JIM THIELMAN: In This Election, It’s Not Him, It’s Me

To this day, I have no idea about Dad’s political leanings. When you run a business in a small town, you don’t want to give people a reason to find another place to do business, he said.

Dad’s response to political comments was, “Oh? Is that so?” A well-chosen phrase that suggests both surprise and agreement to someone immersed in their own viewpoint.

It was a diplomacy that belied Dad’s eighth-grade education. A civility lacking in this presidential campaign.

One year, I asked for whom he planned to vote.


Sound strategy. He didn’t want me telling friends. And maybe the kid will just let it go.

When I didn’t let it go and asked him who he had voted for, he told me that voting was a private affair. Like how much money you had. There were some things a man kept to himself.

Dad had a bit of homespun Andy Taylor of Mayberry in him. Teach a lesson subtly.

He’d tell me some World War II stories. Always the fun ones. Like how he was friends with the cooks and would sneak down to the mess now and then after dark for a little extra food, maybe a shot of whiskey that he had hidden in a Coke bottle, and poker.

A natural diplomat.

Dad had a sound fiscal policy. He sent his paycheck to his mother to invest. What little money he needed on board a ship in the Pacific he made playing poker.

When once again a younger shipmate’s pay didn’t last past the first poker game, Dad laid it out. “You’re no good at this game. Why don’t you save your money?”

Who cares about money? I might never make it out of here, the kid said.

“Why don’t you send your pay back to your mother?” Dad advised. “If you do make it out of here, you’ll have something to get started when you get home. If you don’t make it, your mother will have a little something from you.” The story was meant to tell me to have a plan, I later realized.

I was getting to be about 10 when I asked him for another war story.

“Jimmy, I’ve told you all the war stories I’m going to tell you.”

Smacked me like a baseball bat. Didn’t expect that. I got the message.

It’s the people who have been in war who don’t want another.

Dad was 33 when he enlisted. A little old for a World War II volunteer. He chose the Navy. Said he wanted to have a clean place to sleep.

Like his four brothers, he was big on being scrubbed up and dressed well, even though they were farm boys.

He didn’t marry until he was 43. Who would want a lifelong bachelor at that age?

But around the house, he did some of the 1960s “women’s” chores, except cooking, and all of the men’s work. Mom would have done the Monday laundry from the barber shop. But he did that.

When one of Mom’s widowed friends married a widower, the man confided in Dad that, “Now I’ve got someone to cook for me.”

Dad told me the story and added, “Don’t tell your mother that. It will bother her.”

But why tell me?

Another Andy of Mayberry moment. I was in my 20s and involved. His way of saying, “Don’t expect women to do stuff for you.”

He could make a sandwich. In his last years as a barber, he had no employees. He ate at work. He’d “make a lunch” before bedtime and put the paper bag in the fridge. Mom would have done it, but he didn’t ask her.

It’s no mystery why women liked him.

Dad died 26 years ago this month. He was cool but never knew it. Which made him so cool that he made Sinatra look like Wally Cox.

A year after Dad left the Navy — where he contracted malaria between being shot at in air, on land and on sea — Donald Trump was born.

My Dad didn’t act like Trump in the 1960s. So I can’t identify Trump’s approach to people in 2016.

The golf clubhouse Dad changed in had some metal lockers, community showers and Clubman aftershave. They talked about cars, sports and weather. I can’t even identify with Donald Trump’s locker room. Let alone the locker room talk. If it existed.

In the 18 years I lived at home, Dad took two weeks of vacation. So I can’t identify with Donald Trump’s preternatural sense of entitlement.

Donald Trump could never identify with my Dad. Or me.

I can’t identify with him.

One thought on “JIM THIELMAN: In This Election, It’s Not Him, It’s Me”

  • Helen Murphy October 16, 2016 at 6:40 pm

    You had a smart and thoughtful father. You are wise to be able to recognize the lessons he was teaching you in a subtle but meaningful way. It is difficult to understand how so many people think he can identify with them and what they need when his life has been nothing like theirs. As a teacher, his behavior and attitude is what we tried to teach was not appropriate or even allowed. A strong confident man does not have to put others down in order to feel better about himself. Donald Trump acts very arrogant but he must be very insecure. Your father and my father would not be impressed and would be appalled.


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