Friday, December 04, 2009

The way it worked with Dad

Dad and sister Mia, circa 1978
My dad, Ross Cariaga, was born in Fresno, California in 1940.  In the late 50s, he left Fresno to attend college in Corvallis, Oregon, at Oregon State University where he played football as a defensive guard for the Beavers on their 1962 Liberty Bowl team.  (That team included Heisman Trophy winner Terry Baker.) 

(Interesting side note:  Dad played on the Oregon State defensive line at 5 feet 9 inches height and weighing 205 lbs.  In that era, he was not under-sized.  The average height of the defensive line for the 2009 Oregon State Beavers is approximately 6 feet 2 inches.  The average weight is 258 pounds.)

After graduating from OSU, he moved with his young family to Klamath Falls, Oregon in 1963, to take the head coaching job at Sacred Heart Academy.  He went on to lead that school to a co-State Championship in 1968.  From there, he went to coach at Oregon Institute of Technology in 1970 where he remained for the rest of his career.  In that roughly 30 years, he went through two marriages before marrying his third and final wife, Tami.  He had a total of 7 children with his wives.

Dad was something of a local celebrity in Klamath Falls.  Anybody who knew Dad (and he knew everybody) has a story about him.  And as his eldest son, I've got plenty myself.  So, on the heels of such an entertaining Civil War game last night, I thought I'd recount a couple stories about Dad in honor of the Beavers.  (I wish the Ducks all the best in their pending Rose Bowl appearance, but I was rooting for Oregon State last night.  Can you blame me?  I was conceived on that campus!)

Drama at Disneyland

Think you've seen macho?  This is macho!
Some of my friends have occasionally used the term "macho" to describe me.  "You're so Type A, Dade," they have said.  Well let me just tell you:  You ain't seen macho unless you've seen my dad and his brother, my Uncle Don, in action.  When the two of them got together, the testosterone was palpable.

One summer (I believe it was 1975), my extended family was at Disneyland in Anaheim, California.  There were probably a dozen of the Cariaga clan trooping along through the meandering crowds.  At one point, we were making our way to the end of the queue to ride the Matterhorn roller coaster.  Dad and I were walking together, when a hand holding a squirt gun appeared out of the crowd and squirted water at Dad, hitting him in the chest.  I thought, "Nothing good will come of this."  Dad stopped and turned to see who had done it. I kept walking.  I already knew what was coming.

My Uncle Don was at Dad's side instantly where they confronted two young women (one of whom held the squirt gun) and their boyfriends.  A crowd of on-lookers watched nervously as Dad tore the squirt gun out of the woman's hand and crushed it on the pavement.  Then Dad and Uncle Don browbeat and humiliated the two young men in front of their girlfriends.  Dominance thus established, the Cariaga men continued on their way.  The rest of the family followed behind, somewhat sheepishly.

(There are countless similar episodes I could relate, including the incident in a Bi-mart parking lot, the incident in front of the Klamath Falls City Police Station, or the sledding incident on Maple Street.  But maybe I'll save those for a future date...)

Steve Kerkowski borrows the camera

Dad with Calee and Mia
Most of the time, Dad was exceedingly generous and giving. I don't think anyone ever left his house hungry. But every once in a while, a stingy vein in his persona would show itself.  It became something of a joke.

Once, when my brother Eric and I were in college, Eric had need for a camera and asked Dad if he could borrow the 35mm that Dad had picked up in one of his myriad deals.  (Dad was always working a deal.)  For whatever reason, Dad was disinclined to oblige Eric, but didn't want to come out and just say "no."

"Steve's got the camera," Dad said.

Eric, smelling a rat, asked skeptically, "Steve who?"

"Ker-- uh-- Kerkowski," Dad said.  The stammer gave him away, and we all laughed.  Kerkowski!  Preposterous!  Eric and I both knew that Dad had made the name up on the spot.  And Dad knew we knew it.  But he didn't lend Eric the camera.

After that, the name "Steve Kerkowski" was an inside joke between Eric, Calee, and me.  Steve became the catch-all excuse for any of us when he didn't want to comply with a request from another.  "Can you give me a ride to school?"  "Sorry, Kerkowski borrowed the car."

