Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Lonesome Shaka Zulu Dove?

This is a long overdue Father's Day post. I visited my family in South Carolina for Father's Day in June, and I've been thinking a lot about my dad ever since I got in my car to drive back to Durham. This post is longer than usual (if there even is a "usual" after such a long hiatus) but he's worth every word.

I could just subject you to my original stream of consciousness, but to spare the potential reader from total glassy-eyed exhaustion I've decided to break up what would have been an even more massive post into a miniseries. You can think of this as the Lonesome Dove or Shaka Zulu of amateur Internet blogosphere musings about Southern fathers.

Taken for Granted

There was a time in my life when I thought of my father a little bit like the living room couch. He wasn't flashy but he was solid and comfortable. He was just quietly there when I watched TV in the evening. It seemed like he went with the room. I took it for granted that he was there. Because he was always there.

I had the briefest inkling in high school that not all fathers were like this. Three other girls and I carpooled to school, taking turns driving and sharing one coveted parking space. One of the girls, a girl from my church, not really a close friend, more like a friendly acquaintance, had a different sort of dad. She was terrified to make even a small detour or stop on the way home because her dad checked the mileage on her odometer and would know if she varied her route at all. I could tell the repercussions were more than just a, "You're playing when you should be studying and you're wasting too much gas," sort of scolding. For awhile, she and her mom moved out and we picked her up at a rented place just a street or two over from their house. My parents knew the family and considered the father "odd." I knew something was different in that situation, but the life I saw on the surface was pretty much like mine and I didn't really pay much attention or wonder about sinister undercurrents.

And then I grew up and life happened and I realized that not all men are like my father. I realized that what I had taken for granted - a decent and honest man who worked hard, loved his family, stayed married and loved his wife deeply (even when he wasn't all mushy about it), came home every night, wanted the best for his kids, set a pretty good example, cherished the family name, had a wicked cool sense of humor and a sharp mind, loved animals and reading about history, wouldn't turn down a racy novel but didn't think the kids needed to be reading that trash - was a blessing that not everyone shared.

Daddy Don't You Walk So Fast

I think my father spent a lifetime mourning the loss of his own father, who died when Daddy was only six. I think he mourned him even when he didn't realize he was mourning. Daddy has always carried a sort of pensive sadness around with him. But in the midst of that sadness he has shown unwavering love.

My father generally has only one walking pace, an amble to go where he wants to go when he wants to go there. No one in my family has ever had much luck speeding him up or turning him in a different direction. I've only seen the man run twice in my life. The first time was when I was a little girl and swerved on my bike to miss the family dog, who, if I remember correctly, was trying to bite the front tire. It was just a tumble in the back yard, but Daddy saw it from the back porch and ran out to see if I was all right. He wouldn't even remember it today. I saw him run again 20 years later when my mother fell in the pasture and shattered her leg. He ran to her and sat in the grass with her waiting for the ambulance to arrive and telling her that he wished he had fallen instead of her. I'm sure he's run other times, but I'd wager that most (if not all) of those times he was running toward a member of his family.

Staying at my parents house 18 months or so ago, I had insomnia and opened a bedside table drawer in their guest bedroom. Inside, I found a love letter my father had written to my mother before they were married in 1954. She was in Arkansas at the time and he was in South Carolina. It was one of the most romantic and touching things I've ever read. (There was a humorous element, too. My father's family had just gotten their very first television and he kept cutting away from the romantic action in the letter to update on the programs he was watching... thus setting the family precedent for the next 60 years.) If my mother reads this post, she may be embarrassed that I read the letter. I consider it a gift that I got to read it and see that side of my father. I wish I'd copied it while I had the chance. I think Daddy said something about the sunset always making him just a little bit homesick or sad, and that after they were married he would probably always come running back into my mother's arms like a little boy as the sun set at the end of the day.

We found a photo in my grandmother's house after she died, an old black and white snapshot of my grandfather sitting solemnly with his legs spread a little bit (as men tend to do) and my daddy, just a little fella, standing nestled between his own father's knees. My grandfather has his hand on Daddy's shoulder, as if to hold him still. Mama and I joked that Daddy had probably been running around wildly and his father had to hold him still for the photo. I think it's the only photo of the two of them together. I wonder how Daddy's life... how his being... would have been different if his father had lived.


The few memories Daddy has of his own father are very much like my early childhood memories of Daddy. I'm pretty sure my father, at the tender age of 6, thought his father could do most anything. I am both heartbroken for Daddy that he never got the chance to know and appreciate his father in a different way as they both matured, and envious that his father will forever be in his mind as the strikingly handsome young man who could do anything.

Up Next....Part 2, It's a well known fact!


  1. Reading through tears. I love you.

  2. I can't wait till Part 2..... I loved part 1 - thanks for sharing,