A father with many names

Published 6:17 pm Saturday, June 16, 2012

The different names I had for my father through our 34 years serve today — 13 years after his death — as signposts reminding me of the various stages through which we progressed as father and son.

When I was just a toddler, Daddy was the crew-cut giant who sat hunched over a drafting table in our attic while I played with my trucks near his feet. That’s where we were during a storm one night when he was struck by lightning through the window and knocked to the floor as I looked on and my mother was away for choir practice. That he survived without injury or even being knocked unconscious is a testament to the fact that God still performs miracles.

Everyone was amazed at how much I resembled Daddy, and he would beam with pride when describing some new conquest of mine in school or at church. I never really understood that pride until I married and inherited grandchildren. And I realize even that feeling is probably just a shadow of what he experienced.


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Dad was the man who knew how to build a house, even if he installed all the light switches upside down. He taught me about hiking the mountains of Tennessee and how to find joy along the trail, not just at the peak. Those are lessons I find myself trying to teach my grandchildren even today.

One day, when I was 15, Dad pulled to the side of the road in Hobson, and said, “Do you want to drive?” It was such a shock to me that I didn’t believe him until he got out of the car and came around to the passenger door to trade seats with me. I imagine that when I totaled a car in an accident not a year later he wished he’d never made that stop.

But Dad and I, similar as we were in so many ways, found it hard to connect through so many of those teen years. I strove so hard to be independent, and he thought so often of that little boy he remembered.

For a while, things were very difficult between Dad and me, but there came a time when we could share the things that made us so different and accept the things that made us so similar. We were both men, and we could love one another for the man each of us had become.

And then, one day he offered me a job with his construction company, and I left the newspaper business, and he became Boss. It was yet another new phase in our relationship. He taught me then about integrity and sacrifice. But that phase was cut short just three years later by the massive heart attack he experienced in 1999, while he was walking off the golf course at Cedar Point Country Club.

We had shared many fine days on that course, and for a long time I could not bring myself to return. I still think of him when I see the tennis pavilion he built there, when I pass the ponds that swallowed so many of our balls and when I leave my hat and coat in the front room of the clubhouse as I arrive for breakfast with the North Suffolk Rotary Club, where he was president the year he died.

I still hear how much I resemble my father. And now I’m the one filled with pride at the sentiment. I think sometimes I can feel him nearby as I sit by a campfire with my grandchildren. And I think of him when I’m briefly unable to figure out how to switch on the bathroom light in the wee hours of the morning.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. By whatever name, you were and still are, my hero. I miss you.