When I was sixteen, my father, John Howard Eichstedt, was killed in a light plane crash. He was 42. He was on the job at the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation (responsible for planning parks, among other things), a job with the Interior Department. The BOR was among the things cut by Ronald Reagan. Before the BOR he worked for the National Park Service.
He was on a trip to explore the impact a high-tension powerline would make on the environment when the pilot made a big mistake,crashed into a mountain, and three people died.
We always had a Golden Eagle sticker. Remember those? They got you into every National Park in the nation. Every summer we spent at least two weeks camping in various parks. It was one of my favorite things of the entire year.
In this first picture he's very young, the year is 1954, a year before I was born.
Our family was as dysfunctional as yours was, so the first thing you need to know is that I don't want to romanticize the man who undoubtedly had a part in that dysfunction. I'll certainly try not to. But if I do, it's just because I'm human, and I miss him. Do you understand?
I am the oldest child and therefore the sibling with the most time spent with my father. Aside from my mother, I should be the person in our family to have known him better. I'm not sure this is true, but it might be.
There are four children: the first three roughly two years apart in age, and the last fourteen years younger than myself. Each child has a different father, it seems.
To my older younger brother, he was too quick to spank. Too harsh. And very absent, always away on trips.
My youngest brother was only two when Dad was killed. I think I can safely say he never knew him. I hope he has memories of being "wrestled" on the floor with Dad, and carried around and sung to, rocked and cuddled, because I saw all this and more. Dad was very loving to my littlest brother, as he was to all of us when we were small.
My sister, the second in line, hasn't told me anything about him that stands out. Which makes sense. For years she was the middle kid, the one that tried to get along, not make waves. I must talk to her again and see what father she had, as compared to mine.
My two brothers seem to think that our father was a staunch conservative, even a reactionary. Not so. He was a middle-of-the road liberal, who was very concerned with preserving the environment, who loved animals, and who participated in local government as much as he had time for. He ran for city council, but didn't have enough money to run a real campaign, so he lost. Not one to give up, he was instrumental in getting bicycle trails built in our town.
The Viet Nam war disturbed him deeply, and I can't say he was in favor of it. He wasn't outspoken against it, but he certainly didn't support it. Like I said, middle-of-the-road. When I wanted to protest it, he supported me in doing that, 100%.
I'll never forget that he bought Abbey Road, by the Beatles, and brought it home so that we could listen to it together. He also took us to see Yellow Submarine at a drive-in theater.
When we lived in the East Bay (California San Francisco suburbs), he got up at 5:30 every morning to get to the Greyhound bus so that he could be at his office in San Francisco by 8. My mother drove him to the bus, half asleep, grumbling. He set it up this way for the benefit of his children, so we didn't have to live in a big city. So we'd have grass and trees and trails to explore right in our own backyard. This was a sacrifice he made: getting up in the dark, working in a windowless office (yes, he told me that there were no windows in his office, I asked) all day, and then riding home in the dark.
There are so many things I know and appreciate about my dad, but what I don't know is how he felt about his life. I would love to talk to his secretary, his co-workers, his friends. Alas, I have waited too long, I know, because many of them are no longer with us. I will talk to his siblings, and see if they have any insights.
To be continued...