My father is the most innately good person I’ve ever known. He taught me to work hard and never stop learning.
He grew up in incredible poverty — the kind where you have no indoor plumbing and you washyour only pair of pants at night so they’ll be dry when you put them on again in the morning. His father was an alcoholic who gambled away his paycheck before they had a chance to buy groceries. His mother was dying from a slow-growing brain tumor most of his teen years. When his older brother escaped into the military, Daddy had to take care of his mom and his wild younger brother. And he did it because nothing has ever been more important to him than family.
Because of his responsibilities, he dropped out of high school went to work. But that was temporary. After he married my mother, he worked all day, then came home to eat dinner and enjoy time with his family. When us kids were in bed, he studied. He earned his GED through a correspondence course. Taking one course at a time, he finally earned his bachelor’s degree a year after I did. He took an early retirement buyout from the power company, then he followed his heart and earned a masters degree in Christian education to begin a second career in the ministry because he loves to help other people.
I’ve got many issues with the Southern Baptist doctrine I grew up with, but when I announced to my family that I was gay, he never faltered. I am his daughter and he has never judged, only loved me.
He and Mother are now both in an assisted living home two states away for health reasons. He has Alzheimer’s. He still manages to recognize us, but the grandchildren confuse him. He didn’t recognize my voice when I called him Sunday to wish him a Happy Father’s Day, but remembered and laughed when I said, “Daddy, it’s your favorite daughter.” (My two sisters roll their eyes when I say that. To be fair, I also like to announce “this is your favorite sister” when I call them.)
I know the day will come too soon when his brain won’t be able to dredge up my name or what a great father he’s been. But I’ll remember.
I’ll remember how he played with us at the beach or in the community pool like the kid he never got to be. I’ll remember the individual heart-shaped boxes of candy — small replicas of the big box Mama got — that he gave each of us girls on Valentine’s Day. And I’ll always cherish the millions of small things he did that made me feel special, like opening doors for me and making sure that he walked on the street side of the sidewalk — an incredibly old fashioned act of chilvary that dates back to muddy streets and men protecting the ladies from splash or runaway horses.
As the years continue to pass, I hope that the last thing he is able to remember is that I love him.
And, when he forgets that, I’ll remember for him.