Posted by: CeCe | June 17, 2012

Daddy

I wrote this a couple years ago for Father’s Day and shared it as a note on Facebook, but since it’s now officially Father’s Day here in the western hemisphere, I figured I’d go ahead and post it here too, with a couple small updates/changes.

I believe this is something I’ve never taken the time to write before.  Some of you knew my dad.  Most of you did not.  This is so that you can have that chance, and maybe just maybe you’ll learn things about him that you never knew.

I was very young when my dad died (ten, as I’m sure all of you know by now), so most of my memories are dim, vague, colored by age.  And now that I’m getting older, many of them are fading like an old photograph.  I can’t remember what my dad’s voice sounded like, and I haven’t been able to for a long time, years at least.  I can’t let myself forget everything, though; it would be like losing him all over again, which I’ve already done many times since Mom passed away too.  But I can keep myself from forgetting everything, I think.

My daddy was born in a tiny town called White Oak Twp. (that’s township, for those who don’t know), in Arkansas, which is where many of my cousins (all of whom I’ve never even met) still live, right in the middle of the Great Depression.  His dad was, as far as I know, in some form of construction, while his mom was…. interesting.  I’ll put it this way:  My grandfather (whom I never met, he died before I was born) left his first wife for my grandmother (whom I also never met; died before I was born), who was married at least five or six times that we know of.  Now keep in mind, my grandparents were born in the 1890s/early 1900s; getting divorced and remarried was just not something you did back then!  And you didn’t leave your wife and first-born child for another woman either!  But anyhow, they divorced while my dad was still a child, and the whole family picked up and moved to California sometime in the late 30s or early 40s.  I can’t remember the name of the town they moved to, but it was pretty tiny. (Addendum: It was Riverside.  He also lived in Corona for a time.)

Every day after school, my dad would go to his dad’s worksite until his dad was off, and then he’d go and spend the evening with him, until he had to go home to his mom.  One day, when my dad was only 13, he went to his dad’s work to find out that there had been an accident, and his father was dead.  I can only imagine his shock.  It’s horrible to lose a parent so young; it’s even worse to lose them suddenly, like that.  I had time to say good-bye, both times.  My dad didn’t.  Dad never talked much about how things were after his dad died, but I can imagine they were pretty terrible.  He did tell us (us being my older brother Bill, and me) that one time one of his mom’s boyfriends tried to kill him, they fought, his mom called the police, and he wound up going to jail at least overnight, until the cops found out he was only 14.  I’ve found out since then that my dad was in trouble quite a lot as a kid.  But at his core, he was decent, and at the age of 15/16, he lied about his age, joined the Army, and fought in the Korean War.

Now just in case you missed that, here it is again:  My daddy fought in a war, when he was only 15/16.  Can you imagine?  Well of course eventually the Army found out that my dad was much too young to be in, so they gave him an honorable discharge and sent him on his way.  So my dad did what any wild 17 year old who just got back from a war would do:  He went on a bender.  More fights (and I assume jail time, though he never talked about it) ensued.  It all culminated in my dad deciding to steal a car… which happened to be a sheriff’s patrol car, I might add, and having it strongly suggested to him by the sheriff that he needed to leave California and never come back.

So, my dad did what anyone else would do:  He left.  I believe he stayed with his sister, my Aunt Stella, until he was on his feet, but I’m not entirely sure.  And I’m not sure how he got from California to Idaho.  But he did.  And when he was 22, one day while attending the wedding of someone at a Baptist church in a small town, he saw a young girl playing the piano and instantly fell in love with her.  That young girl was my mom, of course, who was 18 at the time.  My mom told me that when my dad first asked her out, she said no.  Why?  He had a reputation as being a hard drinker, a fighter… and that day at the wedding, he was accompanied by the, um, town bicycle.  But my dad was persistent, and willing to do anything to win my mom’s favor, so eventually she said yes.  And six months later they were married, in December of ’57.  Mom was 19, dad was 23.

