Dad was and still is my hero. Life was never easy for him growing up. The story I've been told, not by Dad but by other family members, is that when he was four Dad and his siblings, a brother seven and a sister nine, their mother took them to an orphanage after the death of their father at age 36. With no means of income and in the early 1900s, my grandmother had no other choice. Skipping ahead a few years, Dad found himself left behind as his siblings reached the discharge age. Dad stayed at the orphanage until he was 16 and had lost track of his siblings.
At this time, he moved to Winchester, TN where he began work as an apprentice at the newspaper in this small town. The work was hard and when not at the newspaper, he helped the owner of the paper with his peanut crop. Fortunately, the owner also provided him with housing. According to Dad, the best part of the job was meeting Dinah Shore before she was famous. Her father owned the local mercantile where Dad shopped on occasion.
The hard work didn't end there. When he became proficient in typesetting, he moved to Nashville and began working at a variety of places. But he always worked hard. Hard at work and hard at home. He never seemed to want to be idle, except when his poor health got in the way. You see Dad was a recovering alcoholic. And the alcoholism had taken a toll on his pancreas, liver and stomach. He almost died in 1948 when I was just two years old. After that, his health kept Dad from doing a lot of things other dads did with their families. But one thing was sure -- Dad always showed up for work and he worked hard.
At home he worked hard maintaining our house and yard, and each year there was a little garden back in the corner of our back yard. He treasured the vegetables and fruits he planted, and Dad's love of blooming flowers grew larger each year. One of my favorite memories is the year he planted close to 100 tulip and daffodil bulbs in a bed along the side of our garage. One by one, the squirrels dug up the bulbs and "planted" nuts! It was one of the few times I ever saw Dad lose his cool.
Dad reached hero status with me by loving me quietly, gently and warmly. Unlike our mother, Dad's voice was never raised. If something was wrong or if we were in trouble, it was a quiet talk with Dad about understanding what was wrong and asking us to explain how it would not happen again. If you asked him for advice, Dad was slowly explain what he would do in the particular situation but ended with a reminder that this is your situation, your decision, and your consequences. It was part of growing up, he always reminded.
I think Dad always knew how I cherished our relationship, and to this day I find myself talking to him when times get a little tough. I'm always thinking about him wondering what life would have been like if he'd been healthier, if he and Mom had married a little younger (Dad was 45 when I was born), and if he'd lived longer (he died at age 72). I was only 27.
I have a long list of things I credit my Dad with infusing into my life:
- love of reading and words
- love of music
- gentleness and compassion
- good work ethic
- standing for what you believe in
- a quiet Christian faith
On this Father's Day and every one since his death, I sit and wish he were next to me so I could tell him again how much I love him. But, he's not here, and I tell him anyway. I believe in heroes, and I believe they can hear us.
Dad, I love you!