The Wears, 1952. My sister Liz, (l. to r.), my mom, Charlene, Charles, and Reggie.
My grandfather’s name was Thomas, and his second son was named Thomas Reginald Wear. My dad was known as “Reggie” or “Reg” by the family, and “Tom” or “Tommy” to his co-workers at the Southern Pacific Railroad. Reggie’s life was marked by childhood illness, first by rheumatic fever, and then by polio in his teenage years. He made a recovery from both diseases but doctors told him he wouldn’t live past the age of 30. In November we celebrated his 80th birthday!
The tales of the childhood adventures of Reggie and his older brother Larry are legendary. They roamed the farmland around Loma Linda, seeing just how much trouble they could get into. Dad had trouble in school, reading was difficult (he was dyslexic) and his teachers were not particularly attentive. From a young age Reggie worked in his father’s roofing company, hauling the material up ladders and working with hot mops of tar. Grandpa Tom was not an easy boss. He yelled and kicked and whipped (literally) his young assistants for their childhood mischief and for their escapades with his trucks.
The boys swam in the Lagoon on the old Baldwin estate in Arcadia and drove their father’s cars without permission through the streets of the city. Reggie was an athlete, a “three-letter” man at Monrovia high school. He was a hard worker with dreams. He had a 32 Ford deuce coupe which he drove to visit Charlene. He had met her at a birthday party when they were 14 yrs. old and he loved her. The hot rod was sold to accommodate my mom’s pregnant condition. Working for his father was too unreliable and he got a good union job with the railroad repairing box cars in Los Angeles when I was just a toddler.
Raised a Seventh-day Adventist, he struggled with the need to support his family and the religious requirement of Sabbath-keeping.
When he was called into work on a Saturday morning he would grab his greasy work boots and as he laced them up on the living room couch he would exclaim, “The ox is in the ditch, I’m going to work.”
By then my dad had already purchased his first interest in real estate and built the house we lived in. We were poor, at least that’s how I remember it. Sometimes relatives brought us groceries. Dad made sure we had food on the table, and he was concerned about the “starving children in China” so the Wear children stayed at the table until their plates were empty.
Weekends we gathered at my grandmother’s house after church and played with the cousins and had a family dinner. My dad and his brothers would argue politics and religion and just about anything else with each other, my great grandfather, and for that matter whatever other relatives had joined us in the weekly tradition.
Dad had learned his lessons in child discipline from his father and he made sure that my sister, brother and I didn’t “talk back” or “fight.” “Wait until your father gets home,” was not an empty threat in our home!
Dad made sure that all of us could read before we ever went to school. He got us all library cards and took us for swimming lessons. We would check out books and earn prizes on a chart complete with rocket ships. He started me reading and I’ve been at it ever since. We also learned arithmetic and I practiced the multiplication tables and was very proud that I could do them up to the 12s by the time I reached third grade.
Hard work and overtime were the ticket my dad was punching on the way to acquiring some real estate wealth. I know that it nearly killed him to lose some of the property he had acquired when he divorced my mom. He was tight with money. He needed to be because my mom was writing checks she couldn’t back up all over town and running credit up with pharmacists for the pain killers she needed.
We were in church school and the tuition bills were expensive for a hard working young dad. He made sure we had musical instruments and private lessons. He bought my first trumpet and my second trumpet, a beautiful copper-belled Conn, that I still have in my closet.
Now that I think about it, I don’t know how he paid for any of it! No wonder he worked so much overtime. Sadly, I don’t think he really knew what was going on in our home when he went to work. He worked nights and slept in the day. He was affectionate and loving and supportive. He was raising us, and doing his best when things began to unravel as I neared 8th grade graduation.
My mom’s drug addiction caught up with her. She forged prescriptions and she was charged with a crime. She began staging suicide attempts and spending time in psychiatric units. She had always suffered from pain in her knees, now she was taking heavy anti-seizure medications for diagnosed epilepsy after traumatic brain injury. Eventually my mom’s psychiatrist advised him to divorce her, that she would never get any better.
