How One Decision 50 Years Ago May Have Killed My Dad

LaDuke boysBy Phil La Duke

Today, in the US is father’s day. A day we honor our fathers or at least respect the fact that our fathers provided the sperm cell that brought us to life.  Some of us had great fathers, some of us had horrific fathers, but today is a day where many of us introspectively examine the relationship we have or had  with our fathers.

What does this have to do with safety? Well, Friday my daughter called and asked me how to choose a rod and reel as a father’s day gift for her step-father. I don’t fish and know (expletive) all about picking out a rod and reel. I told her to call her uncle and ask him.  I told her the best person to ask would have been my brother-in-law who was an itinerate sportsman and fisherman, but sadly he died some years ago of silicosis, an industrial disease caused by the inhalation of silica dust.  He was taken too young and too soon.

This brought to mind my own father, who died of mesothelioma, an agonizing way to die caused solely thorough exposure to asbestos. We didn’t get rich off what George W. Bush described as frivolous “asbestos lawsuits” (I pray daily that W. contracts something as horrible and dies as painful and terrible way.) In fact, my dad was so anti litigious that when my mother died at 60 from a faulty pacemaker, he refused to sue.  He spoke to his children, well at least to me (I can’t speak for my siblings) and asked me to joint a lawsuit.  “Medical science gave us 10 with you mother that we ordinarily wouldn’t have had, and any money we get will just come out of their research budgets; they aren’t going to take it out of their profits.”  In fact, my father refused to sue his employer over the protestations of his attorney, because he said that when his employers learned of the dangers they immediately took steps to protect him and his coworkers.  He did however sue the manufacturers who KNEW about the dangers and concealed them from the public and from his employer.  $100 bucks here or there split seven ways does not compensate me for the death of my father, nor does it seem fitting punishment for the torture they put my dad through, but it’s something, and sometimes something just has to do.

My dad would be 91 had he lived, and there’s a good chance he may have succumbed to something else had he not died of mesothelioma but given that his older brother is still alive and in relatively good health there’s at least a fair chance that he might be here today, telling his kids that they shouldn’t have given him gifts and to save their money instead. Anyway, it would be nice if he were still around.

My dad, and so many like him wasn’t just a tragic victim. He was murdered by heartless corporations. Corporations that are still around I should add, who, through depraved indifference to the health and wellbeing of the workers.  Murdered; one can’t help thirst for justice that will never come.  I expect the serial killer executives who murdered my father are enjoying their Father’s Day with their kids and grandkids and not giving their victims a moment’s pauses.

So that’s what this has to do with safety. But what I really wanted to do is to tell you all about my dad. (I’m not going to reveal too many personal details to avoid the possibility of identity theft—mine, not his). My dad was born on a farm in the 1920s one of seven sons of a railroad worker. I don’t know much about my grandfather (he too was killed on the job) or what he did for the railroad but I can only assume he did it all the livelong day.  My dad was all that was great about the greatest generation.  I used to spend Sunday afternoons at his house and once in a while we talked about what it was like growing up back then, particularly since he was old enough to remember and appreciate the gravity of the Great Depression.  I remember him telling me of the fear that gripped the nation.  “We didn’t know if it was ever going to end” he once told me.  Similarly, a Word War II vet he told me that “America wasn’t a superpower back then; we didn’t know we were going to win the war”. My dad and four of his brothers enlisted (one being too old to serve and another too young).  Miraculously all five came home unscathed with only two of them seeing anything close to action (on Okinawa but in a later wave in the invasion).  My dad was in the rarified condition of being fit for duty but unfit for combat (his horribly flat feet meant he couldn’t march).  He stayed stateside during the war; a self-proclaimed war hero who “dive bombed cigarette butts” on the base in South Carolina.  He told hilarious stories about his time in the army, one of my favorites was him telling me how terrified he was that they would shoot him, because they would read the troops the articles of war and each ended with “the punishment for which will be DEATH, or whatever a court martial shall decide.”  He served in both the army AND the army air corps when the army decided to trade him and two south Texans who spoke only Spanish for two young officers up on in subordination charges.

When he was discharged from the service my dad came home and took a job at Firestone. He didn’t like it and quit and lunchtime.  He walked across the street to a Ford plant where he was immediately hired and worked the afternoon, he didn’t like that either so he quit and the next day he took a job at the place he would work until he retired some 40 years later.  I often think of that fateful day and how his decision to quit either of those jobs might have changed the outcome of his life.  Rest In Peace dad, you sure earned it.