My father and I often had a quarrelsome relationship. It was rocky from the beginning, but I am not quite sure why. I was a sickly, willful child with a temper who liked to dance and play basketball. Sometimes I would do both at the same time, which I thought was terrific. Dad did not.
“Concentrate on what you are doing!” He would shout from the kitchen window near the basketball goal. That usually made me angry, so to spite him, I would quit both. I went through a stage when no matter how many times the rod was not spared on my backside, I couldn’t stop making sassy remarks. He didn’t understand my nature, and quite frankly, neither did I.
I spent the better part of my life trying to please my father, but until recently, I am not sure I ever did. I am pretty confident he thought the same of me when he left on a November day in 1999 to live among the angels. For a while after his death, I often would reflect on our connection and talk to his spirit in the stillness of the night. Yet, I still felt strangely distant from this man who I called Daddy.
Since I have been writing for the last four years, I ironically find myself becoming closer to my father. The stories he told me, vividly return to my mind as if he spun them to me yesterday. The memories of his family, his friends, and his love for his wife are woven into sentences today. His emotional ways, his sensitive nature, his honesty, and his humor, still live through words.
I am humbled when I study the memoirs of his ancestors and recognize the blood that flows through me came from a mighty river of gutsy, hardworking and groundbreaking folks. When I return to the place of my roots in the hills of Tennessee, I see him as I walk the streets where our family once strolled and pass the white clapboard house where I was born.
Before Memorial Day, I sat at my desk with a deadline approaching, knowing I needed to write a column regarding the holiday. I stared at my computer for a moment, asked God for help, and then my hands began to type a story which Dad recounted to me when I was a young girl. I did my research, edited and finished the column. When I finished, I read it to my husband, and afterward, remarked, “I have no idea where that came from!”
Once it was polished, I sent it to my editors, and as a quick passing thought, also submitted the article to The Tennessean Newspaper in Nashville. I again, told my husband, “I just did the craziest thing!”
The story my father told me as a girl, was printed as The Tennessean’s Memorial Day story.
When I was a small child, I recall my father sitting me in his lap every Sunday before church and reading me the comics from the same Tennessee paper.
This Father’s Day, I am assured Dad is still with me, and we finally understand the blessing of each other. I appreciate this man now more than I ever have. He taught me so many valuable life lessons I did not recognize until I started writing them down. The ups and downs along the rocky road have evolved into a smooth path of acceptance and peace. His love lives on as the stories come to me in the middle of the night or as I stare at a blank computer. I know the hand of my father still guides me.
I read the comics every morning because Daddy always said, “they start your day with a smile.” I find they do. He also abhorred laziness, and so do I. He loved people more than anyone I ever knew except, maybe, me. Some things never get old or fade away, or ever really die like the lessons of our fathers.
Father’s Day is a special day for dads who are young, old, or in-between. It is also a special day of remembering the departed fathers who gave us the wisdom, the love, the drive to carry on and heed their words.
I don’t dance and play basketball at the same time anymore. Nor do I quit. I concentrate on getting the stories straight because I still enjoy pleasing my daddy. I finally learned.
For Ray Caraway Walker, my father.