June 19, 2020

Lasting impressions: Warriors share memories of their fathers

Sunday is Father’s Day, a day to honor our fathers and paternal role models. Research shows that fathers play a crucial role in the cognitive, behavioral and general health and well-being of a child's life. And as these Wayne State employees share, many leave lasting impressions.

Lars Johnson and his father, Leon, at Johnson’s doctoral graduation at the University of Houston in May 2017.

Lars Johnson, assistant professor of industrial and organizational psychology: “A very common ‘sermon’ after my dad had denied a request to hang out with friends or when I found myself in hot water for not following his instructions was, ‘It’s all that we can do to protect and raise our young black boys — to keep you safe. I have to make sure you have manners, go to church and that you get a college education. Right now, you may not like or understand everything I tell you to do. One day, you will understand and you may even thank me.’ It takes me back to my years as a teenager.

"I was 17 the first time I was profiled. I was in my brown pickup truck with two of my friends from church — both women — and I was giving them a ride home after a youth service. We were told my truck fit the description of a vehicle of interest, but later found out they were looking for a white truck driven by two middle-aged men. Following that night, I started to understand his words. By the time I was 24, I fully understood.

"Over the next seven years, I was pulled over or stopped more times than I care to count. His words prepared me for an unfortunate reality. Through it all, he reminded me to stay the course. He told me to excel without hubris or arrogance, and to position myself to support others. He said that car doors would lock when I passed, purses would be clutched, and people would cross the street and then return to that side after I walked by. And he was right, so I’ve done my best to stay the course.

"I recognize that degrees, job titles, and where I live won’t save me (or my children) from any of this, but the work I put into the community should make things better for everyone — for my children. My father taught me a lot of important lessons about education, spiritual life and being a better sibling, husband and father. The lesson in his ‘sermon’ is probably the most unfortunate but undoubtedly one of the most important.”

Jack Reynolds working at the Santa Anita Park racetrack in California in the 1970s.

Tom Reynolds, associate director of public relations: “My dad once told me that he didn’t remember ever being a child. At age 12, during the Great Depression, he attended school and worked seven days a week helping his father in the blacksmith shop. After three years of working around the clock to help provide for the family and trying to keep up with his studies, Dad dropped out of school early in the ninth grade.

"He worked very hard, learning the skills of a horseshoer, specializing in thoroughbreds. Following a two-year interruption while he served in the First Cavalry Division, Fifth Cavalry Regiment, during World War II, he didn’t miss a beat and picked up his tools and returned to the racetrack. By the time he was in his forties, he was in high demand around the country, correcting foot problems on multimillion-dollar stake horses and Kentucky Derby winners.

"Despite rising to the top of his profession, Dad was a very quiet and humble man who preferred being with his ‘boys,’ referring to my brother and me. He was very proud of his sons, never missing our graduations or school activities. Though Dad’s high demand in his profession required much time away from home, my brother and I cherished our time with him.

"Dad always made us feel that we were important, and could achieve anything we aspired to. He never failed to leave us with a reminder, ‘Complete your education, and work harder than the next guy.’ And he’d look us in the eye and say, ‘You come from good stock,’ referring to our family lineage. It’s been nearly 25 years since dad passed away, but I always make a point to talk with my grandchildren about who he was, hoping that his memory will endure the generations of our family.”

Carol and Warren Baldwin.

Carol Baldwin, Educational Outreach and International Programs: “My dad, Warren, was a platoon leader in the Army and a guard at the Nuremberg Trials. Try living with that kind of discipline around the house. By the time I came along, he’d become a barber, owning his own business and cutting hair for more than 50 years. His customers became his friends and those are the guys he still calls ‘the gang.’ None of them have first names — they’re all known by last names only, a habit I’ve picked up for my closest circle, too.

"My parents were married for 63 years, and one day my dad informed me that he was the best thing that ever happened to my mom. I said, ‘I really doubt it.’ And he said, ‘Sure I am. Go ask her.’ So I dutifully went to my mom and asked, ‘Hey — what’s the best thing that’s ever happened to you?’ And she said, ‘I guess it was when I met your dad.’ I just heard maniacal laughter from the other room.

"When I got married, my dad walked me down the aisle and we met John at the front of the church. My dad shook John’s hand and said, ‘She’s your problem now, Swayze.’ I didn’t change my name when I got married, ‘cause I’ll always be a Baldwin. I’ll always be Warren’s daughter, and that is more than enough. He’ll be 91 in July, and he could still take you in a fight.”

