A TRIBUTE TO THE FINEST DAD I EVER MET
This is from my book, Daddies: An Endangered Species. It was published back in 1996 and dedicated to my father. Dad passed away in 2013. As we approach Father’s Day, 2021, these words I wrote a quarter century ago remain a tribute to him and to all wonderful fathers.
I’m 43 years old. I have a wife, three kids, a dog, a cat, a minivan, and an adjustable rate mortgage. Nevertheless, I think of myself as someone who has just borrowed the car keys from my dad.
You see, even though I am now a middle-aged daddy and, technically speaking, an official “grown-up,” I will always be in awe of my dad and the other dads of his generation.
My father is a remarkable man and a member of an equally remarkable generation. Dad was born in the booming metropolis of Bemis, Tennessee in 1924. He grew up during the Depression in a home owned by the mill where my grandparents worked.
I guess my grandparents were a “two career family.” But they didn’t both work at the Bemis Mill for glamor. They did it to make ends meet.
Dad was a senior in high school on December 7, 1941 when the news came that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor.
After graduating from high school, Dad joined the Navy, and Uncle Sam eventually sent him to the South Pacific.
In late 1945, having literally saved civilization, my dad and other members of his generation came home. Dad went to the University of Tennessee on the GI Bill, and in 1948, he became the first member of his family to graduate from college.
Dad moved to Memphis and went to work as an auditor for the E. L. Bruce Company. There he found more than a job. He met and fell in love with my mother. After a five-month courtship, she asked him to marry her, and he said yes.
Momma and Dad bought a little two-bedroom suburban house. The house was about 1,200 square feet big, but for a boy from Bemis who grew up during the Depression, it was a mansion.
But the mansion got a little crowded on a hot summer day in 1952 when Momma and Dad brought me home from Methodist Hospital.
For the past 43 years, my dad has always been there for me. He was there for me when I first learned to crawl and then walk and then run.
He was there for me when I first learned to ride a two-wheel bike.
He was there for me when I broke my arm while playing Tarzan, swinging out of a tree in the neighbor’s backyard.
He was there for me during my terrible Little League Baseball career as a short stop for the Dellwood Baptist Cardinals. (I was the Marv Thornberry of the Dellwood Baptist Cardinals.)
He was there for me when I sat in the Malco Theater in downtown Memphis and watched Old Yeller. He consoled me when I cried after Old Yeller died.
He was there for me on the first day of school in 1958. Dad walked me to my classroom and introduced himself to my first-grade teacher, Mrs. Oswald. The school was safe and clean, and Dad and I did not have to walk through metal detectors as we went through the school-house doors.
My dad was there for me on a glorious summer day in 1959, when he took me to Sportsmen’s Park in St. Louis to see the St. Louis Cardinals play the Milwaukee Braves. We saw Henry Aaron and Stan Musial and a pitcher named Ernie Broglio, who would later be traded to the Cubs for Lou Brock.
Dad was there for me every morning at breakfast, sitting beside me in his grey flannel suit and his black wingtips which are of course, the official shoes of old-fashioned daddies.
Dad was with me every night at dinner, asking me how my day had gone and whether I was minding Mrs. Oswald.
Dad was there for me for birthday parties and Christmas mornings, to make sure I got my Davy Crockett coonskin cap or a hula hoop or a pogo stick.
Dad was there for me when I competed in Pinewood Derby races, spelling bees, oratorical contests, and basketball games during my brief career as a four-foot tall power forward.
And was with me on a cold January day in 1966 when my mother went to Heaven.
Dad was also with me on April 21, 1985, the day I became a daddy and he became a grandpa.
I will never forget what my dad said as he held his first grandson in his arms. He looked at me and said, “Bill, you’re a rich man.”
Dad, of course, was right. I am blessed and rich not only because I have children of my own, but because I have an old-fashioned caring dad who survived the Depression, won a World War, married his sweetheart, and tried to teach a little boy what it means to be a man.
And if I ever grow up, I want to be just like him.