This is an old picture of my Dad and I, but it epitomizes the joy he experiences when his family is around him and our mutual feelings. It’s rare for us to get together as a family without tears of laughter. This was Fathers Day, 2013, in Jan & Joe’s backyard, where we will celebrate his birthday later today. This is his “trying to look serious in the middle of a laugh” look. I love my Dad. I love his wit and outrageous humor. His knowledge and logic. His brutal honesty. His strengths. His weaknesses. His stubbornness. His tenderness. His bravery and fears. His perfections and flaws.
I love how his jaw pulses when he’s stressed or agitated, how he bites his lip when he’s holding back, and how he rubs his fingers on his chair when he’s got something on his mind. I love every single quirk and that I can read him like a book and he can read me. I love how we can walk the halls where he lives, and everyone lights up when they see him. I love how we go to the dining room and he’s the only one at the table who doesn’t seem old. He’s more of a mischievous teen at times trapped in a senior body. I love it all. The more I get to know him, the more I see why my Mom chose him.
We played two games of pool today, played cards, and watched a movie – while my siblings were preparing all the birthday festivities. At the stroke of midnight, I realized the enormity of this milestone. June 29, 2017. Jack turned 90!
My Dad is very humble and proud. The last four months have taken so much from him, mostly some of the things he enjoyed doing independently. If I were honest, these last four months have also been one of our greatest blessings as we’ve witnessed his strength, determination and resolve, as well as my siblings’ love and commitment – all of us coming together like one seamless blanket – wrapped around him as he faced uncharted waters. Every step, I mean every step, God had figured out ahead of time. HE has provided so many blessings for my Dad and every day we see more and more of his provisions.
My whole life, my Dad always made me feel safe. He raised a brood of eight children. At the young age of 27, my Dad was diagnosed with M.S. I wasn’t even born yet! He lost his eyesight, but later regained it in one eye. My entire young life, I never knew it. It wasn’t spoken of. He was a man who had no time for pity, as he had a family to raise, and raise us he did. It wasn’t until I was married and out of the house that we even talked about it. I believe this strength and resolve in him is the reason he still walks today.
I remember my Dad coming home for lunch every single day. My Mom would cook for him, they’d play a game of cribbage or just talk, and I remember him kicking back in the chair for a quick 10-15 minute nap. I thought this was how all families lived – but they didn’t. How many men would rush home every single day to see their wife? And looking back, I recognize those naps were necessary for him to survive the workday. My dad is my hero.
My love for art was formed while sitting in the living room at the coffee table sketching, listening to my parents talk for hours. They were proud of my gift and I know that’s why my spirit is most at peace when I paint, as I remember that feeling. I loved listening to them talk – but looking back, I realize they never, ever had privacy. What’s weird is they never seemed to care. They loved being surrounded by a tribe.
My parents actually let me grow a corn stalk in the front planter of our home. A real corn stalk. Like a REAL corn stalk! Can you imagine what people thought when they drove by our home? My Mom had the most beautiful flower gardens – and there in the front planter was a flippin’ corn stalk – all because I wanted to see if it would grow. And it did.
Dad always piled us in the car for Spring Break. How they were able to do it, I have no idea. Colorado, Florida, South Carolina, Virginia, to name a few. In Sarasota, he let me keep a sea gull with a broken wing. We fed it shrimp until it healed – and off it flew. We would take turns laying in the back window of the car because there were so many of us….I remember listening to Sammy Davis, Jr. and knew all the words to Candy Man.
On cold, snowy days, he’d pick up my brother and I as we walked home for lunch. Every now and then we’d get in the car and he’d have a bag with a couple of hamburgers and fries from McDonald’s down near the heater staying warm for us. That was a big deal back in the day.
Too many days to count, he would stand at the stove, making hot cocoa (like a gallon at a time). He’d broil trays of toast in the oven, and it was devoured by all of us. He’d let me sit on the register vent in the bathroom every morning as he shaved. I’d sit over that vent, with my nightie over my legs, forming a tent, until my butt got too hot. He’d take his brush with shave cream and hit me on the nose with a dab. This is undoubtedly as another kid was coming in to pee, and another sister was putting on mascara behind the door. Poor Dad had to fight for a spot at the sink every morning. He never asked for much. LOL.
Our favorite thing to do was get up early on a weekend, clean the house spotless for my parents, cook breakfast, and slip them a note that read, “Can we PLEASE go to Cadillac”? Cadillac was where my parents were born and raised, and while we were begging (and thinking we were getting our way), I now realize that they treasured those trips as much – if not more – than us. They ended up with a clean house AND got to visit their loved ones. LOL
My Dad retired in 1983, at a younger age than most men did. He and my Mom hoped for five good years together as they traveled in their motorhome, finally settling in Arizona. God blessed them with 28 years of retirement together. They saw the majority of the U.S. and made lifelong friends…lots and lots of friends. While I missed them during those years, I respect the fact that my Dad ALWAYS put my Mom first. He put their marriage first. He was a man of honor and still is.
I have so many treasured memories of visiting them in Arizona and now have the privilege of living there full time – just a stones throw from where they built their memories. They always made sure everyone who visited went home tan, well-fed and full of laughs.
Were our lives always cookies and punch? Of course not. Every single one of us disappointed my Dad at one time or another, and I’m sure he disappointed us as well. But that is truly the most beautiful part – and what we learned from my parents. We are family. We’re not perfect – actually, far from it. But families love. Families hurt. They may break, but they get glued back together. They may grow up and scatter all across the country, and have so many offspring, it’s easy to lose count of all the countless kids. But in the end, God blessed my family with LOVE. Love heals. Love prevails. Love is forever. There is not one child or grandchild that has not been influenced in a positive way by by Dad. He’s a legacy and he doesn’t even know it.
Happy 90th to my Dad, Jack. Today, we celebrate YOU and all the ways our lives are richer because of you.
I love you forever.