Their life wasn’t easy.  Mom told me about how many weeks she ate nothing but mustard and tomato sandwiches (the tomato donated by a kind neighbor), while dad was on the road trying to support his little family.  He tried just about everything to support them, but finally, somewhere around ’60, he decided it would be best to join the Army.  At least then, a paycheck would be somewhat guaranteed.  Dad poured himself into his new career.  The thing to understand about my dad is that when he put his mind to something, he could do anything.  I’m not just saying that because he was my dad.  I’m saying that because it’s true.  My dad had the mind of an engineer and the hands of a construction worker.  He understood technology, computers fascinated him, and he was really into science (which seems at odds with the fact that he was a Young Earth Creationist and didn’t believe that dinosaurs had existed, but whatever, he made it work somehow).  But he was also an artist and a musician, and he liked to create things with his hands.  The last few months of his life, he turned his mind to creating things: First rocking chairs made from clothespins, and finally miniature grand pianos made of wood, which he made by hand, using nothing electric.  And I can tell you, he cut every one of those 88 keys by hand, and glued them on one by one, using a pair of tweezers.  That was my dad.

Anyway.  So the years went by.  Mom and dad had their first child, my eldest brother, whom they tried eight years for, in ’65, and their second, my wonderful sister, in ’69.  Dad fought in Vietnam, was shot at least once, but obviously survived.  Dad got out of the Army, and they suffered many setbacks, ranging from my dad’s heart problems to a car accident which broke my dad’s back and left him in constant pain for the rest of his life.  Eventually, dad got a job at a rather large plane manufacturing company (maybe you guys have heard of them, Boeing?), and kicked and clawed his way up from the bottom, to become an instructor.  Not bad for an 8th grade drop-out who was in and out of trouble throughout his teen years, right?  Anyway, my brother Bill was born in ’75, and I followed five years later.  Dad’s health was deteriorating quickly, but our family made the best of it.  Dad quit his job at Boeing to take a job offer in South Carolina, and we picked up and moved there in the summer of ’86.  In ’89, dad was failing quickly, and it was decided that he had to retire, and it was time for us to leave South Carolina.  So, in January of ’90, we picked up and moved to California, which was where my dad wanted to die.

The summer of ’91, my dad knew that he was near the end.  So, he took the time to sit down with my brother Bill and me, and he told us many stories about his life and lessons he’d learned.  He taught us that sometimes you have to choose between a rock and a hard place, like he had to many times in Vietnam, and all you could do was make your choice and hope it was the best one.  He taught us that you should never try to step on someone else to work your way up.  He said that if you can’t reach the top by working hard and being good at your job, you don’t deserve to be at the top.  And above all, he was the epitome of perseverence, of sacrificial love, of devotion, of rising above your background.  His life could have ended so much differently.  To have come from the kind of background he came from, and still wind up marrying a good woman, raising four kids to be decent individuals, and making enough money to provide for us says more than anything else for his character.

He’s been gone now for almost 21 years, which I find hard to believe.  But with Father’s Day being today, I wanted to remember him.  I didn’t have half as much time with him as I should have, but what I find most amazing about everything I learned from him is that these are lessons that I’ve carried with me all this time, and wisdom that I hope to impart to my own children (should I ever have them).  I want them to know that my daddy was wise, strong, compassionate, funny, and incredibly intelligent, but also hard-headed, stubborn, and sometimes hot-tempered.  I want them to know that who we are is not determined by our upbringing, but who we are determined to be, and my dad proves that.  I want them to know that the only thing that holds any of us back from reaching our potential is us, and my dad proves that too.

But above all, I just want to remember how tall my daddy stood.  I want to remember his voice and his laugh.  I want to remember how his aftershave smelled, and how it felt to kiss his cheek.  I want to remember how strong his arms were, and how safe I felt with him.  And I want everyone to know that my daddy wasn’t just a hero because he was my daddy.  He really was a hero.

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  1. […] U.S., I thought I’d write about my own dad, even though I’ve written about him before (link).  I’m sure most of you know by now that my dad died of congestive heart failure when I was […]


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