My Dad

My Dad, Charlie Knickerbocker

My Dad is a text-book Baby Boomer, and I’m not referring to his being one of eleven children and having five of his own. Authority has always been a significant part of the way he operates. He’s a classic “spare the rod spoil the child” advocate. If we were out of line, his hand served as the rod on our little cushy bums as the most efficient way to get us back on track. On occasions when a verdict of a spanking sentence from Dad was handed down, the worst part of the punishment was waiting until Dad would be available to enact it.

It seemed logical to my young mind that Dad enjoyed this because he seemed to do it regularly, though I imagine my distaste of it made it seem more frequent than it really was. Our summers were often spent at one camp or another where my parents would work and we’d be staff kids. I was about ten years old and Dad, as program director, was giving a talk during orientation to the staff of high school and college kids about how he would have to discipline them if they would break the rules. My Dad, the hard-nosed authoritarian, broke down in tears and had a hard time finishing. I had him all wrong. Punishing (at least at times) really did hurt him more than it hurt us!

Another Baby Boomer characteristic flowed through my father’s veins: he was a workaholic. His favorite job was as music director for a division of The Salvation Army. Most of our growing up was in upstate New York in the Empire State Division of The Salvation Army that is comprised of New York state minus the New York City area. More than any other divisional music director, Dad travelled to each of the churches to teach people how to play brass instruments at all levels. We lived in Syracuse, but would travel for hours with Dad to help him in towns several hours away. He would often go on his own and not be home until the wee hours of the morning, then leave again before we would wake up. Sometimes we wouldn’t see him for days.

One summer we were at music camp at Camp Saddle Lake near Lake George, NY. This was always Dad’s biggest project of the year and he worked harder than ever. I was eight years old and one of the campers. On Sunday morning we had chapel in the barn. I don’t remember why I did it, but when there was an offer to go forward and pray, I did. As I was praying to ask Jesus into my heart for the first time I felt a familiar hand on my shoulder. The same hand that had so often corrected the errors in my life (and would for more than a few times after this) was there to guide me in a new way. The same workaholic Dad who was always concerned with doing a great job had dropped everything at the most important time of the year to see me through this life changing decision. What made sense to me was that whatever I was doing, it was a huge thing in Dad’s eyes.

Dad’s a victim of early onset Alzheimer’s. Mom called a few days ago to tell me he’s in permanent care in Pittsburgh for Alzheimer’s patients. Some days he’s more lucid than other. Some days he remembers who his family members are. So imagine he doesn’t remember that day at music camp in 1979, though he’s surprised me before. Even if he doesn’t, I certainly will. So, Dad, mission accomplished.

Dads, keep trying. Keep praying for your kids and struggling through those things that just don’t make sense about those God has given you. Occasionally, by the grace of God, you’ll provide a reason why God chooses to call himself “Father”.

Happy Fathers Day.


23 thoughts on “My Dad

  1. Two things from this, I am sure Dave you recall Vanda’s Grandma Spence asking, while looking at you, why has SHE got a beard! The hardest part of a Parent, or anyone suffering from this is that whilst you look at them and they still look the same they, the essential they that you know and love, is lost in there somewhere
    As to praying for our kids, well that responsibility grows as they grow older and have their own children, because as a Grandfather we have to pray for our children their partners and the Grandchildren. But it is also a tremendous joy too.

  2. John was right when he wrote “I have no greter joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” I’m sure your dad would be proud of the man you’ve become.

  3. Oh, so sorry to hear about your dad’s condition!

    I was one of the kids he taught! I remember him in Salamanca, and encouraging every utter-newbie player to just blast into their new horn. His (faux?) startled jump and reference to herd of elephants was priceless.

    Is Camp Saddle Lake Army affiliated? I always remember Long Point…

    • Kirk, I remember going to Salamanca! I believe you lived above the church, if I remember correctly. Yes, he often acted surprised at things. I seem to have inherited that trait.

      Saddle was the camp for eastern NY before it merged with western NY to form Empire State. They kept Saddle Lake for a few years after and eventually sold it, so everybody goes to the camp that had belonged to the Western NY division: Camp Long Point. It was far more central.

      • Yep– from about age 3 to 10, I was living in an apartment above the church (Salamanca and Glens Falls) — and talk about you can never go home again, the old Salamanca building is now a (surprisingly small) grassy field, with just a few driveway marks.

      • I could be thinking of Glens Falls. I think we were there for a week. I remember playing ping pong on a table without a net, so we stacked some books as a net instead. I’m know we went to Salamanca as well.

  4. Hey Dave! I had no idea! So sorry to hear that but know that we will be praying for you him and your family. Those were some good times that we shared!! My grandmother had Alzheimer’s and it is an awful condition!

  5. Dave – I love your dad (and mom) and could so visualize every word you wrote. He may not remember but God has never forgotten that day. Praising God for the ministry of your sad to many.

  6. I remember well those days your Dad would come to Buffalo and teach us to play our horns. And I would play in a band with you, Debbie and Tom (ages ago). I also remember him all those year at Long Point Musicamp and leading songs at the campfire (Fried Ham). Please know I will keep your Dad in my prayers. I remember him being consistent, encouraging and faithful in his job as DMD in Empire State. I still play every Sunday and I often think back to those days with your Dad teaching and leading. Thanks Dave 🙂

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