A Good Father

Instead of finding stories as most reporters do, CBS News Correspondent Steve Hartman uses a highly sophisticated piece of newsgathering equipment: a dart. He asks a person on the street to throw a dart at a map to help him choose where he'll go next in search of a story. Once there, he picks a subject at random from the phone book. The premise is that "Everybody Has a Story." This time he visits Elmore County, Ala.

Harold Pack, whose nickname is Hap, short for happy, is a sergeant at the Maxwell Air Force Base in nearby Montgomery. He's been a nauseatingly perky soldier for 24 years.

He has just completed his very last day. That may seem like reason to be happier still, but not necessarily.

All his life, Pack thought retirement would be something he would share with someone he loved, he says. And now that it's here, he can't see that happening.

"How rare would that be when you already found that person once?" he asks.

His wife, Anna, died two years ago at age 39. She died right in front of him.

"[She was] laying down watching TV, she sat up and coughed and she laid back down. Her artery clogged and stopped the heart. She was gone before her head hit the pillow," he recalls.

Her death left Pack alone to raise their 15-year-old son. Brian goes to summer school because he failed four classes last year.

And he does not share his father's nickname.

"Hey, Brian. How'd school go?" Pack inquires.

"It's going," Brian says.

Literally day after day, Brian comes home from school.

"How was your day?" Pack asks.

"It was so," Brian says.

He gives that same answer and goes to his room. Pack will see him once more before dinner briefly. Then he runs off into the woods with a friend.

Does his father want to see what he's doing in the woods?

"I think a part of me knows what he's doing in the woods," Pack says. "If they're out smoking or drinking or building bonfires, what's going to stop them?

Brian's therapist says his apathy has to do with his mom dying: "His mother was his emotional support and he lost that emotional support abruptly one night."

"She raised the kid for the most part," Pack says. "And that's why now she's gone I want to be home and around Brian as much as I can."

So it is, with canned beans and Rice-A-Roni, that Pack tries as best he can to replace the irreplaceable.

"You don't like the flavor? What do you think?" he asks.

Though Brian will never make a show of it, he does say quietly that he likes this new, improved dad. A promsing sign that perhaps attitude and optimism are hereditary.

"He's a phenomenal young man and he just doesn't realize that yet, " Pack says proudly.

After that Pack throws the dart to guide next week's journey. "Going to Adams County, Wash.," he says. "You guys are going to have a nice trip."

©1999 CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed