Unlike my mother, my father was someone I seldom had occasion to look up to or admire. In his thirties he was hard working and somewhat industrious, even ambitious. He did not seem to have a good feel for how society works or how to dedicate oneself to a task and was not particularly helpful in preparing me to interface with the world. I know he was proud of my architectural accomplishments and my acceptance to USC.
In hindsight my father was helpful and definitely gave me some good, blue collar advice. For this I am thankful. And many of his negative qualities have also been helpful – in a reverse barometer kind of way: I’ve never been much of a drinker (especially beer), I resent oversimplified categorization of people and issues, and I am a believer in not expecting things to come easily. No excuses, but my father did have a difficult start in life. Here is his biography:
A Biography of Obie G. Bowman by his son – June 2008
My dad was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on June 2, 1913. His father was a drinker and the only thing I recall hearing about his mother was my dad’s recollection of her working scrubbing floors of tenement houses. When his parents divorced his father took my dad and his mother took his older sister Bernice. Dad soon left to live with his older cousin Miriam Gideon (in Cleveland, I believe). Miriam kept in contact with Dad, Mom, and me until her death in the early 1960s. Dad ran away from Ohio after finishing the 8th grade and bummed around the country for a few years with some hobo acquaintance. They hopped a lot of trains and I believe spent some time in the south. He hated his father, resented his mother for not taking him, and never spoke or wrote to either of them ever again. Somehow, he ended up at a dance at the Santa Monica Pier where he met my mother.
They were married on May 8, 1941. Tom Sprague got dad a job at a furniture factory where dad accidentally cut off the tip of his middle finger. He was soon drafted and ended up in the Navy. Mom and I visited him in Minneapolis where he was undergoing electrical training – he became an apprentice electrician on a destroyer escort in the Pacific. I believe he met his friend Clayton in the Navy. The closest he came to battle was near the Battle of the Coral Sea. They were holding 20 or so miles away from the battle in reserve and dad said they could see the sky light up during the night as the shells exploded.
After the war we lived in small, military housing on a barren hillside in San Pedro. I recall walks to a small pond and going down to the breakwater to meet Dad who would go down early to fish. At some point we moved to a little house behind June’s in West Los Angeles. Also, at some point dad worked as a mailman with his Navy buddy, Clayton. Soon he passed the exam to start as an apprentice with the LA Department of Water and Power and worked out of a station near the Veterans’ Home in West LA. Dad made some efforts to better himself, reading general books of knowledge, doing little projects out of Popular Mechanics magazine, drawing cartoons, making little wire baskets… none of which ever amounted to much.
He always brought home comic books and because I was often in the tub (I’m 5 or 6 at this point) one night he came home and said he had seen some rubber comic books you could read in the tub. I was sorely disappointed when he told me he was only kidding. In later years he brought home the first issue of Mad magazine – he seemed fascinated with Alfred E. Newman’s face and the phrase “What, Me worry?” Another night he brought home a gopher and I was beside myself with excitement. We kept it a day or two and then he insisted we let it go. We built several model ships and planes. My favorite was a wood model of a Black Widow Night Fighter. Another night he brought home a black Cocker Spaniel, “Skipper”, my first dog. Dad built him a dog house. He also built a big swing and a pull-up bar. Dad was always quite skinny but did work out on the pull-up bar and with a punching bag. He liked boxing and listening on the radio to a heavyweight championship fight was really a big deal in our house.
When we moved to Reseda in 1950 dad transferred to the Water and Power station in Canoga Park. There was a lot of work to be done on our tract house lot and Dad installed a front yard sprinkler system and built a decorative planter that looked like a well, clothes lines, a work bench (I have it in my garage now), a dog house, and a chicken cage. We also had a vegetable garden. My parents had a colored concrete patio poured and were told to keep it moist with wet blankets, which they did, but when they removed the blankets the color was terribly mottled. It was pretty gross. Rocks for the well came from a place on the west side of “The Ridge Route” south of Gorman. We would collect them and fill up the trunk of our 1949 Plymouth. Dad also sheared off flagstone from this same area. Grandma gave mom her old player piano (the one we have) and dad spent months rebuilding it – we used to play it all the time, although it has since fallen into disrepair. Dad went to union meetings fairly regularly and I believe usually voted as the union recommended. Both he and Mom were Democrats. Sometimes he would go see the fights (boxing) in downtown LA and sometimes I would go along. Dad set up a pair of horseshoe pits in the backyard and was an OK player.
Dad took tests to improve his position/pay at work but was unsuccessful. He did a little local fishing and hunting, smoked cigars, and drank lots of beer. He was fairly prejudiced (against just about anybody/anything) and was almost always critical of the church, the neighbors, etc.
My dad was quite strict and I did not feel good about him for many of my teenage years. On the other hand, there was truth to many of his concerns and his strictness probably did help me stay out of trouble. In reality, I did many mischievous deeds but was smart enough to usually avoid getting caught.
In the early 1960s his sister Bernice got in touch with him, having contacted him through Navy records and she and one of her daughters, Becky, came out for a visit. After he retired (I believe at 60) he began drinking beer a lot more and eventually was probably an unconfirmed alcoholic. He also then watched a lot of TV. Of course, it was difficult after Mom was hospitalized. Dad visited her regularly, but he suffered a stroke in 1990. We arranged live-in care for him which turned out to be a disaster (items went missing from the house and long distance bills mounted which were never repaid) and eventually he was in a convalescent home in Tarzana. He was later moved to another place where he died on August 22, 1992. He was buried next to my mother at Chatsworth Cemetery. One of his friends from work (Stace or Studerman?) showed up at the burial and we shared a few memories about Dad.