I am sitting here tonight thinking about what I could write about my dad. He was a good father. He demonstrated daily that he loved me dearly. His eyes lit up when he saw me, and he always held open his arms for me to come close for a hug. His pet name for me was Tootsie Roll.
We went to church every Sunday and participated in every event that occurred at Holy Trinity Episcopal church. He took me with him to feed the cows and out to his sale barn (Bonham Livestock Commission Company) to see how many head of cattle, horses and pigs had come in for the Monday sale day. He went to the Friday night football games when I was in the band or a cheerleader and I could see him in the stands smiling when he saw me. He loved to watch tv with me in the evenings so we could talk about Ben, Adam, Hoss and Little Joe on Bonanza or Matt Dillon and Miss Kitty on Gunsmoke. He would dance a jig in the kitchen when he was happy and make silly jokes that made us all roll our eyes.
My dad was handsome. He had a straight nose, dark brown almond-shaped eyes and high cheekbones. His skin was pink, his hair silver (he was fifty when I was born) and though he wasn’t tall – 5’8″ – he had an ease and dignity that gave him a strong presence. He took pride in dressing well and he was always well-groomed, whether he was going to the sale barn or off to a formal event. His smell was a combination of baby powder, Old Spice and Camel cigarettes.
The main thing about my Dad was that he was devoted to me and all of his children. I never once had to guess if he loved me or whether he would be there for me. When I was a teenager and started to date, he expected my boyfriends to come in and get to know him before they were allowed to take me out. He also expected me home by 11 and was not happy when I was late. He didn’t allow boys in the house when my girlfriends and I had a slumber party. When my cousin took a photo of my high school boyfriend and me kissing, my father walked into my room every day and turned it face down on my dresser. His favorite line at that point was, “Len, I was sixteen a minute and a half ago and I know exactly what sixteen year-old boys think about.”
My dad died of lung cancer only a few weeks after I turned nineteen. I was a freshman at the University of Texas. I saw him the weekend before he died and he said to me, “You know this old dog’s not gonna hunt much longer, don’t you?” My response was tears. He held my hand and told me how much he loved me and that his love would stay with me forever.
On this eve of Father’s Day I have to admit I was dealt a very lucky hand when it came to my dad. I grew up feeling truly adored by him, and his love – so steady and true – built a firm foundation for me as a female and a person. He taught me to care about people and they would care about me, to shake hands firmly and to look people in the eye. He said, “You walk in a room and make friends, one person at a time.” I have followed that advice my whole life and it has served me well.
My only regret is that Daddy died long before he could meet Ray, my daughters, their partners and my grandchildren. They missed a treat knowing this handsome, sincere and loving man and he missed the chance to enjoy all the love my family and my siblings’ families would have offered him.
Alas, it didn’t work out that way.
Still, he was right about his love. I feel it everyday.