right chord with these lines of song: “Fathers, be good to your daughters. You are the god and the weight of her world.”


            As for fathers and sons, 19th century French poet Marceline Desbordes-Valmore asked rhetorically: “Are we not like two volumes of one book?” German poet Johann Schiller knew these two “volumes” need not share similar DNA, noting: “It is not flesh and blood but the heart which makes us fathers and sons.”


Getting further to the heart of the matter, John Wooden, who believed “love” is the most important word in the English language, said: “The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.”


Another basketball coach, Jim Valvano, shared one of the secrets to his success when he noted: “My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person – he believed in me.”


On the topic of “gifts,” a Jewish Proverb states: “When a father gives to his son, both laugh; when a son gives to his father, both cry.”


Here’s some good advice from Bill Cosby when it comes time to open a gift Sunday: “Fatherhood is pretending the present you love most is soap-on-a-rope.”



Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for the Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com. Woody’s new book, WOODEN & ME: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece” is available for pre-order at: www.WoodyWoodburn.com