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Frank W. Duntemann’s 100th Birthday

Frank&Alex - Cropped - 500 Wide.jpg

Today is my father’s 100th bithday. For newcomers: No, he’s not still with us. He died 44 years ago, after a hideous nine-year battle against smoking-caused cancer. I was 16 when he was diagnosed, and my sister only 12. As you might imagine (especially if you’ve had loved ones struck by cancer) our family life was never the same after that.

I’ve already told most of the good stories about him in this space, and I’ve posted nearly all of the good photos I have of him. He was the photographer in the family, so in most cases when things were going on he was on the other side of the camera. The photo above is not my scan and isn’t terrific. But it represents one of his stories that I don’t think I’ve yet recounted here: When he was in high school, one of his father’s friends sent him a baby alligator while she vacationed in Florida. Alex was a real alligator, and family legend holds that when he grew big enough to be a hazard, ate a neighbor’s cat. The family then donated Alex to the Lincoln Park Zoo, and, according to my father, they went to see him now and then.

A few years ago I told the story about how, when he returned from the War, he smuggled home a mongrel puppy that the GIs at an experimental radar base in Mali had adopted. He was never without a dog (or sometimes two) after that.

So, with all the stories told, what more can I say? Something I can say in only two words, which I will put in big bold type so that nobody can mistake them:

Fathers Matter.

Why? Fathers civilize us. Mothers have a role there too, but (especially for boys) fathers teach us how to put our killer-ape genes on a leash and contribute to the peace and prosperity on which our very uneven world depends.

In my first 16 years my father taught me a great many things, but what I consider his most important lessons are these:

  • That girls are not playthings, but colleagues, friends, and…soulmates. “If you’re lucky and smart, you’ll marry your best friend. I did.”
  • That the best part about being smart is the ability to teach yourself new things. “The most important subjects in school are English and Math. Ace those, and you already know everything else. You just have to read the books and work the problems.”
  • That fighting is a last resort. “If other kids laugh at you, laugh with them. Life demands a sense of humor. Then walk away. But if some SOB ever corners you, hit him where it hurts.”
  • That responsibilities must be met. “A man provides for and protects his wife, his kids, his animals, and his property.”
  • Finally, and most crucially, that life demands energy and enthusiasm, but also discernment: “Kick ass. Just don’t miss.”

Thanks, dad. I never learned to love beer or baseball, but what I learned from you turned out to be most of what counts in life. Godspeed.


  1. Rich Rostrom says:

    A weather station in Mali?

    It reminds me of Destination Gobi, based on the true story of a Navy team operating a weather station in the Gobi Desert. They made friends with the local nomads, by a gift of 60 US Army cavalry saddles. Later the Mongols helped them escape from the Japanese.

    1. Well, I remember my father talking (a little) about the local Arabs in Mali. The GIs used to give them K rations (or some kind of rations; might have been some other letter) but what the Arabs did or provided in return I don’t remember. He took pictures of camels walking past the base, but because there was a secret radar installation there (he wasn’t part of that) he didn’t take any photos of the base itself. He did describe the radio equipment he used, some of which I later saw at hamfests, including the Hammarlund SuperPro SP-200 receiver and the Hallicrafters BC-610 transmitter.

      The BC-610 could do AM voice, though most of the time he just sent messages to aircraft and other bases. He sent Morse on a bug and copied it straight to a typewriter.

      We had decided to both study for ham licenses in the summer of 1968. He was diagnosed in September of that year, and I didn’t get my license until 1973. He taught Morse code to my Boy Scout troop in the mid-60s, and he was wildfire on a Vibroplex bug that he bought somewhere.

      Cancer, yeah. It ruined a lot in our family.

  2. Michael John says:

    One day could you do a similar entry for the lessons that Mothers teach us?

    1. Let me roll it around in my head. My mom taught me the ordinary details of kid life, like how to make your bed, how to shine your shoes, and (though this may be uncommon) how to dance. (I can waltz and polka because she took the time to teach me.) My sister got all the home economics training, including cooking. Mother let my father handle the heavy lifting portions of guiding her only boy-child into manhood.

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