This is a bittersweet day for me, because I am thinking about my dad all day. For those of us who have lost our daddies, it's a tough day.
I will admit that I used to sort of dread Father's Day. Finding a gift for dad was difficult. He had a million ties.
He loved to read. If I could find him a book by Lewis Grizzard, it was great. From the New York Times, Grizzard's books:
He was also the author of about a dozen books, with quirky titles like "Elvis Is Dead, and I Don't Feel So Good Myself," "Don't Bend Over in the Garden, Granny, You Know Them Taters Got Eyes," "Shoot Low, Boys -- They're Riding Shetland Ponies" and "Chili Dawgs Always Bark at Night."
Dad was a lot like Grizzard. A lot of his views were not politically correct. He was a good old boy in a lot of ways, although he spent most of his career as a banker.
He liked to hunt and fish. I enjoyed fishing with him, and I could clean a fish expertly before I learned to read.
The only time I went hunting with dad, we were both upset by the end of the day. I didn't really want to kill birds, and Dad got tired of me whining about needing to go to the bathroom all afternoon. I was 12. I spent a lot of time sitting in the car reading a book.
My brother was taken hunting by dad, and I was mighty jealous. Dad and I didn't have any fun activities we could do together, when I was small.
I was telling a friend last night, movies became the father/daughter bond we shared. Dad liked movies anyway, so he started taking me to movies around the mid 1970's. Sometimes my brother came, sometimes not. After Bruce went off to the Army in 1977, it was usually just me and Dad.
I remember seeing the movie MacArthur, in 1977, when I was 15. Dad loved that movie. As soon as he bought a VCR that was one of the movies he bought. He also loved Patton. I think I learned critical thinking at a young age because I remember knowing that both men were pretty flawed individuals, and my dad's hero worship of them was, well, odd.
I wanted to be close to Dad, and if that meant watching the news with him every night and only talking during the commercials, well, so be it.
I learned a lot about history, particularly military history, to please him, but also because I found it fascinating. I took a military history class my freshman year in college and aced every test, blowing the curve for all the guys in the class, who couldn't stand me as a result.
My dad was a great storyteller. His parents died when he was in his 20's, but all my life he talked about them and told great stories about them. Unlike most kids who never meet their grandparents, for me they were vivid characters in dad's stories. I also had oil paintings in the house that my uncle had painted, so their faces were very familiar.
below, Thompson and Cordelia and I think Bobby, early 1950's
My dad had a great sense of humor. My mother has often said that one thing that made their high-stress marriage bearable was that she and Dad could always find something to laugh about.
Dad had a very finely-tuned sense of right and wrong. He always said to me "You've got to do the RIGHT thing. Not the easy thing. The RIGHT thing." He always stressed that in all our dealings with anyone, Bruce and I must be honorable. He lived that, too, from going the extra mile for his customers, to helping out neighbors, to being unfailingly kind to everyone.
He adored children. He changed diapers, bathed us, fed us, took us to the doctor. He was a very hands-on dad. He spent hours on the floor playing with us. He organized games for all the kids on the street. Every child who came to see us at the lake was taught to water ski.
Dad was a very family-oriented person. He adored his brothers. He organized a lot of family reunions, both large and small. He adored his nieces and nephews, and they adored him. He took them fishing, and water-skiing, and told stories of growing up with their dads. They all came to see him before he died, to say goodbye. When my cousin Terri visited Dad for the last time and told him she loved him, I had to leave the room because I just broke down. Even the memory of it now makes me tear up. [below, a 1974 reunion in Atlanta with all Dad's brothers and their kids]
When I was a senior in college and Dad was 52, he had a heart attack. I remember vividly seeing him in the hospital and feeling tremendous grief, because he had always been such an energetic, vital man, and suddenly he looked helpless and old. I think I instinctively knew he was not going to have a long life. He died twelve years later -- of cancer, not heart issues. During those 12 years he was in and out of the hospital several times.
When my brother is here, especially during Thanksgiving and Christmas, and Dad is of course absent, it still feels a bit weird, even 18 years after his death. Bruce reminds me of Dad in a lot of ways, even though their personalities are very different.
I dream of Dad often. Usually we are with family, at the beach or in the mountains, and Dad's presence seems natural and normal.
Regardless of his death, I feel him around me all the time. I hear his voice in my head a lot. This is the legacy of great fathers -- their love sticks around, even though they can't.