My amazing Dad passed away just a month ago. Just because he’s not here—he still deserves to be honored, because he is and always will be the man by which all other men are measured in my life. He gave me words to aspire to call myself—whether I ever qualify. I will always think of him and reach for the highest aspirations, because he gave me the best foundation.
So, I search for the word…the one word to define my Dad…but it’s too tough to choose.
Tenacious—is the first word that comes to mind. I’ve never known anybody who had the determination that I saw in him. I remember the story he told of how he came to work at the phone company. He worked in a grocery store, and wanted to work for Southern Bell. Every day he’d stop by and ask if they had any positions. Every day, they would say no. He stopped by so often, as a matter of fact, that they anticipated his question and would say “not today,” before he even asked.
Until one day…
He worked for Southern Bell for 34 years. More than one person told us that they always hoped Gene would answer their call when, at mere minutes before quitting time, they would place a trouble call into the office. Anybody else would let the phone ring. Not Gene. No, he would answer and troubleshoot—didn’t matter how long it took to figure out the problem.
That’s my Dad.
Tenacity was born in him, actually. A 2 lbs, 4 oz. baby boy, born in the early thirties…survived and thrived. He slept on a pillow for a bed and had handkerchiefs for diapers…so the story goes.
He was made from tough stuff.
I must remember...that I am, too.
Parkinsons took so much of him away—his motor skills became worse almost daily. He loved to do woodwork—I recall as a child seeing many things he’d made with his hands—wooden boxes, a little house (complete with flooring used in our very house), stools, baby doll high chairs, and most especially doll houses.
The first dollhouse included Popsicle stick siding—hand cut and placed with glue and pins—until his hands would hurt to the point that he’d have to stop…for a while. The finished house was to be for Mom, but his firstborn grandchild was a girl…so, of course, it was passed on to her on her third birthday. Mom's would come later.
And then another grandbaby girl…
and, then another. More houses—built and passed on to them.
Another house was donated to a charity function, and yet another was made on consignment. In his later years, he built one for Mom—but picked it up wrong. It shifted on the foundation, twisting the house so that it rocked. He decided to salvage it by cutting the top floor off and making an attic from it. This was about twenty-five years after the first one—and by this time Parkinsons had taken away much of his dexterity and reasoning. He started another foundation, cut walls, and painstakingly whittled the columns for a new house—and now it remains unfinished. Parkinsons finally won—but he gave it his all. That’s the first time I ever remember him giving up…it just wasn’t in his nature.
He was always a good sport.
Taking pills and going to appointments was just a way of life. He never complained. The last years, he was taking 14 different meds--multiple times a day. He never complained. Every night, he’d check the calendar to see where we had to go and when.
He had a routine: routines were good.
I pray that I remember Dad before I ever open my mouth to complain. Then I will not open my mouth, but smile instead.
It was around the seventh of May...I came into his hospice room after work, and he asked me, “Where am I going 5:15? It was just after 4pm, and I knew he wasn’t going anywhere. I told him that we didn’t have anywhere to be…but if he needed to go somewhere that was okay.
That was that.
Dad read every Louis L’Amour book written. He had a collection of hardbacks and paperbacks. When there were no more L’Amour books, he picked up Johnstone westerns. We had a list and would visit the library, bringing home half-dozen at the time. He loved spending his days in the stories. Sometimes we’d visit the library a couple-times a week. He loved old westerns on TV, too.
Tom and Sam should’ve made more Sacketts movies, because they were the best.
As a writer, I will think...every time I write…is this something someone can appreciate? Is this someone can love? Is this something that can teach someone something they need to learn? If not...stop writing.
Sweet—that’s another word that described him. Dad was kind to everybody. So many folks told me all through my life about “Your Dad is so sweet!” Heck, he even had the nickname “Honey” throughout my childhood. Not just from Mom, either, mind you. At the funeral, I heard an old friend talk about “Honey,” while reminiscing of days gone by. This was from memories that were decades old.
I want to be remembered that way.
We should all aspire to be remembered that way.
Dad was so faithful. My folks were happily married for 55 years. I have to admit, though, that he had many “girlfriends”—of which Mom knew, of course—because you just couldn’t meet my Dad and not love him. Mom shared him with ladies…from church or with friends from the ‘hood from back in the day, or even friends from their younger days. Sundays, birthdays or special occasions, there was usually somebody who would share their admiration for Dad and claim to be his girlfriend…and everybody smiled.
We knew he was a special man. They just don’t make ‘em like that much anymore…sweet, reverent, handy, willing, faithful.
If a neighbor or friend ever needed help, Dad was always there…with tools or hands or whatever was needed. Lord knows how much he helped me throughout the years. He was the kind of man you could count on: a lost breed. He could change out an outlet, or door lock, or a tire…in the pouring rain. He could help build a home, or panel a van.
…and he could sing. Daddy sang bass.
Oh how I wish I had that recorded…in video. It would make you smile. Daddy sang with Jacobs Ladder from the late 70’s through part of the 80’s. The group sang a fun version of “Daddy Sang Bass, Mama Sang Tenor,” that you just had to see to appreciate. He enjoyed it so much. As much as he loved southern gospel music…he loved singing it more. Those were his glory days—not because of fans—but because he loved singing for the Lord.
…during his last days on earth—he showed us just how much.
In the last days, in his hospice room, he rarely opened his eyes, but he was “there” with us. He’d let us know…somehow. Mom decided one night that we should sing. Sister read scriptures, and Mom thought up songs for us to sing. We’d begin singing,
and he’d join in, mouthing the words…with the most blissful expression I’ve ever seen in my life.
It was clearly pure joy for him. Sweetest thing I’ve ever seen in my half-century life. There wasn’t a sound—just mouthing the words. We’d laugh occasionally when we’d forget the words—and he’d give us a smile, too. Sometime we’d hear him—a sound that was like a hum—but had no real melody. I’m sure it was a perfect to him. We had to smile.
His last day on earth, a most special hospice nurse, Judy, told Mom that she sang to Dad when she was with him. Mom told her about his love for gospel music. Judy asked, “Why aren’t you playing it for him?” Mom retrieved CDs from her car: Gaithers and Gabriel’s Call. She played them on the TV’s DVD player.
Her church-friend, Harold came to visit and mentioned he had a Jacobs Ladder CD in his truck…that Dad had given him one. He let us play it for Dad.
The third song on this CD, “God Walks the Dark Hills,” Carletha sang out in her beautiful voice.
“…the highways and byways.
He walks in the shadows…”
He walks in the shadows…”
Dad’s shallow panting suddenly turned into a deep breath.
“…of life’s troubled seas.”
I reached out to him, placing my hand over his heart.
“…He walks in the storms...”
Two more breaths.
“…the rain and the sunshine,”
Dad’s heartbeat faded beneath my fingers.
At high noon, the sweetest, most tenacious man…gave up the fight.
"...God walks the Dark Hills, to guide you and me."
He went home…to be with God.
It was 5/15.
God and Dad shared many miracles and blessings with us, through the many years as well as his last days. I’ll never forget. I can hear him singing…even now.
I thank God for his gift to me…the best Dad.
I send him, in Heaven, all my love with a wish for the Happiest Father’s Day…not on earth, but definitely in my heart.
The word for Dad?
Pure and simple...always.