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While packing and unpacking, and organizing and reorganizing, I came across something I wrote many years ago (before there was an Internet). The timing was wonderful, especially for this weekend. So allow this to be my formal introduction to you.
My two brothers, sister and myself looked forward to Sunday afternoon Mass when we were in grammar school in Hinsdale, Ill. It wasn’t the Latin Mass, however, that excited us, but the 10-minute car ride to church with our dad. For it was during the ride Dad would write, produce and direct his version of “Jack Armstrong, The All-American Boy.”
We were primed for a 1960s revival of that Depression-era radio show, popular in my dad’s youth. On Sunday mornings we watched on WGN-TV reruns of “Flash Gordon,” the “Star Wars” of Dad’s time.
Seeing our interest in that show, Dad mentioned a radio show he enjoyed listening to: “Jack Armstrong, The All-American Boy.”
The title intrigued us: Why was he an All-American, Dad? So when we asked him what the show was about, he began “rebroadcasting” the shows during the drive to church.
The plots were similar to “Flash Gordon,” only the action took place on Earth, not in outer space. Like Flash, Jack was always performing heroics and saving himself and his girlfriend from danger. (“That’s why he’s an All-American boy.”) We never knew how faithfully Dad followed the original plots, but it didn’t matter. We loved it.
“‘Jack Armstrong, The All-American Boy’ is on the air,” Dad would trumpet while backing the car out of the driveway. “Brought to you by Wheaties, the breakfast of champions.” We’d laugh.
Then he would hum a theme song that years later I recognized as the University of Oklahoma fight song.
The first few minutes Dad would set up the plot. By the time we crossed our town’s railroad tracks, which was about halfway from the church, he’d have Jack in a heck of a mess. Switching to a falsetto voice, he’d have Jack’s girlfriend worrying, “But, Jack, what do we do now?”
Those of us in the back seat would crowd closer to Dad to hear what would happen next. It was then he would break into a commercial for Wheaties. And he would stretch the commercial until we were about three blocks from church.
“Hurry, Dad,” we’d say. “We’re almost there.”
When the commercial ended, Dad recounted everything he had told us before—“When last we left you ee”—so that by the time he pulled the car into a parking spot on a sidestreet, he had left Jack and his girlfriend the same way television that morning had left Flash and his girlfriend: in a to-be-continued cliffhanger.
Mass in those days never seemed longer to anyone than to my brothers, my sister and me. I had no concern about saving my soul. I wondered who was going to save Jack Armstrong, the All-American boy. When Mass was over and we were back in the car, we’d tell Dad to finish the story. No need to worry: Like Flash, Jack always prevailed. And when we got home, the first thing we’d tell Mom (she worked nights as a nurse) what happened to Jack Armstrong rather than what was said during the homily.
It’s been a long time since our family attended Mass together. One of the last times was at Dad’s funeral. But this Sunday, this Father’s Day, those stories of Jack Armstrong, The All-American Boy, will be one of the happy memories I have of Patrick Edward Paul, an All-American dad.