For My Daddy…
The last 12 months have seen me spend many a night writing about my mom, most of it not public but a few posts here that I wanted to share. It has been incredibly therapuetic and I expect the next week will see some of the more emotional posts, as I reach a milestone that feels incredibly surreal. However, today is Father’s Day and in the spirit of the day, I’d like this post to honor my dad, who was one incredible man and who I still miss so much.
If you’ve read any of my earlier posts, or even my “About Me” page, you’ll know that my dad was one incredible guy. Born in 1924 in what was then considered part of Florida but so small that there was only a county name and today is part of Southern Alabama, he grew up the middle child of six on a tobacco farm. In the 1920’s no one had any idea that smoking could harm you so he picked up this gross habit at the age of 10, rolling his own cigarettes and learning all about the crop. However, my dad was definitely what I would call a “Big World” person and he longed to leave the farm and see the world so at 18 he joined the Navy. Eventually a Naval officer, he traveled the world, was active in both World War II (where he was stranded on a raft in the Pacific Ocean for a period of several days and a POW for a short time) and the Korean War. Though we never heard a lot of military stories in our home, the few that he chose to share with me were something else. I can only imagine what he saw & experienced in those countries.
By the time I came along, my father was 48 years old. Needless to say, he was a bit freaked out by the news that he was going to be a dad again. At this time he had moved to Anna Maria Island, FL, met my cute little mom and was working as a mailman on the island. He put all the mail in the wrong boxes the day my mom told him the big news but quickly adapted and was a pretty amazing dad to me. Though memories are spotty for me as a toddler (as I expect they are for most people), one of my earliest memories are of my dad taking me in my stroller to the Rexall drug store on the island each day. People would naturally ask if he was my grandpa and with a huge smile, he would respond that no, I was his baby girl.
My dad loved nature and one of his favorite things was fishing. I never really liked fishing… I mean I was this little girl and fishing is kind of gross and dirty, but our daddy/ daughter days would mostly be spent fishing. He bought me my first little fishing pole and taught me how to bait the hook with a live worm. I’m sure I was a bit squeamish about this but he was so proud of me that I did it anyway and when I caught my first fish, you would’ve thought I won the lottery.
As years passed, daddy/ daughter fishing days became less frequent and eventually stopped. My father, who was a writer his entire life, lost his eye sight when I was in middle school. As you can imagine, this was incredibly hard for him and I used to read to him and, when I was old enough and learned to drive, I would take him on drives and talk about school and his life. When it came time for me to choose a college, my parents took me on campus visits to the University of Michigan (mom’s alma mater), Auburn and the University of Florida (both of which my dad attended). I secretly (or so I thought) applied to Florida State and when the acceptance letter came, I gathered my courage and went to tell my parents that’s where I was going. My dad didn’t say anything and just walked out of the room. I was crushed. A minute later, he came back in wearing an FSU Dad baseball cap and said “Well, I guess we’re an FSU family now. Go Noles.” Then he told me how proud he was and how much he loved me. It was such a wonderful moment. Less than a year later, I would lose my dad and it happened very quickly. Four days after being home for the weekend and going out to watch an FSU basketball game with him, he was in the hospital. Two weeks later, I was at his funeral. It was the first real loss that I experienced and sent me in a million directions that I never could have anticipated. Losing him was unbelievably hard but having him as a father was truly a blessing of immense proportions. I still miss him and imagine that I always will but I imagine he is reunited with my mom in paradise and catching the biggest fishes you’ve ever seen.
To say I’m thankful seems insignificant but as a thank you for a wonderful man, I’ll end with a few things that I learned from my dad and have shaped me into the adult I am today.
My dad taught me from an early age that prejudice is the ultimate injustice. Regardless of race, religion, sexual preference, you name it, it is not for us to judge and it is not just the right thing but our duty to ensure that we do not tolerate prejudice of any kind. (Quite a feat for a man raised in Southern Alabama in the 1920’s and I am proud to say that these ideals are present today in each of my parents family members and their children.) My dad also instilled in me a love of nature, and especially the water. I feel closest to him standing on the shoreline and the beach is not just my home but my retreat anytime I need to feel grounded or to unwind. Dad also gave me a love of both sports and the written word. Though he was a poet, and I would never try to convince anyone that I can write poetry, I still have (as some of my most prized possessions) books that he gave me as a young child. I also still have my autographed Tampa Bay Buccaneers cheerleader poster, horrible orange and white uniforms and all, and live for footballl weekends, loving every minute of the memories of spending Sundays in the stands with my dad.
There is so much more to him but I’ve written enough. I feel incredibly blessed to be his daughter and I look forward to seeing him again one day. Much love to you dad. I’ll miss you always.