My father’s birthday is today. Sadly, my father passed away almost four years ago. Many people think they have the best dad in the world. I may be prejudiced but I think a case can be made that my dad deserved the title of best dad in the world.
My father was born 82 years ago in New York City. He was the middle child with an older sister and a younger sister. When he was still quite young, his parents divorced and his mother packed up the kids and moved to Tampa. His mom worked as a waitress, My father was always a generous tipper, no doubt because he was raised by a single mom who earned her living as a waitress.
My dad grew up poor. He lived in the projects in a small home that lacked running water. He dropped out of high school to join the Air Force during the Korean War though he never got farther from Tampa than an Air Force base in Georgia. He worked as a control tower operator while in the Air Force and enjoyed telling stories about his time in the tower.
He met my mother when he was 20 years old. A few weeks later, they were married, just a few weeks shy of my mother’s 19th birthday. They were together for almost 58 years and very much in love until the day he died.
When my dad got out of the Air Force he took a job delivering parts at a local car dealership. He started taking classes at night to get his high school diploma. The office manager at the car dealership knew my dad was going to school at night. When there was an opening in the office at the dealership, my dad was offered the job. He continued working there, eventually becoming the general manager of the Chevy dealership, a position he held until he retired in 1990.
My father taught me to ride a bike, patiently holding on to the back of the bike and running along beside me. Eventually, he let go and I was riding on my own. He also taught me to drive a stick shift car. He took me to a large empty parking lot to practice taking off from a standstill. He told me that shifting while you were moving was easy. The challenge was taking off from a standstill. We would take off and stop then take off again, over and over, until I could smoothly take off. He taught me how to hold the car still on a hill with the clutch so I could take off from a stop on a hill without letting the car roll backwards.
My father was my brothers’ biggest fan when they played sports. He coached my older brother’s little league baseball team. He attended my younger brother’s games from little league baseball to peewee football and then high school basketball.
For my fifth birthday, my father promised to build me a playhouse. Then my older brother became ill and was eventually hospitalized for many months before he passed away not long after his 12th birthday. While my brother was in the hospital, my father would often drive out to the causeway to the Mullet Inn and pick up a smoked mullet dinner – my brother’s favorite meal – and take it to him in the hospital. I was seven when my brother died. I still remember sitting on my father’s lap during the funeral service. A few months after the funeral, my father enlisted a neighbor and began building the playhouse he had promised me. That two room playhouse became the center of activity for the kids in the neighborhood.
I get my love of the beach and the ocean from my dad. Family vacations when I was young were often spent at the beach. We had a small boat. He would take my brother and I for rides and many Saturdays he would take my brother fishing. During one family vacation at Indian Rocks Beach, my father was fishing from a sandbar using a sea roach as bait. He caught a 16 pound snook. He walked it to shore. We took his picture holding that fish. He was so proud of that catch. That fish fed quite a few people that night.
My dad also liked to travel. When I was ten years old, we borrowed my grandparents’ 16 foot travel trailer and took our first family camping trip. We went to Montreal for Expo 67, The World’s Fair. It rained all day one of the days we were there. My younger brother was five years old. He wanted to stomp through the puddles but my mother wouldn’t let him until my dad said, “We’re getting soaked. If he wants to splash through the puddles, let him.” My little brother gleefully jumped in or stomped through every puddle he saw much to the amusement of passers by. Soon, my dad and I were also splashing through the puddles. More trips followed – to the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Washington DC – just to name a few.
My father taught me to save. When I got my first summer job in high school, he told me I should always pay myself first, even if it was just a couple of dollars a check. I took this advice to heart. From my first paycheck until my last, I always took a little something out to put in a savings account. Every time I got a raise, I increased my savings. That advice served me well.
Throughout my life, my father would often tell me I was his favorite daughter.
“I’m your only daughter, Dad,” I always replied.
“That’s why you’re my favorite!”
My father loved to learn. He was always learning new skills and taking on new hobbies from playing the guitar to learning to sail to wood carving and furniture making. He was very proud that I was the first one in the family to attend college. He loved to read and he loved movies. He was optimistic and enthusiastic about life. He had a wonderful sense of humor and laughed easily. But what I most admired about him was how he treated people.
My father treated everyone the same way regardless of skin color, ethnicity, job title or beliefs. He saw the good in people. He treated everyone with kindness and compassion. After he died, so many people came up to me telling me what a wonderful man he was. They told stories of how they would go to my dad for advice or just to have someone to talk to and my dad would always make time for them.
My father was always the last one to wake up and come out to breakfast in the morning. When he came into the kitchen he went up to my mom and kissed her good morning before turning to my brother and me and saying good morning. He would always kiss my mom goodbye before leaving for work. When he came home from work, as soon as he walked in the house, he kissed my mom. He always remembered her birthday and their anniversary. He chose personal gifts – clothing, perfume and later when he earned more money, jewelry. His gifts to her always included lingerie. My mom would blush when she would open the package and pull out a filmy negligée. My dad would just grin. He took delight in making her happy.
My parents nurtured their relationship. You could tell how much they loved each other by how they looked at each other. Not long before my dad died, I was at their house. We were sitting around the table. For some reason I can’t recall, my dad pulled out his wallet. He had three pictures in his wallet. One picture was of his mother and one picture was the last school photo taken of my older brother. The third photo was of my mother. The picture was taken before they were married. On the front of the photograph, my mother had written, ‘I will always love you.’ He carried that picture in his wallet until the day he died.
A few years ago I was talking to my cousin. We were talking about men and relationships. I started talking about my parents’ relationship. Finally, I said to her that I wanted to meet a man like my dad. She looked at me and said, “You’re never going to meet a man like that!”
Perhaps she was right. Perhaps my dad was the last of his breed, though I think there are other men like him out there. I’m not sure whether there is a heaven, but if there is I am sure my dad is there.
Your favorite daughter