Some Thoughts On Father’s Day

Greetings and Salutations;


I thought I would take a moment today,  since it is Father’s Day, to talk about something that is not a political rant or a discussion of bees and their world.


From Left: Unknown Fingertip, Dr. J. O. Mundt, Earl Mundt


     My Father,  John  Orvin Mundt,  had a pretty amazing life.   He was born in Wisconsin,    and grew up on a farm,  where he certainly learned the necessity for,  and the value of,  hard work!  This ensured that he would keep a large garden planted with enough produce to feed three families going every year to the day he died.  This was a family affair, too,  as not only the kids  got to be yard slaves taking care of weeding and picking the produce,  but, even Mom was pulled into it.  On the positive side,  she was the one that ensured that we always had a goodly area of the garden covered in flowers (that we could enjoy,  but did not have to pick)  However, his “Safe Place”  and Zen Temple was the three, 200+  foot rows of Raspberry plants that he lovingly cared for around the year.  He would come in from work in the late Summer and through the Fall,  and work his way slowly through the tangle of canes,  trimming them,  removing the stubs of old canes,  weeding,  and carefully squirting a drop of shellac onto each cut end to keep the Cane Borer beetles from burrowing down the soft centers of the plants,  laying eggs and hurting the plants.


     As a young man, he survived the Great Depression,  although he nearly starved to death during it,  and, it left some scars that never did heal.   Because of that experience in his life,  he was  not willing to let a single morsel of food go to waste.   We had to clean our plates of every bite.   When we processed the produce from the garden,  we had to get every last sliver of tomato, or kernel of corn  into the jars.   We pressure-canned everything, so it would stay good for a long time.  Now,  with up to four kids and two adults in the house,  we made it through the rest of the year on those jars of canned produce.


     When he was a boy, in Wisconsin,  he felt he was not welcomed at Church.  As a poor farm boy,  he did not have nice clothes to wear.  His worn, but, clean,  coveralls and shirts were looked down upon by the other members.  However,  in spite of that,  he persisted in the teachings of the Lutheran Church,  and, while he struggled at times with the conflict between Dogma  and reality,  he did,  I believe,  gain much spiritual growth from the Church and its teachings.  He, like all of us had his failings,  but,  as long as I knew him he always exhibited the best of Christ’s Message…He loved and cared for all,  and had no prejudices against other people because of cultural, sexual, or racial differences.  He also did his best to pass on those attitudes to his children,  and, I have to say,   looking at my brother and sisters,  I believe that he did a far better job of that than he believed he had done.


     He was a quiet man,  who was prone to NOT talk about himself to any extent.   Was it because he still had painful wounds to his soul that he did not want to reveal?   Was it because he was more interested in others than himself?   I believe that both of these are true,  but that the latter came to be the dominant factor in his life.  Lord Knows,  he had some wounds too!   Decades after his death,  after many conversations with my siblings,  and comparing notes,  I have come to the conclusion that my father either WAS one of the German-Americans that were interned during World War 2,  or he was very close to those that were swept up in that debacle,  and it rattled his world.   Perhaps the worst part of this,  is that Dad  was always kind of in awe of a country where a poverty stricken farm boy from rural Wisconsin  could get access to such great support and educational resources at little or no cost.   These allowed him to continue his education to become a world-renowned Microbiologist,  speaking many languages and reading more,  with many discoveries in the field to his name, and, being able to influence the life Journey of many, many students.


     His work at the University of Tennessee,  with the students,  was another example of his caring for others.   He made it a point to learn as much as possible about the students he was advising,  and honestly evaluate their prospects in the field.   Being German Lutheran,  he was quite willing to tell a student that they had no aptitude for the work.   However, unlike many advisers,  he would go on to talk with them about their strengths, and to suggest alternative degrees that they ought pursue.  MOST of the students he had to do this with came to appreciate him quite a bit…because he had been absolutely right,  and they ended up in a degree program that fit them far better and gave them much more happiness and success.   Some students ignored his advice, and pushed on.  I have, over the years,  run across a few of these, and a number of times,  they had gotten a degree in Microbiology,  and then had ended up in a career change to something that had nothing to do with the topic.   Dad was not perfect…he did make mistakes and some of those students he had advised to bail out,  attacked the subject with greater determination than ever,  and successfully got their degree.   They may well have found a niche in the broad field that really did fit them well, too.


     I could go on at great length about the successes and failures of my Father,  and how he taught me much from both of them.   Perhaps, though,  that is more for a different post.  I wanted to finish off by saying that we had a rough relationship for a lot of my life.  My brother and sisters were FAR more successful in the areas that he held important.   I, though was that little, 9 year old, third child who lost his tools all the time.   HOWEVER,  perhaps the best memory I have, and at least the one I am proudest of,  is that, several years before his death,  our relationship was shaken up and re-formed into a friendship between two adults. The somewhat shocking moment of realization I had that this change had happened was one weekend when he asked me if I would come and speak to his lion’s Club meeting about the world of computers and programming – focusing on it as a career.   I went in,  and did about 45 minutes extemporaneously,  with some props  I had printed off,  and (which will surprise those that know me) kept it relatively short.   Afterward,  as we were driving home, Dad observed that it had been quite a good presentation,  and that I had not used any notes…  He seemed rather impressed that I had become a knowledgeable enough person,  and was well spoken enough to be able to do that.   He rarely exhibited surprise,  but he did at that…


     The fact that we became adults, and friends that could speak honestly with each other is both one of the most touching, and biggest honors in my life.   He died years ago, yet,   for some reason, I feel him with me  today,  I am sad that he is not here and I cannot show him my house, and help him with his Raspberries a bit.
Thanks,  Dad.

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1 Response to Some Thoughts On Father’s Day

  1. Bruce Tammelin MD says:

    I was moved by the story of your father on Fathers Day last year. He was my pre med adviser at UT Knoxville in 1969 and one of the reasons I transferred to another school.

    I had learned to read “upside down” (having consumed probably too many spy novels living out on the farm). As we were talking in his office one day, I noticed he was taking notes as if he were analyzing me. The term I will remember as long as I live was “ego phobia”. And I was quite surprised, that word being used a microbiologist.

    I knew I would never be able to get into medical school with that kind of description/interpretation of my demeanor from my pre med advisor.

    I often tell this story to my colleagues who get quite a kick out of this story. I still remember him sitting behind his desk looking over at me and my thinking “this is the last time you’ll be seeing me, pal”.

    Your story of your own experiences gives me some degree of closure and helps me realize that maybe I was not all that abnormal after all.

    Having said that, he was quite an accomplished scholar and I certainly respect his contributions to the literature.

    He likely did me a favor. Had I stayed in Knoxville it may not have ended well.



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