THROUGH A TOWNIE’S LENS
By Jock Lauterer
Father’s Day, in the home in which I grew up, didn’t exist. The third Sunday in June was just another day.
But I’m certain that wasn’t true for my heartbroken divorced mother, nor for my big brother, Nick, traumatized by the betrayal of his beloved dad. Father’s Day was a cruel reminder of abandonment.
How does a 7-year-old boy grow up when he feels rejected by his own father? The elder child of a bitter divorce, Nick didn’t survive that rough passage.
For looking back now into the ‘50s, I don’t recall any man in this town stepping up to show interest in the kid. Little wonder as a teen, Nick would grow sullen, angry, self-destructive and finally suicidal.
I was the lucky one. Only two years old at the time of the split, I was thrown free of the wreckage, landing on all fours in Chapel Hill, unaware of my “gone daddy.” For growing up without a father is like being born color blind: you don’t know what you’re missing until it becomes painfully obvious. Having no man in the house, I had no idea how to behave like one.
But now, with 20/20 rear-view mirror vision into the past, I see that following my brother’s death, the village fathers rallied round.
Unbeknownst to the 10-year-old, I had bonus dads at every turn:
- Neighborhood plumber Don Harback, who, as my long-suffering Little League coach, gave me a sense of belonging to a team — in spite of my utter lack of ability to hit, run, field, catch, throw — or think.
- Albert Graham and his wife, Evelyn, saints by any measure, who took a gaggle of Methodist Youth Fellowship teenagers to the beach every summer.
- Ed Johnson, scoutmaster of Troop 39, who fired my love of nature and taught me to be prepared.
- Roland Giduz, editor of The Chapel Hill News-Leader, who gave me my first job, selling papers on the 100 block of Franklin Street. I was 8. Our relationship would last until his death at age 83.
- Dr. Lou Vine, veterinarian, who hired me to clean the dog kennels, but who also once let me assist in an emergency Caesarian on a bulldog, saving her pups. A game changer for me.
- Coot Hooper, sixth grade teacher at Chapel Hill Elementary School, who taught us French (ahead of his time) and inspired the class to write our own stage play of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” He cast me as Aslan. My first male lead.
- Thomas Pendergraft and Thomas Morrow, custodians at then-segregated Chapel Hill High School, who watched over us like guardian angels — Mr. Pendergraft saving me from a black widow spider (another story for another time).
- Narsiah, an Indian graduate student at UNC-CH, who, in full white Nehru suit with long white leggings, gave me tennis lessons, for free.
- The Rev. Charlie Jones of the Community Church, who gave me my spiritual grounding.
- UNC-CH Professors Larsh and Dimmick who taught me gun safety and took me hunting.
- Cliff and Roy, UNC-CH Wilson Library custodians by day and gospel rockers by night, who gave me my first drumming gig with the Divine Trumpets.
- Mr. Kednocker, a neighborhood dad, who took me fishing at Clearwater Lake and Hogan’s Lake.
- Alex Noel and Ed Geer, pressmen at the old Chapel Hill Weekly, who taught me about the power of hard work coupled with irreverent humor.
- Bill Brinkhouse, local photographer, who introduced me to the mysteries of the photographic darkroom, thus launching me as a photojournalist.
- Jim Shumaker, legendary editor of The Chapel Hill Weekly and curmudgeon with a heart of gold, who taught me about tough love and that real men could write.
If only they could hear me now, to all my bonus dads, I’d say big thanks and happy Father’s Day. And please know that I’m carrying on your good works by paying it forward. There’s a whole generation of college boys out there who need to learn how to man up.
Jock Lauterer began selling newspapers for Jim Shumaker and Roland Giduz on the streets of Chapel Hill at the age of 8. For the last 20 years, he has served as a senior lecturer and adjunct professor at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media, teaching photojournalism and community journalism.