Laurence Campbell Robb – March 31, 1916 – March 1, 2001

I’m missing my daddy to day. Amazing that you can be 60 years old and still miss your dad. My dad was a really complicated man, educated but raised on a farm, was raised by one of the meanest people on the planet but still be kind. When he was mad he used his fists on me from the time I was small and yet he was the one you wanted if you were sick or hurt. He was the one who changed our diapers, cleaned our barf up, bought my sister’s and my Kotex when it came in huge embarrassing boxes. He was the one who taught me self defense and was proud when I had to use it and survived. He taught me to use tools properly, taught me to throw a baseball “not like a girl” even though I was still blinder than a bat when he did it. Took me to the park to play on the adult gymnastics equipment even though it was the men’s, like the rings and the pommel horse and the even parallel bars.

Taught me to cook the things mom was appalled at. Popcorn made with bacon fat, leftover mashed potatoes fried again in bacon grease for breakfast when mom wasn’t ready to get up. Telling us that cheese was still good when you cut the green off. Eating breakfast on the living room floor watching the farm report and then Buster Keaton and Laurel and Hardy and playing with Lincoln logs on the floor.

Because he was a teacher he got all the school vacations and that meant trips to the botanical gardens and all the local museums. Explaining at the Museum of Science and Industry how the chicks were going to get out of their shells, how crops grew and how steam trains worked, where bees went and how they built their hives. He gave me my first garden and helped me plant nasturtiums and radishes and got exasperated when I had to keep pulling them up to see if they were growing.

He bought me every How and Why science book that I wanted and taught me how to make volcanoes in the back yard with mom’s vinegar, baking soda and food colouring. He tried to teach me to ride a bike and even though he had balance problems, couldn’t understand that I couldn’t ride it because I had the same problem. Took me whale watching and forgot the Dramamine and laughed when I was the the first one to see a whale because I was hanging over the side of the boat. Took me river rafting on Class IV and V rivers and was aghast when I got a 3rd degree sunburn and couldn’t put my pants on to go home. He took us to see snow and how to make a snowman because he thought a Southern California girl should know how at least once. He taught me take risks.

He tried to teach me to drive and made me so nervous I stalled our automatic car and was so mad at him yelling at me I got out of the car and into the back seat and didn’t learn to drive until I was 26. Used to scream at me that I was good for nothing but I would find out much later how proud he was of my achievements. He was Jekyll and Hyde when it came to temperament and yet when he was dying he was the one that apologized for all of it when supposedly he had dementia.

He survived the Depression by becoming a hobo and left Illinois never to return and when he told me about it, he made me swear not to tell mom. He joined the CCC and worked eradicating pests in Yosemite, he became a railroad telegrapher and got one of the first SS numbers that was so low that for the rest of his life people would tell him it was a fake.

He enlisted in WWII in the Army because his two brothers were in the Navy. I get my contrary streak from him. He was in the cavalry and was stationed in Naples in Italy and all he would say about the war was that he dumped guns in Naples harbour. He came home on the Queen Mary and enrolled in UCLA and got a degree in History and Math and then went to USC for his teaching degree and would root for UCLA for the rest of his life.

He was the one that when I had to change his diapers at the end, cried and when I told him that he had changed ours and it was the least I could do, cried harder and made me cry too because I had never seen him cry before.

He had pride in his ancestors and that the first Robb here served in the Revolutionary War, that his family had been in the Civil War on both sides but that his near family were on the Union side. He was proud of his grandfather the doctor even though he was allegedly half Native American but refused to talk about it, and his father who left to build the Panama Canal. There was a picture of Sojourner Truth in the family photo album and I know from obituaries that they moved to Illinois to because they were abolitionists.

Somehow even when he was being his meanest, I knew he cared and that he was trying to defend his heart from breaking because too many others had broken it before. I will miss him and his goofy sense of humour, his taste in clothes which was way better than mom’s, his love of the out of doors and history, his love of reading and his love of sharing what he knew. Dad, I love you and always will.

He would have been 99 today

4 thoughts on “Laurence Campbell Robb – March 31, 1916 – March 1, 2001

  1. Thank you for talking about your complicated relationship with your father. The few times that I met him, I could not see past my own rage over the fact that he used to hit you. I think I accidentally drove past your house yesterday, and then, later, I saw a scene on TV that reminded of the time I met him and wanted to dare him to try hitting me, too.

    But my mom had that “Jekyll & Hyde” thing going on, too. She used to say that the reason she never hit me was because her mother used to beat her (but I suspect that the real reason was that she had brittle bones and it would have hurt her more than it would have hurt me).

    Maybe it’s genetic.

    I learned all my best stuff from my mom, too, but it was definitely a challenging, complicated relationship.

    So, thank you for posting this. This is an important lesson for me to remember. “He punched a little girl” is only one part of a much larger story.

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    • According to my mom, his grandmother used to beat the shit out of him and I know that when he was 6 he took the pony cart out without premission and the pony ran away and he had his wrist wrapped in the reins and it broke and his grandmother wouldn’t let his grandfather, on the other side set it and it never healed right and gave him a lot of pain. Mom said he didn’t know any differnet way to handle his anger. And I have to admit when I could see the signs I would set him off so he would hit me and not Cam or mom.

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      • You probably, consciously or unconsciously, were trying to protect Cam and maybe even your mom. You’re tough. You always have been. I’m just sorry you ended up on the receiving end of his pain.

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  2. I don’t think one ever stops missing their father. Mine has only been gone 6 years this Friday and even though he wasn’t always there for me or my siblings, he did do the best he could with what he knew. He was my biggest supporter and my teacher even though he had many faults and I miss him just as much as the day he passed away 🙂

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