Thanks to my dad, I learned how NOT to take family pictures.
My dad fancied himself as a bit of a renaissance man. So, when I was about 9 years old, dad picked up yet another hobby…. photography. He bought a used Minolta from a friend that had as dad put it, “everything I need to take really great photos”. For the next two years my brothers and I suffered through endless family photo sessions.
The typical Barnett family photo shoot took place on a Sunday, right after church. Rather than enjoying the freedom of a San Diego weekend, my brothers and I would spend what seemed like an eternity posing for our father’s tripod balanced, 35mm Minolta SRT 101.
Our dad, Burt Barnett, grew up in the working class town of East Providence, RI. He and his 3 siblings lived in a small two story house on a street with no side walks and no “curb appeal”. Needless to say, dad had found the American dream in San Diego raising his family in a middle class neighborhood in a beautiful city, with a gorgeous wife and 5 sons. He owned a house, two cars, a truck, a small boat and a camper. And, unlike his Rhode Island childhood home, he had a garage!
It was the garage that really separated his class distinction. The garage was his and only his. It was a man cave well before man caves were invented. He built a small workshop inside the garage where he could fix things, build things, store things, or maybe just think about things. Not surprisingly, Dad always used the garage door as the backdrop for our family portraits.
So, after enduring mass at Holy Trinity Catholic Church, Dad would ask while driving the Oldsmobile home, “say boys, before you change your clothes, how ‘bout we do a family portrait”? It was a rhetorical question. The response Dad wanted was an enthusiastic, “Sounds great Dad!!”
In the hot southern California sun, standing in our polyester suits in front of the garage door, dad would break out the camera, screw it into the thin metal tripod mount and carefully load a roll of Kodachrome. Then, as our bodies melted in the summer heat, he would make the necessary aperture and focus adjustments. Finally, Dad would give his boys photographic commands. “Billy, stand straight! Tom, put your hand on Paul’s shoulder! Paul, would you please smile! No, not like THAT! NATURAL! A Natural Smile! Bill, show Paul how to smile!”
In the end, Dad got the shot he wanted. A photograph of his boys, hair combed, well dressed, in front of the garage door, looking constipated. And it was at that very moment when I realized how not to take a family portrait. So on this Father’s Day, give your dad a big hug, tell him you love him, and thank him for all that he taught you.
Burton Earl Barnett 1923 -2011
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