We all have mentors in life, but for many of us the most influential among them are our dads. As Father’s Day approached, I found myself reflecting on my own.
Harvey Alfred Wood III was born in 1938 in Miami, Florida, and has always gone by “Big Al.” Dad was 6-foot tall by the time he was 12 years old and only stopped growing when he reached 6 feet, 4 inches. His earliest memories are of a nation gripped by war when he and his classmates carried tin cans and newspapers to school to support the war effort. That worldwide struggle for freedom made a lasting impression on him and helped to shape his belief in patriotism.
Due to Dad’s family circumstances, he more or less raised himself. His parents were very young and probably not well-suited for the task of raising he and his younger siblings. His father was a police officer who beat him almost daily after returning from the war. Not many break from the cycle of abuse in their families, but my dad did. He was reluctant to lay a hand on me.
My dad grew up shooting. He had a few guns in the house and kept books on firearms that influenced me at a young age. There were few places to shoot near our home in Miami, so I never fired a gun until we moved to a small town when I was 10. Still, he knew that my boyhood curiosity had to be satisfied. Dad never denied me an opportunity to examine or disassemble his small collection of firearms, under supervision of course. Before long, I was good at getting guns apart to see how they worked, but getting them back together wasn’t my strength.
Crime reached epidemic levels in Miami during those years, so when I’d climb into Dad’s work truck, I’d take note of the Smith & Wesson Model 10 on the black vinyl seat. He wasn’t going to let some thug keep him from doing his job or coming home to us. Dad was a man of action.
Momma often told the story of when he caught several men trying to steal her car from the front of our home. After Dad wrestled and knocked out one of the would-be thieves, Mom brought him his pants and his Remington Rand 1911. The police arrived to find the men lying prone in the street while a shirtless Big Al covered them at gunpoint.
Shooting became our thing. Dad worked long hours during the week, but we spent most Saturdays at the range. Usually, he watched as I shot. I’m sure he was tired and had better things to do, but he always got me to the range.
I’m a father now and intent on passing down the lessons of responsible gun ownership to my children, too. They all show great promise of being safe and capable shooters. More than anything is that my role as a father is grounded in the examples my own father set for me — hard work, no excuses, love of country and love for family.
Dad is in his 80s now. He can’t hear much and is far from politically correct. He’s had a heart attack, a heart bypass and at least one stroke, but he still shoots. We try to get range time in every time we see each other. I am not certain how many Father’s Days we will have together, but I love you, Pop.