In honor of my dad’s birthday, I’d like to share a few of my favorite photographs. The following images don’t just document my father’s life, they’re also beautiful examples of early twentieth century portraiture and a fascinating glimpse into a bygone era.
Born and raised in Pewamo, Michigan – a tiny German-American farming community in the middle of the state – he served in WWII as a medic in the 5th Army, landing on the beaches of Anzio – Hell’s Half Acre. He returned home from the war to marry his sweetheart from Detroit and for the next 43 years he worked at The Ford Motor Company while helping my mom raise six children: Bob (born in 1950), Tim (1953), Nancy (1954), Gary (1959), Kathleen (1963) and finally, “the baby” (as I was referred to for the longest time) born in 1967.
Like so many of his generation he didn’t talk about the war, but preferred to simply get on with his life, quietly and with great humility. When he wasn’t working long hours at “the plant” (as he referred to the Rouge River assembly line), he like to spend time with his family. Rather than join golf or bowling leagues, my parents saved every penny in order to take the whole family on a yearly vacation “up north” and in later years, down to Florida. As you’ll see in the images below, my dad had a soft spot for animals (he always had a pet dog or cat, and drove my mom to distraction by bringing home strays on a regular basis) and cars (though he didn’t buy a new car until he was close to retirement). Being a “meat and potatoes” kind of guy, he once informed my mother to lay off the casseroles by tossing a package of pork chops on the kitchen counter. She claimed the package was aimed towards her, he vigorously denied it – the jury is still out. His favorite food or “weakness” was ice cream … and Thanksgiving just isn’t the same without everyone asking / teasing dad if he’d like some pie with his whipped cream.
The quintessential family man, my father rarely drank, never swore (for the longest time growing up, I thought “B.S.” – as in, “that’s a bunch of B.S. !” – stood for “Bobby Schafer”) and condemned violence and cruelty. He enjoyed innocent practical jokes, but frowned upon crude humor. Despite only having graduated from high school, he was as sharp as a tack, religiously reading every issue – from front to back – of National Geographic magazine and keeping up-to-date on world events to the day he died. A devoted husband and father, he taught me the value of hard work, how to respect and appreciate nature, and most of all – how to lead a life well lived. We all miss him dearly.
October 4, 1947 – Holy Redeemer – Detroit, Michigan
my dad holding me – Detroit, 1969