Father’s Day is a bittersweet time.
My father died in an industrial accident when I was nine months old so I knew him only through memories provided by my mother, who died last year at 85.
William Douglas “Tommy” Thompson was a dashing sailor when he met his future wife and the woman who would be my mother at the Norfolk Naval Yard during World War II. After serving in the Pacific, dad’s ship put in to Norfolk for retrofitting after the Japanese surrendered. He needed extra gas rationing coupons to ride head for Tampa to visit his parents so he sent to see the person in charge if giving out extra chits — Ethel McPeak from Meadows of Dan.
They both rode Harleys and struck up a conversation about motorcycles. She granted his request and he asked her out after his return to Norfolk. Love blossomed and they married right after the war ended. The young couple settled in Gibsonton, a small down just south of Tampa, and I came along a year later.
Dad went to work for U.S. Phosphorous, a Gibsonton plant right on Tampa Bay. He was an electrician’s mate in the Navy and worked on the plants electrical motors.
He and mom rode in motorcycle thrill shows and made friends with a lot of carnies who wintered in the small Florida town. One day he was working on an electric motor at the plant when another worker — his best friend — inadvertently turned the power back on, electrocuting my dad.
We stayed in Gibsonton until I was five before moving to Floyd. My mother wanted to be close to her parents. For the first eight years of my life, my mother told me my dad could never be replaced.
But, when I was eight, she remarried, replacing him. Unfortunately, my mind was set by that time and I never really gave my stepfather a chance to be a dad to me. That was my fault, not his.
At 18, while working for The Roanoke Times, I had some comp time coming so I packed my car, left the office at 11 p.m. and drove straight through to Florida, visiting my grandparents and spent some time learning about my dad. I discovered he was an active roller skater and performed in shows. He and my late aunt also were ballroom dance performers and appeared at events. He was a daredevil who loved to take chances.
He was a man that I wished I had known. I inherited my love of motorcycles from him. My mother said I was like him in more ways than I would ever know.
Happy Father’s Day dad. I never knew you but I thank you for helping put me on this earth.