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Papa Jack

My father was an amazing man in so many ways. As a young man, in keeping with the times, the early 1900s, he lived in the ambiance of “getting ahead” and followed the tenets of Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. With only a high school education, he moved from the position of desk clerk to hotel manager in less than two years.


During the Great Depression, he kept the hotel full by adding bathroom/kitchen closets to many of the rooms and renting them as apartments. He added more rooms by filling up the hotel’s many open courts and generous stairwells. His main desk clerk, Martha Maguire, is well remembered by those who visited; she made everyone feel welcome. For a good many years, the hotel bellhops were one of the eight Freeman brothers. Less racially prejudiced than so many men at that time, my father admired their mother, Mrs. Freeman, and often told the story of how this small, black, and determined woman came to his office to advocate the hiring of her sons and to assure him that her sons would never lie or steal. I suspect the nervy Mrs. Freeman fit Dale Carnegie’s ideas about achieving success.


All his long life, my beloved father had a multitude of friends – and he was a good friend. He looked to other men (the times were definitely anti-female) for companionship and advice. One of his first friends, the older and wonderful Claude Owen who neither drank nor smoked, seems to have been an enduring influence. When flying was in its infancy, the two flew to several World Fairs, as well as Cuba, and Alaska, at times in an open cockpit plane. Jack loved to travel. He is the only person I ever knew who would walk street after street in a strange town, looking, just to see what he could see and for days at a time. He loved big buildings, fast trains, and busy streets and found them exciting evidence of how America was bound for success. He believed the perpetual and invasive growth of cities represented the betterment of mankind.


In Spokane, Washington, it seemed like everyone knew him. The Hotel Ridpath was just a few blocks from my high school and when I began working as the hotel’s switchboard operator, people I didn’t recognize would stop me on the street and ask me how my father was. I seldom remembered them because, at age fifteen, anyone older than eighteen seemed over the hill and easily forgotten.


He believed in exercise and swam at the Elks several times a week. As the hotel prospered, he worked out at the Athletic Club. My father also walked for exercise; indeed, as his family grew to five children and moved further from the hotel, he walked a lot.

The hotel was his life. Initially mother, I, and my two younger sisters lived in a one-bedroom apartment on the Ridpath’s fifth floor. But after his children got scarlet fever, we moved to an inner-city house a mile away. Our father never had an assistant manager and his presence at dinner time grew more infrequent. When he came home for dinner, which was maybe every other evening, he would often get an emergency call and abruptly leave. This eat-and-run pattern continued as, through the years, his family moved into the park-like suburbs.

When my father was in his forties, he became aware that his job and his future were at risk. His mentor, friend, and employer, Mrs. Ankeny, was becoming the victim of dementia and her heirs had other ideas and issues. He went back to school, this time to Gonzaga law school, and our family saw him even less. His new hero was Oliver Wendell Holmes; the Holmes book sat next to How to Win Friends and Influence People. By then, I was in high school and working on the hotel desk; I probably saw more of my father than my mother did. Studying for tests was not easy in a house with many children, five, by then. Mostly he stayed at the hotel and began seeing other women. I remember the sadness of those years for my mother; her heart was broken. I adored my mother and did whatever I could to help her feel better. At the same time, I understood that, as a hotel manager, my father was living in the land of opportunity.


Easters, Thanksgivings, New Years, and Christmas were the only times we seemed to be a family. In keeping with his facility for male friends, Jack was a favorite of Father Linden, one of his law school professors and a Gonzaga Regent. On holidays, we entertained the cleric as royally as we could with drinks and dinner. My mother Myrtle would cook and clean for more than a week; indeed, the entire family were involved in the preparation. Years later, when Father Linden died, my father became a Catholic. I think he did it to fulfill a promise he had made. He never returned to church after that, however.


In 1950, the Ridpath Hotel burned down. By 1951, it became apparent that the new plan of the Ankeny inheritors was to build a glorified motel and hire a new manager. That year my father drank to excess. My mother got a job in the jewelry department at the Crescent Department Store and was amazingly effective at sales. With only one child still at home, they rented their home near Manito Park to another family and became apartment managers.


After some time, one of my father’s many friends, a lawyer, tired of his drinking and encouraged him to get a job as the lawyer for a bank.


My father’s new employment changed his status from man-about-town to faithful husband. With frequent office parties and get-togethers, my mother was happy to be at last included in her husband’s life. My parents moved back into their Manito Park house and enticed their now-grown children to visit. Although he found his Federal Land Bank peers a bit naïve, my father loved knowing he could finally expect a steady income and a comfortable retirement. With so much security, my father’s demeanor changed to somewhat mellow.