Kim Easley and James Thomas Easley circa 1980. 

Kim Easley, alumni relations officer: “My dad was from Pontotoc, Mississippi, and after high school moved to Michigan to work for one of the Big 3 automakers. That’s when he met my mom. My sister and I were the result of their relationship. After a number of years, my dad grew tired of the cold winters and moved back to Pontotoc. My sister and I would go and visit him on summer vacations, requiring us to fly on very small commuter planes to get there. It was on these trips that he would encourage us to do what we loved and made us happy.

"Our relationship grew closer than ever after he was diagnosed with lung cancer, and I traveled to Mississippi each month to help care for him. Despite his condition, he insisted that I continue work on my master’s degree because he wanted me to get as much education as possible. He passed away on Thanksgiving last year and I received my master’s degree in sport and entertainment management in May. We had planned on celebrating together at commencement, but I know he’s proud.”

Patrick Wright, west side of Detroit, 1960.

Michael Wright, vice president for marketing and communications and chief of staff: “My father had a rough childhood, but it didn't keep him from becoming a great man. I once asked him if he had any happy memories of his father, who left my grandmother and the family and only returned right before his death. He thought for a moment, and then said, ‘No.’ His father wasn't there for him, even when he was around. My father did the opposite. He was the dad in the neighborhood for his seven kids and any others who wanted some math help or a ride to the beach in our Ford wagon.

"He was a math teacher in DPS, but he was always teaching and relentlessly curious about every subject. I was playing rock music one day and he informed me I was listening to Bach. I scoffed at the idea, but the next day he gave me a new album and said, ‘This is what Bach really sounds like.’ So began my education in and love of classical music, and yet another reason to bond with a great dad. He was a talented, happy and quirky guy, and I miss him every day.”

Amy Cooper and her father, Mike Pettinger,

Amy Cooper, learning community program manager: “What can I say about my dad? Mike Pettinger was ‘Mr. Fix It,’ and could fix just about anything ‘good enough,’ as long as he had duct tape and a vague idea about how things worked. My dad was known as ‘Wild and Crazy Mike’ — he loved to dance (Chuck Berry and the Beach Boys were his favorite) and laugh and have a great time, as much as possible (I am fairly confident I inherited all of my ‘woo-hoo’ energy directly from him).

"Problems weren’t problems, they were ‘challenges and opportunities.’ If any of us kids were ever stuck on one of these ‘challenges and opportunities,’ then he was quick to say, ‘you know, there IS another alternative,’ and help us work it out, every time. His favorite saying was ‘life is good,’ and he never asked for much — usually his birthday and Christmas lists consisted of ‘good kids,’ ‘be nice to your mother,’ a brown or black belt, or socks. Dad passed away in September 2015, quickly and unexpectedly. My dad was just about my favorite person, and I miss him every day.”

Kuan Jin at Sleeping Bear Dunes in 2019.

Tian Jin, budget analyst: “My dad was a high school mathematics teacher in China. I admire him because he has a very chill personality and he is always kind. As an only child, I received lots of attention. My dad doesn’t talk much and this includes not saying ‘I love you,’ but everything that he does shows me his love. When he and my mom come and visit from China, he makes me breakfast and dinner every day and even organizes my condo. Now that he is retired, I talk to him and my mom almost every day. If I’m confused about anything, I’ll ask him for recommendations.”

A 1975 Lincoln Continental, similar to the "Batmobile" Caroline Maun's father picked out with her before she left for college.

Caroline Maun, associate professor and chair of English: In remembering her dad, Maun shared the following unpublished poem:


is what I called it
in self-defense. My father 
was dying by then, but we 
didn’t quite know it, or maybe 
he knew something was pivoting
in him, traveling up the blood 
and lymph highway from lungs
into his brain, remapping it 
so that he couldn’t tell
his shoe from the phone 
in three months. Soon enough 
everything he did would be
maybe the last time.

                                But that May
he was still alive and helping me 
buy a car. He dismissed the Chevette,
a tin can. He picked the black ‘75
Lincoln Continental instead, full 
of pine needles, crumpled leather,
the dashboard all green, liquid light.
It drove like it had a sail,
the wheel a half-turn of play.
I kept hitting things with it,
swiping curbs, leaving
whole hunks of trim 
behind at the drive through.
On the way to college, it wove
gently in the gusts over
the Sunshine Skyway, just
before they had to fix it, before
that boat smashed it and all those
cars drove without once hitting 
their brakes straight up and over
into the night sky.

Happy Father’s Day to all of our Wayne State dads.