Family & Friends

Father’s Day: Dad—on the Run


Bob Hughes.

Family lore has it that my father started running away from home at age 3 or 4. It wasn’t long before he’d figured out how to hop on a train or streetcar and take a jaunt through Manhattan. Most of the time he made his way home again, but one time he managed to cross the Hudson River to New Jersey, where a family took him in, and he enjoyed himself so much, he stayed for two weeks.

Dad always said he ran away because he wanted to go west, to be a cowboy. His wanderlust doesn’t seem to have had anything to do with unhappiness at home. He had loving parents who were involved in their children’s lives and concerned with their well-being. My grandmother even claimed that her love for my dad saved her life. After losing a substantial amount of blood while giving birth to one of her younger children, she had an out-of-body experience and began to feel an overwhelming desire to let go. Just then my dad, age 8 or so, started pounding on the bedroom door and crying out for her—so she decided to stick around (which she did until age 90).

Even as an adult, Dad had a persistent restlessness. I asked him once why he always preferred I-84 to our local orchard-lined roads in upstate New York. When he merged onto the Interstate and got up to speed alongside all the other rushing vehicles, he said—even if he were going just a few miles—he felt a thrill, as if he could go anywhere. I remember how stunned I felt, hearing that with all he had and all we were as a family, he still wanted to run away. Today I find poignancy in his yearning to hit the open road and go. Irony of ironies, when we kids got older, the thing my dad hated most was when we were away from home and on the road. He worried, obsessively, about us. We laughed him off—until we had children of our own. Sometimes Dad seems to inhabit me now, and I find myself sweating tiny details of my daughter’s travels. (Most of the time, I keep these thoughts under wraps until they pass.)

In childhood pictures, my dad has a leg brace and a crutch. Stricken with paralytic polio as a toddler, he spent months, maybe a year (the stories are fuzzy), in a children’s ward. Maybe it was that experience—an imprisonment, essentially—that sparked his need to break away. Polio left Dad with a marked limp and rendered him unfit to serve in the army during World War II, but it never really held him back. He joined the Merchant Marine instead and eventually went to sea. I’ve learned only recently how dangerous an assignment to a merchant ship was. The rates of death were higher among merchant seaman than among the members of any of the armed forces during the war.


Frank-June-Dad-late20s_0426Bob Hughes (right) and siblings Frank and June.

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  • Kathy Coleman June 26, 2016 at 3:25 pm

    Your Dad was certainly one of the good guys. Such a sweet man. So nice to hear about his life of adventure (not the least of which was raising the seven little Hughes!)

  • Esther Rosenfeld June 20, 2016 at 8:23 am

    Loved reading about the younger Bob, I knew only the older Bob. He and Herb had such a good relationship, and I know they spoke about going to sea, your dad in the Merchant Marines, and Herb in the Coast Guard. They were good buddies. Miss them both this Father’s Day.

  • kathryn keenan June 19, 2016 at 6:48 pm

    a wonderful article, uncle bob, was one of a kind.

  • Michelle Hughes June 19, 2016 at 6:29 pm

    What a tribute. I loved my father-in-law, your father, and am grateful to think about him as the poet-adventurer he was, that gave rise to great stories. His is a great story too, and you tell it with such nuance and love.

  • Marc June 19, 2016 at 12:08 pm

    You are brave to admit your disinterest in your dad. As my own son leaves for college, I’m reminded of how little I thought of my parents, too. I always loved my parents deeply, and remain close, but kids are just into their own thing. And, really, that’s the way it should be, right? I recall telling my son, “Never worry about me. It’s not your job.” It all becomes much more interesting when that kid becomes a parent, huh? Your essay really choked me up. Happy Fathers Day to dads everywhere.

  • k. keenan June 19, 2016 at 10:25 am

    a wonderful article. your dad was one of a kind. funny i understand his need “to roam” . he was right, it wasn’t always the destination sometimes the journey is more fun. thank you amy

  • b. elliott June 19, 2016 at 9:09 am

    What a beautiful remembrance! Thanks for sharing.