In Honor of My Dad, on His 70th Birthday
As a little girl, of all the things I remember about my dad, there was this one thing I loved to do with him.
He would make a muscle with his bicep and hold his arm out and I would grab on and he’d swing me back and forth.
Those of you who know my dad and know he’s smaller in stature (five feet or less for those of you wondering), might wonder how big that muscle really was.
But in my mind, it was pretty awesome. My dad was as strong as they came.
In wanting to honor my dad on a momentous occasion of turning 70, I went back and forth a bit. Do I share more about his life now? Or do I share more about the dad I remember growing up?
The one who worked hard and played hard and loved hard. The one who called me “gummer” and came to all my spelling bees and talent shows and band concerts and flute recitals and volleyball games. The one who sacrificed more than I can even know so that we were provided for. The one who was always so proud of me (and all of my siblings). The one who couldn’t go to sleep when I was a teenager until I knocked on the bedroom door, letting him know I was home.
The dad who loved to give us a big Christmas, even when we didn’t have much during the year. The dad who stayed up until the wee hours of the morning writing clues for us to find our Easter baskets. The dad who loved to take photos and videos, who still has a closet full of old pictures and VHS tapes that span several decades. The dad who always seemed to have time to play with us. He had a few card tricks that would blow our minds and once in a while would smoke a pipe at night. I still love the smell of a good pipe.
I remember “helping” him at work. We’d climb the spiral staircase at the radio station and he would have me organize his papers in alphabetical order. This was pre-computer days and I have no idea if it was to keep me busy or if it actually did something useful but I have memories of laying out papers all around the hallways by his office. I’m pretty sure if the scent of his workplace ever drifted near me today, whether it was the smell of office furniture or cleaning supplies or just the air of that place, I’d remember.
We never went out to eat when I was little unless it was my grandparents taking us out for our report cards. However, for whatever reason we ended up in Pizza Hut for dinner. My dad made this huge deal about the fact that we were getting one pitcher of soda and so our single cup he poured was all we would get. I ended up spilling my drink and getting yelled at and then several minutes later, my dad spilled his. We all still love to tell that story.
I used to love watching my dad play softball at work and church games. I don’t know if he was any good, but I remember thinking how fast he was when he ran around the bases or ran to catch the ball. He loved playing frisbee and throwing ball with my brother. He also loved playing ping-pong. I used to sit in the basement, eyes darting this way and that to keep up with the speed of the game he played with friends, trying to keep score while nibbling away at my nails from the tension.
It’s often hard to remember that I was once a little girl. My children are almost all past the age I would have been when swinging on his arm was my favorite thing to do. As I get older, it’s hard sometimes for me to even remember my dad at younger ages, as my childhood memories are replaced with the things I want to remember about my own children.
I can imagine as a parent how glorious it is to see those days come, when your children are independent and taking their place in the world, and yet how sad and hard it must be to suddenly have to navigate this new place of parenting.
Because my dad's role in my life now is different than when I was a little girl, simply because a father’s role changes as you grow up. I don't need to swing on his arm anymore.
But who he is to me hasn't changed, although I am sure that I have a better appreciation now for my dad than I ever did as a child.
He’s the one who made the long drive to college to meet Jason, my new boyfriend, who he must have sensed had swept me off my feet. I remember standing in the back of the little room of our church on my wedding day several years later, nervous as all get-out and jumping from foot to foot and pacing back and forth. He must have been almost as emotional as me, but he never showed it. I remember walking down the aisle and since I never fail to wear emotions on my sleeve, I was crying..and yet, he was so calm, talking to me the whole way down. He has always stood by us and loved on us and on our kids.
I remember one year when I was still teaching, my dad came to my school to take some pictures for a project I was working on. This was back in the day when MS was a somewhat early diagnosis and he could still walk with a cane, but it was harder for him to walk long distances. After he left, I was lamenting to a coaching friend how my kids wouldn’t know my dad like I did. They wouldn’t see him physically doing the things I remember. She smiled and shrugged. “But they’ll have other memories of him and maybe they’ll be more important anyway.”
A few years ago, we were watching an old video where my dad was up on the roof of his house. My dad is rarely in videos as he likes to capture everyone else. Micah later said to me, "Mom, Pappaw used to walk by himself?" It hadn't dawned on me that my kids hadn't ever seen that.
They might not get to swing on their grandpa’s arm like I did. And no, they never got to see him play ping-pong or run around or walk without support.
But they get to see him fight. They get to see what sheer determination and strong will looks like. They get to see what not-giving-up looks like. They get to see that life circumstances doesn't have to change Who you worship.
I think the strength it took to lift me as a young girl pales in comparison to the strength my dad exhibits as he fights a debilitating and heartless disease.
Some things about my dad will probably never change:
He still likes to make speeches around the dinner table when we’re all together.
He still loves to tell stories about his and our younger days, even if we’ve heard them a few times already.
He still loves riddles.
He still makes jokes, usually corny, at all random times of the day in random conversations.
He still drinks his coffee with half-and-half.
He still (probably) lays in bed at night, thinking of all the things that won’t help him get to sleep. (Me too, Dad)
He still will ask you all kinds of personal questions because he's a people person.
He still has a huge heart and gives generously.
He still loves to take photos and make videos.
My dad isn't perfect, none of us are. Of all the things I’ve forgotten that he said or did, the two things that I’ve never doubted or ever will, is that my dad loves me, and he’s proud of me. I don’t ever doubt it because he tells me in words and in actions.
And the best thing he’s ever done for me? The thing that matters more than any slew of memories kept or forgotten ever will? Is that his life lived pointed me to Jesus.
He loves my mom something fierce. The way he fathered me pointed to God’s provision, His discipline, and His unending love.
Is there a greater gift a father could give his children? I can't think of one. And I'm forever grateful to my dad for the gift of his life poured into mine.
My dad is 70 today. Only 70.
Only 70 because there's so much life left for him to live. So much more God has for him. So much more He will do through him.
Happiest birthday, Dad. I love you.