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Rocket Man: Dialing Up My Dad by Michael Peck

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  • I had a strong cup of tea before picking up the phone, and my poor father was the recipient of the stimulant's effect. He answered, and for some reason I immediately started peppering him with questions about his vision problems and how he feels about the home he's living in. He's a low-key man, and it takes some work to get him going. But I started him talking about his present and his past, and along the way managed to pummel him with my views on what makes for a successful life.

    I want no part of success if it means stepping on other people to get it, and I told my dad that I thought he was a success because of the life he's led and the experiences he's had. (He's 85, and if he doesn't need to hear that, I need to know I said it.)

    I brought up finding this picture, in which my dad, my brother, and I are standing in front of Apollo 11 before it carried Armstrong and Aldrin to their moonwalk. I pointed out that the fact that he worked on the space program and did something that resulted in him taking this picture with his two sons meant he'd been a success. What else could someone ask for?

    That prompted a story I hadn't heard before. He was working at the Kennedy Space Center on another project when Apollo 11 launched, which is why my family was down there for a month that happened to coincide with that mission. When they moved the vehicle out to the launch pad, they took it out horizontally, and because there was no security, he stood there while it rolled past him at about a mile an hour, and was able to reach out and touch it.

    "I was putting my hand on a piece of metal," he said. "But then I realized, no, it's not just a piece of metal. It's going to carry man to one of Earth's heavenly bodies for the first time in history. I thought to myself, I'm going to remember this."

    He did, and he told me about it for the first time in the 43 years since it happened. He also told me about taking us out to watch night launches, and while those are only vague memories, I have a clear image in my mind of fire passing overhead, so those remembrances are there.

    Before I hung up, I apologized for amping myself up on caffeine and bending his ear with my philosophies and inquiries. "Don't think of it like that," he said. "I'm glad you ask me these questions. It makes me dig all this stuff up. And you're a fascinating guy to talk to."

    That's why I call my dad. Because he tells me about the time he laid his hand on a rocket—on the rocket—and then says that I'm the one who's fascinating.
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