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Life with Father | Opinion | The Press and Standard

by | December 3, 2016 5:00 pm

Last Updated: November 30, 2016 at 1:26 pm

Today is my father’s birthday. He’d be 85, if he hadn’t died at 53.
When my brothers and I get together, we invariably talk about him, the way some people reminisce about the best dog they ever owned. If that sounds weird, I know Dad would understand.
Many years ago our family adopted a gold-and-white Cocker spaniel named Chopper. She was so named by her previous owners, because she bit everyone except Dad. Him she never bit, because she adored him. The rest of humanity was fair game.
At the time Dad worked in a town 50 miles away, so he came home on Saturdays. When Chopper heard his car, she’d gallop, barking hysterically, through every room in the house to alert the family. She did this every Saturday for many moons.
One day she tore through kitchen, living room and bedrooms — except one. Mother had shut the door to my parents’ room at the end of the dark hall. She was teasing her hair when BAM!! The closed door rattled in its frame. She yanked it open to see Chopper staggering away with stars and planets circling her poor, dazed head. Dad picked her up and kissed her; Mom was laughing too hard to speak.
Other Dad things: He was a dead ringer for Barney Fife, and I look nothing like him. He was a quiet Baptist with a party-loving Episcopalian wife, but they made it work. His sons cherished him. He and my sister, Moonbeam, maintained a respectful truce for 30 years. (She ate roots and chanted in the woods; he ate boiled peanuts and taught Sunday school.)
He didn’t have a razor-sharp wit, but he liked “Hee-Haw.” Unusual for men of his generation, he was openly affectionate with his children. If you needed a hug, you went to Dad. He’s the reason everybody in our family kisses hello, goodbye and “I’m going to the kitchen.” Outsiders think we’re nuts.
Dad wasn’t a talker. He didn’t retreat into sullen silence or brood; he simply saw no reason to speak if there was nothing to say. (He was not a big hit at parties. Mom used to park him in a corner, like a potted plant.)
Here’s a typical convo with my dad when he picked me up from school:
“How’d it go today?”
Me: “Great! I got a B in math.”
Him: “That’s good.”
Silence for the next eight miles.
Me: “Hey, Dad, can we stop for a Coke?”
Him: “Do you have any money?”
Me: “No…”
Him (chuckling): “Then I guess we aren’t stopping.” And we didn’t.
Dad taught us to pay cash or do without. You worked hard, lived beneath your means and NEVER bought a new car.
He doled out compliments the way he doled out money: very seldom. If I asked how I looked, he’d peer over his newspaper and say, “Fine,” and keep reading. Once, in a fit of teenage angst, I blurted, “Daddy, tell me one good thing about my looks.”
He paused for a moment and said, “I’ve always liked your eyebrows.”
Dad did speak up when it counted. When I was 12, a friend’s father committed suicide and was denied a Catholic burial. (This ban was officially lifted in 1983.)
“Dad, does God condemn people who commit suicide?” I asked. I figured if anybody knew, he would.
Instantly, he replied: “No. God has compassion for the suffering. He welcomed Pam’s dad into heaven.” Just like that, the gift of certainty.
Happy birthday, Daddy! When we meet again, I’ll buy you a Coke.

(Julie R. Smith, who has her father’s eyebrows, can be reached at widdleswife@aol.com.)

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