Tuesday, June 12, 2012
In praise of fathers
Fathers’ Day is Sunday. Let the grill buying begin!
My husband is a father, and a darned good one. (Widdle Jr. is smart, kind and—like his stepmother—just a wee bit crazy.) Both my brothers are fathers, and good ones, too… although God is repaying T-Bob for the sins of his youth in the form of his rambunctious son, Alexander. Karma never fails.
But whenever I hear the word “Daddy,” I think of mine. He demonstrated, in word and deed, that a real man is kind, gentle and provides for his family. He wasn’t perfect—he distrusted redheads and his sense of humor was somewhere around “zilch.” He was a staunch, God-fearing Baptist who nonetheless liked his beer. I can still hear him saying, “A woman’s hair is her crowning glory.”
I wore bikinis, but never in front of him. ‘Til the day he died, when I was 24, I think he genuinely believed I wore woolen, knee-length bathing costumes.
His name was Roger but everyone called him Sonny, because he had three older sisters. He was quiet, honorable, and never spoke ill of others. You hear that a lot: “He never said a bad word about anybody.” In his case it was the gospel truth.
I am his daughter in ways large and small.
He was shy unless he was in church or at a Masonic meeting. I’m shy except among friends, or after two glasses of wine. He worked hard and loved his family. Ditto. He could choke a nickel until it hollered; describing me as frugal is like saying Niagara Falls is damp. Having scored the trifecta of being Southern, Welsh, and creative, he tended to brood. Ask my husband how broody I can be. (I like to think Dad and I are in good company, along with Welshmen Dylan Thomas, Richard Burton, Lawrence of Arabia, et al.)
Dad was well-read and curious about everything. He devoured newspapers, magazines, books and the Bible, which he read cover-to-cover twice. He used to tell us stories about Alexander the Great and Aristotle, Napoleon and Thomas Jefferson. He could speak, write and read Latin, which still blows my mind. He had atrocious handwriting. For fun, he carved horses and dogs and doll-sized furniture out of knotty pine. He also shot a mean game of eight-ball.
Daddy was remarkably private. None of us knew he was voted best-dressed in high school, and was editor of both his college newspaper and yearbook (Campbell College in Buie’s Creek, N.C.) until after he died. For all I know he has a Pulitzer stashed somewhere. He simply didn’t talk about himself.
He didn’t care for cats, air conditioning or asparagus. He liked his steak well done, by which I mean charred to a crisp. He was very thin and for years struggled to gain weight. He traveled widely while in the Army, and as a result never roamed again. The farthest I can remember him going was to the Outer Banks. (When I was 12 we moved 75 miles from his birthplace, and he wrung his hands and muttered under his breath for months.) He looked exactly like Barney Fife, except his brown eyes were larger and dreamier. He had a crazy little spaniel he used to feed Vienna sausages to.
As he lay dying, my adult brothers crawled into his bed, wrapped their arms and legs around him and begged him to stay.
He was such a good man, and we miss him every day. Happy Father’s Day, Dad.
Julie R. Smith, who swears she was her father’s favorite, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.