Of course, he still had his old friends; his best, Claude and Glenn, had moved to California; he often went to see them. Over the years, my father’s five children followed his example and traveled. His son went around the world, swimming in all the bodies of water he encountered that he could manage. His youngest daughter lived in Paris for four years and would have stayed there forever, but she couldn’t find employment. Another daughter married a military man and spent years in transit, many overseas. Another daughter went around the world and then joined the Peace Corps; she ended up In Ecuador. As an anthropologist, I studied Roma, which is like moving into another world entirely. It seems that our father, who was seldom home and who had little contact with us during our childhoods, critically shaped our futures.


When he retired, my father wanted to buy a travel trailer and visit all the States. But that didn’t appeal to my mother. In 1980, Mt. St. Helens blew up and scattered ash all over the Spokane streets and my parents moved to Seattle where most of their children lived.


Papa Jack is what my children called my father. He was Jack to my mother; my children called her Mimi. To his friends and the rest of his family, he was John, John Lynn Davis. He was a beautiful man, tall, blue-eyed, which was probably a great help in winning friends and influencing people. For the first half of his life, he was a kind man to everyone except his own children.


I don’t really understand my father when it comes to raising children. As a young man, he expected perfection, although he seemed to have no idea what that might be. He didn’t show us any affection; indeed, I rather doubt that he knew how. When, as a child, I stayed for weekends with his mother, Belle, she was even more remote. I was accustomed to conversation with adults and would get upset when she wouldn’t talk to me. All I remember her saying was to go down the block to where there were other children and play with them. She didn’t tuck me in and never said good night. I have the suspicion that she hadn’t been a very demonstrative and loving mother and if I am right, my father’s life and his Dale Carnegie success are especially notable.


When I was growing up, my father seemed perpetually angry. As an adult, I realize he was fearfully angry. Initially, during the depression, he feared he wouldn’t be able to support his ever-increasing family and he probably feared that his children would reveal his insufficiencies by revealing their own.


When I was still a child and my father lost his temper, I lost mine. Once I grabbed his new hat and stomped all over it. He seldom hit us but always threatened to. Mother would cry and beg him to stop; her father had been a dear and gentle man who never raised his voice and she had no idea whatsoever of what she might do to calm her husband. Throughout my childhood, I never acknowledged to myself that my father scared me. I managed to stop acting out by the age of ten. And yet the threat of our father is what joined me to my sisters as their protector. It was largely wishful thinking, but I conceived myself as Joan and Nancy’s first line of defense.


The good and the bad are a strange duo. The bond forged with my two sisters became one of the greatest and most enduring joys of my long, long life.


Of course, he changed as he grew older and observed male behavior in other families. By the time he was employed as a lawyer, he would spend his evenings writing wills for the widows of old friends, saving the money to give his children, his somewhat feckless, somewhat anti-Carnegie children. Money is what he understood, and bonds were his welcome gifts to us. It was his money that made my fieldwork life so much easier.

When I was living in California and studying Roma, my father invariably sent me the airfare so I could return to Seattle at Christmas. He didn’t approve of my impecunious and uncertain lifestyle. But when an article of mine was published in a scientific journal, he sent me a book about Roma that I treasure and that I hadn’t been able to afford. When my children were small and we lived in New Jersey, he and my mother came to visit. Horses were, at that time, my daughter’s passion and although it certainly was not one of his interests, my father took my daughter to a Roy Rogers show in Madison Square Garden. My mother went crazy over several antiques, a lounge chair, a porcelain piece, and he didn’t complain about the transport cost or her purchases. Years later he helped my grown son buy his first house by sending him several thousand for the needed down payment.


But he wasn’t much at showing affection – perhaps he didn’t know how.


That is why I have a huge and never-ending regret that I didn’t hug him more and particularly when, in his eighties, he was first affected by Alzheimers. We didn’t know what was wrong for several years; we thought old age was just making him cranky. He continued to drive his ancient Cadillac, but his complaints increased. He sat watching the television news for hours and, as we now realize, didn’t have the least idea of what he was seeing. My mother, my siblings, and I would be laughing and talking around the dining table for hours while he sat alone, a few feet away, in his chair. It seemed like a continuation of how it had always been; he believed his children were the province of his wife. How I wish now I had joined him. How I wish I had held his hand, talked to him, and kissed him. He was my father.



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