My father is dead. He died in 2006 of Alzheimers. He was only 75. I miss him terribly. A day doesn't go by that I don't think of him. He spent his entire working life at the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, a company that no longer exists.
Lately I've been working with a couple of guys from here in Bethlehem, PA, to get a web site online so they could market their work, video documentaries and a book/memoir, that tells the stories of the men and women who worked at the once great, now defunct, Bethlehem Steel. That—the demise of 'The Steel'—is a great tragedy, especially here in Bethlehem, but also for our nation that was once great in large part because of our industrial strength and the economic power it gave to our largely unionized work force and the upward social mobility it provided them and their children.
I'm one of those kids. I had the advantage of great schools, a college education, and a strong and supportive society around me as I grew up and matured and sought to find my own way in the world.
In the 60s and early 70s, like a good number of my generation, I rebelled against all they had given us. The Viet Nam war was the primary driver of that rebellion, but so was the consumer-driven, corporate-ladder-climbing, cubicle-dwelling 'rat race' life we saw awaiting us if we accepted it no questions asked.
I know that rebellion deeply hurt my father and other "old white men" of his generation. They'd worked hard in the mills and mines so that we could avoid such a dismal fate. They fought on the picket lines against the company goons so that they could provide their families with a living wage and a better chance for social advantage.
And we all said a big generational "fuck you." That had to hurt.
My Dad, a rare man of his generation, actually loved the feisty rebelliousness of our generation. He saw the war and the corporate power structure for what it was, and loved that we did too and spoke out vocally against it. He loved the chant "1, 2, 3, 4, we don't want your fucking war,' and the Country Joe and the Fish song "Fixin' to Die Rag.' The night of the draft lottery, he called me in college and told me, "don't you even think of going in. You get a low number, I'll pay your way to Canada." I got a high number and stayed in school.
My Dad was proud he was able to pay for that college education, at an Ivy League school, no less, but I know he was hurt that I didn't do much with it. But at the same time he was, I think, a bit envious of the apparently carefree life I chose to lead for most of the next couple decades as I tried to figure out what to do instead of becoming a 'corporate whore.'
He'd had to marry my mom right out of high school because he knocked her up with me. He worked nights at the steel mill and went to Lehigh during the day. Eventually he was able to get into the sales department and provide us a good upper middle class income. He busted his fucking ass, his whole life. While I pretty much fucked off.
I went out to California and lived the life of a 'hippie' surf bum, for the most part. It wasn't as easy as it sounds nor as fun, but I did pull it off. Never had much money, usually only a few dollars from being short of rent or food, but I paid my bills, never asked for financial help from him or the state.
(Other than a few months of food stamps when I first got out there with about $100 bucks in my pocket. It allowed me to eat while I saved enough for 1st and last rent to get a place. I vowed to make it on my own as a result of accepting that help and never received any direct assistance from there on. Although I was helped in other key ways by "The Government" later on, several times, and extremely grateful for it, but that's another story.)
So by the late 80s, pushing 40, and desperately wanting to escape my below subsistence lifestyle, tired of being poor, and embarassed and ashamed of not contributing to society in some concrete fashion, I decided that maybe I could be a good teacher. I was good at math and also at art and loved both. I thought I could parlay that into a rewarding career as a teacher.
But I was terribly shy. I couldn't talk to more than 2 people at the same time. I knew there was no way I was going to get up in front of a bunch of kids and command their respect and attention, despite my enthusiasm for whatever subject I brought to the classroom. Then I had an idea that changed my life. I signed up for an acting class at the Santa Barbara City College. (one of those other 'government' provided institutions that made a huge difference in my life, several times. Thank you thank you thank you!!!)
I decided that I was going to push through that self-imposed wall of isolation that my self-concept of "I'm shy" had built around me for 38 years.
And I did.
I promised myself the first time the teacher asked for someone to get up and perform, do an exercise, or anything in front of the class, I was going to be the one. And I did it.
It was fucking awesome. An epiphany. And I was good. And I knew it. In a good way. Finally I had confidence, self-assurance, a positive self-image and all that. Talk about liberating the self.
My Dad had been worried about me for a long time. He knew I was smart. He knew I was hard-working as hell. But he also knew I had no direction and no ambition, up til then anyhow. In the past whenever I'd come up with some idea of something I thought I'd try, I'd get the response:
(imagine Archie Bunker's attitude toward 'Meathead' for tone here)
"Ahh, you'll never do that, you don't have the ambition, (or the talent, or...whatever...) You'll never be a ____."
And I'd usually believe him and lose interest or motivation. (Ironically I knew that he said that kind of thing to try and spur me to rebel against it and show him wrong.)
This time was different. When I called him and told him I was going to be an actor, WAS an actor, he didn't try to talk me down. Of all things, an actor! Parents are supposed to talk you out of that, even if you are good, the chances of financial success are virtually nil. He knew that, I knew that. But he didn't talk me out of it. He, I found out, like me, believed that what was important in life is doing what you love. He could tell I'd found it finally.
He didn't tell me that, but I found out.
You know what he did? He sat down the next day and wrote a play for me to perform. He wanted me to have a vehicle for a shot at success in an almost impossible to succeed profession. He wanted me to be able to do what I love. And he wanted to tell the story of the men he had loved and worked alongside of in the mills.
He wrote a one man show, a monologue about a guy reminiscing about working at 'The Steel.' He called it The 28 Inch Mill, that was the name of the mill that he worked in. And it was brilliant.
Over the coming weeks I would like to share this wonderful gift from my father with the Kos community.
Update Tuesday 12/18/12: I've moved the script to its own diary here:
I did this so that comments can be made here on the story behind the play which I've shared here, and comments on the play itself and the stories therein can be made as I publish the installments.
Thank you for your support of my father's great gift to me.
Thanks Kos for putting this on the Community Spotlight!!!
Wow, my first ever diary. This is a great community!
'The 28 Inch Mill' by Robert D. Frantz was written in 1992, edited and updated in 1994 by me with additional copy by my Dad. I performed it in 1995 in Santa Barbara CA and again in 2004 in Bethlehem PA. (I will share later his reaction to finally seeing me perform.)
This material is strictly copyrighted and all publication and reprint and performance rights, in whole or in part, are held by me, Stanley R. Frantz, his son. Inquiries regarding reprint or republishing permissions may be directed to me via my Kos account. I welcome your interest.
I hope and expect of course, that all Kossacks will respect my late father and his one great creative accomplishment and respect our copyright to this material, while at the same time helping us to tell the story far and wide.
There is a web site for the play I put up in 2004. I also sell DVDs of it online, but at this time I am hesitant to use this diary for self-promotion. That is not my purpose here. My purpose is to honor my father and the men like him who worked in the industrial mills and factories and mines of the United States when it was still possible to do so and earn a wage that could promise your children a better life.