Paternal pride

Dad and Eric, near the very end
Eric recounted another story to me that revealed how Dad felt about his kids.  Dad was always a reflective, analytical man, but toward the end of his life, as the ravages of Lupus tore him down, he would sometimes mumble his thoughts out loud.

Eric told me that one day he was sitting in the spacious living area of the house Dad had built on upper Klamath Lake.  Dad was laying on the couch napping, his arms folded across his chest. He was unaware that Eric was in the room.  Eric would occasionally hear him mutter something.  At one point, he saw Dad nod his head emphatically, and state with unmistakable pride:  "Seven kids!  And not one of them is a f*ck-up!"

Eric and I laughed about that one later.  We both knew that that was as good as we were going to get.

A life well-lived

Well, Dad's been gone since 2001.  He was only 59 when he passed.  He had some regrets, but on the whole, I know he was satisfied with his life.  He left behind the Tribe of Ross, which is still going strong, and that's a pretty good legacy.

I remember when he called me to tell me that the doctor had just informed him that he had roughly two weeks left to live.  I asked him, "Are you scared?"

"Naw!" he said, dismissing the idea.  Then, after a pause, he said, "I believe in God, son."  And that's about as much as any of us can hope for in the end, ce n'est pas?


Unknown said...

I love this Dade, you are an amazing writer.

Anonymous said...

From Michelle
Dade, I am still cracking up over the Steve Kerkowski story! Those are the kind of inside family jokes that bring a family together and make them special to one other.
Excellent post, all of it!

bobby said...

You know dade i bet if you sat down and write a book of a bio growing up i bet they would turn it into a movie and become a best seller like sandlot lol but i do remember your dad and you are correct anyone that knew your father does have a story too tell you know its funny that we can remember things we all did with our fathers that happen many many many moons ago the house on the lake wow this is going way back in time lol i can remember when he was having it built but it was a beatiful home stay in touch thanks

Anonymous said...

Simply amazing. Thanks for sharing.


Anonymous said...

Take your friends advice and write the book,your father was a once in a lifetime personallity, I belive the stories are there,and you have a great perpective to tell them.

Jenee said...

Dade, I'm sure your dad was larger than life, but I believe that you are every bit as amazing he was. You have filled his shoes quite nicely-unique, interesting, sincere, and no holds barred! You rock. Thanks for the blog.

Unknown said...

You are awesome Dade,
Thanks for keeping your dad alive in our memories. Don't forget to add the incident at COD, with the motorcycle gang that your dad and uncle Don dealt with. We were scared and kept on running...
Speaking of running, do you ever think of how your dad had us run in the desert every day in the summer. I can remember the endearing terms you and Eric had for those times. I know we wish we could all go back to the summer of the '70s for a visit.
Love, Danny

randy workman said...

Dade...thanks for this post...I want to say thanks to you and your family for allowing  Coach to be my second father....My early years of my life were touched by him at Oregon Tech..1979-1980...a lineman and javelin thrower allowed me to spend ton's of time with Coach and our bond grew very fast...A man of huge...larger than life charisma...the little world of klamath falls was his kingdom....he knew everybody...and everybody loved him...I was blessed to have witnessed on many occasions Coach helping someone who needed something...when just an hour ago we were scrounging up our change to try and get enough  for deep fry'd mushrooms at the weigh station shack...1.50  I think..Many cold nights at the lake shore working on the new Home for the Fam...Hanging out with Mia and Collie...All arguements between Jeannie carried out faithfully in pig latin style vocabulary...cause of the "yungins" ..your or erics trout in the freezer that he proudly showed.../I spent hours tryin to catch one as in a hip cast..basically living at the lake front home being cared for by mia and collie,  Jeannie and Coach...  And his charm with the Ladies...lplease tell your family I have never forgot them or my time spent with Coach..My love as always....Randy Workman

Tomsd said...

If you are still reading this - a K Falls neighbor Joe Tacchini - sort of like a Big Brother to me - coached at Sacred Heart with Ross - and I liked them both a lot. I was at KU - or had graduated by then but had gone to Sacred Heart grade school with Jeannie Carnini Cariaga. Joe heard a story that while at Oregon State - a car came alongside Ross (who was not driving) and somehow insults/racing challenges ensued. At about 70 mph - Ross leaned out with a hammer and beat on the other car's hood - and that ended the race. :)

Tom Schiff - KU '64 =- and also went to Henley for two years.