I’m going to switch gears a bit today, so bear with me.
Today would have been my dad’s 65th birthday. I say “would have been” because we lost him far too early, when he was just 62. If life were fair, he’d have lived to see today – the age when people typically retire and get on with the next phase of their lives. He worked hard enough when he was alive to have earned that rest. But that’s not how things worked out.
I’ve started this post several times now, each time trying to somehow tell Dad’s story in a way that will make the people that didn’t know him understand just who he was and what made him so amazing. But I can’t quite put it into words. A lot of what made him my hero had to do with the fact that when it would have been easier to walk away, he stayed. When he was just 25, he wound up with custody of my brother and me. I was five and my brother was just a baby, but he didn’t hesitate at all, even though it meant moving back home with his parents and working two jobs to support us.
It was never easy for my dad to say “I love you”. He was a product of the family and the times in which he was raised and that just wasn’t something he could do. But I never doubted for an instant that he loved me deeply. He was deeply sensitive and passionate, but tried his best to hide that from most people. He had some very strong ideas about what it meant to be a man, and I think expressing his emotions would’ve gone against those beliefs. Yet he would send me a dozen roses every Mother’s Day. And would call me when he heard a song on the jukebox that reminded him of me when I was a little girl. He’d send me cards – really mushy greeting cards – to say all of the things I’m sure he wished he could say himself.
He was the first one to tell me that he wasn’t the “perfect dad”. I told him I didn’t think there was any such creature. He’d drink and call me and apologize for the mistakes he’d made. I finally told him that his mistakes didn’t matter because I knew he did the best he could with what he had, and that I always knew he loved me. And he got credit for staying. No matter what else happened, he was always there and I knew he loved me, whether he could say it or not.
There are a million things I could say about my dad, but in the end you really just had to know him. If I had to sum him up, here’s what I would tell you: I never met anyone that didn’t like him. Even his ex-wives had to admit that underneath it all, he was a good man. He could tell a story like no one else, turning something tragic or scary into something that would make you laugh until you couldn’t breathe. He loved George Jones and always called him by his first name as though he were an old friend (and I suppose he was). He was a rabid fan of the University of Kentucky’s basketball program. He had an entire room in his house decked out in UK gear. He was simple in a lot of ways but incredibly complex in others like I suppose we all are. And he was a good father.
Two and a half years later, and I still miss him every day. But now the memories make me smile more often than cry, and as I live in his house (minus the UK room – sorry, Daddy), I’m still surrounded by reminders of him every day. I know that he knew how much I loved him, and I hope he knew he was my hero. I told him I’d always be a Daddy’s girl, and I still am.
I love you, Daddy. Happy birthday.