After a couple of violent fights, my dad moved back into his parent’s home. I moved with him in the second half of my freshman year of high school and attended First Avenue Junior High in Arcadia and summer school biology at Arcadia High School near my grandmother’s home.
Dad was still working nights. This is the way things were until I had a chance to go away to boarding school the next year in 1963. My dad would not sign on to pay for the expensive tuition and room and board but somehow my mom and her mom prevailed and off I went. I never lived full time at home again.
Dad married my stepmother, Gail, around the summer after my sophomore year. That summer vacation, when I was 14 yrs. old, he tried to blend us into a family. Gail had two young children of her own. We played cards and had a constant running argument about whether or not I would return to boarding school in the fall. I think my dad lost that argument and I remember kissing him goodbye when he dropped me off at the dorm that fall.
It was that year that my mom’s 19th suicide attempt (in a 3 year period) impacted me so profoundly. Dad had been promoted over the years with the railroad. He had become a foreman and then a traveling inspector for the railroad. Because of his difficulty with reading he had to study extra hard to master the material for the examinations that marked his promotions. My brother stayed behind as he traveled the country. He suffered because of the neglect of my stepmother. My sister was accepted as part of the family and I was at boarding school. We were surviving, but we were no longer together as a family.
When I graduated from high school my dad took a promotion to a position in Roseville, near Sacramento. My stepmother did not move with him at first. I was left with a debt on my high school tuition and was not able to get my transcripts, so I moved with him to an apartment. He worked and I thought about my future. I looked for work, thinking that if I could get a job I would be able to eventually retire my debt and continue on to college. It was just my dad and I in a bachelor apartment. I had a car and made an attempt to find work.
At the end of that summer I headed south and asked my dad’s mom to help me with my school bill. She drove me up to the high school campus and paid the debt releasing my transcripts. My dad’s brother guided me through the student aid and enrollment process and even paid my first deposit to start my college career at La Sierra College in Riverside. I won a California State Scholarship during my freshman year and that summer my dad invited me to live with my brother in the house behind his. He would give us financial support and I would attend Cal State LA.
That was a rough year for my brother and I. I worked part-time nights at the truck loading docks in Los Angeles and attended classes in the daylight hours. I remember not having a whole lot of money and my brother and I fought about doing the dishes and what to watch on television. At the end of that year I returned to the Christian college. Two years later I was married.
My dad was my first investor in my first business. Eventually he put his home up as collateral for an expansion. When the business failed he nearly lost that property. He got dragged into court, we won and he kept the house. I went bankrupt.
I realize now that many of my earlier attempts at business were driven by a desire to “make a million dollars.” For some reason I think I subconsciously thought that would win my dad’s approval. My dad and I have had “money” between us on a number of occasions. He has taken a chance with me many times, buying and selling real estate with me and loaning me money for my law school tuition. He has always lost money with me, most recently about $100,000 with an investment in a house in Florida.
Although I have failed, and he has lost money he has always helped me when I really needed it.
He gave me a room to live in and a car to drive when I was making the money I needed to rescue my family from our Florida adventure. My wife and son were living in the Florida house while I “commuted” to make money as a California lawyer. He sent me the money to repair my car and rent a trailer to get us home. We wouldn’t have made it without that help.
My dad was a heavy chain smoker during his years of management at the railroad and heart trouble caused him to retire early. He divorced the “wicked” stepmother and married Bonnie over thirty years ago. They had a daughter that is about the same age as my oldest son. With Bonnie my dad found the wife he needed and they have enjoyed his retirement. Life hasn’t always been perfect for them but they have cared for each other.
Over the last five years my dad has made peace with God and with his life. A few weeks ago he was in church on the front row when I preached. We went to lunch afterwards and had a great conversation. He told me he was proud of me and I told him I loved him. I told him all about my latest business venture he said, “That sounds like a great idea.” That approval means everything to me.
Although he is know as “Tom” now, Grandpa Tom to my children, I’m Reggie’s boy and always will be.