It’s the anniversary of my dad’s birthday.
By a certain age he started to say he was just celebrating the so-and-so anniversary of his 29th birthday.
Once I gave him a magnet that said Even if you grow old, you can stay immature indefinitely. He asked me what the hell that was supposed to mean. I never did figure out if he was offended or just being dry.
My dad passed away in 2005.
He had his demons, to be sure, yet now that he’s watching over me from the hereafter, I don’t think those demons matter so much anymore. Except that I can tell he’s trying his damnedest to keep me from being haunted by the same ones.
He visits me now and again. I think we’re still trying to work some things out, and, like I said, I also think he’s looking after me. I had some car trouble not too long ago, and when I was re-telling the story of how this nice older man at a little country store helped me out, and how I was wishing my dad had been there to help me, it dawned on me that that was my dad helping me out.
It’s interesting what you memorialize after someone is gone.
Let me describe my dad to you.
He was good-looking, charming, and brilliant. He was hot-headed and impetuous.
His Southern accent, expressions, and way of speaking were pure art.
He had a cat named Bocephus and a dog named Bocephus. At different times.
He had a dog named Doobie.
Sometimes his bear hugs squeezed the breath out of me but I just waited them out till I could breathe again.
He was an amazingly talented artist, woodworker, metalsmith, and mechanic.
He was a procrastinator.
He left when I was seven and we didn’t see him again for years. My sister and I would imagine him seeking adventure and fortune and wave at planes overhead, certain that he was inside one of them.
Once he got on a health kick and took all his canned goods back to the grocery store and exchanged them for vegetables.
I laughed when he told me, a decade ahead of anyone having heard of such a thing, that he’d figured out what was wrong with him: He said he had Adult ADD.
He said smoking pot helped clear his head.
He called beer “liquid bread,” and I don’t know how many he ever finished because they usually got misplaced while he was working.
He could tell a great joke.
He thought he had a spiritual nemesis. He really did.
He was a patriot and carried a copy of the Constitution in his glove box, and gave me one to carry, too.
He was a Republican before the GOP lost its mind to the religious right. Then he became a Libertarian.
He championed the second amendment and was a longtime member of the NRA but canceled his membership over the NRA’s eventual promotion of military-style weapons and high-capacity ammunition that he said had nothing to do with sporting and everything to do with killing.
Once when we lived in the country and he hunted for some of our food, he brought home a turtle, of all things, to which our mother responded, “What the hell am I supposed to do with that?” To which he replied, “I don’t know, Dorothy Ann—look it up in the damned Joy of Cooking.”
It was a crazy life with someone like my dad, but it was richer than a conventional life.
And some of the best advice I ever received was my dad telling me, “Make your words soft and mushy, Daughter—you never know when you’re gonna have to eat them.” This has served me incredibly well.
He loved to sail and built a sailboat he named after my sister and me. At one time he lived aboard the Mary Lynn.
He also lived in a very converted VW Bug at one point (more room in there than you can imagine!) and a converted school bus later on.
It was like a yacht in that bus with all the Honduras mahogany woodwork and brass detailing. He did all the work on both of these conversions, of course.
He played a twelve-string guitar he called Ginger.
My sister and I thought he looked like the Marlboro Man when he wore his cowboy hat.
He was an eleventh-generation Virginian.
He was intent on being justice-minded and un-prejudiced. This is the one legacy I most value and try to emulate.
He was bipolar. It often made him difficult to be around. Very difficult.
And it made for a difficult life.
Late in life he saw a doctor at last (didn’t trust doctors) who prescribed Prozac. It made a big difference and is probably what made our relationship okay by the end of his life.
He had a deep voice and I loved when he sang.
He had beautiful handwriting.
I have his hands.
Happy Birthday, Daddy.
And thank you.
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