An Homage to my dad

I write a lot about my mom. She occupies a big space in my life now. It’s as if we have returned to childhood, the time when your parents are the biggest people in your life, but this time with a twist. She needs me now as I needed her as a child. But today I remember my dad.

My dad died 20 years ago today at 11:08 am. It’s funny how I can remember the exact time of that event but can’t remember if I did something five minutes ago. It is 10:00 am as I write this blog, and I can immediately transport myself back to the last hour of his life. I am once again standing by his hospice bed, in his house in the country, trying to talk him into letting go of the life that he fought so hard to stay in.

He was a fighter. Every moment he lived, at least in the 35 years that I knew him, he fought through. He fought whether he needed to or not. That was the tragedy of it all. Somewhere back in the time before I existed, he took on the way of looking at life as a battle. I’m not sure if he ever thought he could win the battle but, to use one of his sayings, he damn well tried.

He had his demons. He was an alcoholic and a workaholic. He was controlling and judgmental. In his world, there was only one way to do things. His way. He was short tempered and he took his role as disciplinarian seriously. He trusted no one but himself. And the older I have gotten, the more I realize, he struggled to trust himself which probably was the root cause of all of his demons.

He grew up hard, as the only boy of four siblings and was born the year that the depression began. He learned to bring in wood for the morning fire as a four year old. He was on the back of a mule as a six year old with a gun trying to shoot squirrels to bring home for dinner. He told the story of getting a bike as a child, but it had no chain so he had to run, jump on and ride it down the only hill near his house. He started smoking at six, when he and his friends would collect the tobacco from cigarette butts and roll it into a cigarette to share. He continued that habit for the next 65 years. Although he was brilliant, he hated school and struggled to learn in a classroom. That early struggle, defined him in a way and he felt inadequate the rest of his life because of it. He quit school after the 9th grade and ran away to join the army at 16. He was soon found out and at 17, his parents signed away parental rights and let him join. He served a few years and did a stint in the Coast Guard before sailing the next 20 years with Merchant Marines.

He married my mother, twelve years his junior and settled down in Savannah to take over the dry-cleaning business from my grandfather. My parents struggled with life together and even more with life together as parents. I remember lying in my bed at night as a child wishing for this magical thing called a divorce. Not the best of things to hope for as a child. He wasn’t an easy man to be around. He was an even harder man to have as a father. He loved us fiercely but that love came with a price.

My dad believed in hard work. He worked 12-14 hours a day, 6 days a week and fixed machinery on Sunday. He believed we should work hard as well, and put my brother and I to work at the cleaners when we were about five or six. My first job was learning to sew on buttons and dump the trash. We worked every Saturday from open to close (7-7) and every summer. My dad believed childhood was not a time to be carefree but a time for preparing you to be an adult.

My dad was a strong man. Standing only 5’8″ with shoulders that seemed almost that wide, he could lift and move machinery someone twice his size could not. He was brilliant, resourceful and creative. He could fix anything and build anything. He was a generous man. He had a soft heart. He supported so many people that were down and out and tried to give them a second and third chance in life. He loved to laugh and his laugh could light up the whole room. He loved to eat and he loved to cook and feed as many people at a time as he could. He came from a big family, his father was one of 21 children, and one of my dad’s favorite things was to get together with his family, or “visit” as they called it, and tell stories. He loved to fish and he loved the land he grew up on. The best part of his life, he spent in his older years living back in the country on his farm with his cattle, his goats and his ponds.

I’ve learned so much throughout my life from my dad, both good and bad. I’m still learning his lessons. Although he grew up in a time when women were not respected like men, he taught me that I was just as good as any man and I needed to act like it. I learned to work hard from him and to fight for what I wanted. Two qualities that have both a good and a bad side to them. He gave me my love of strong coffee, one of his addictions and now one of mine. He taught me to string a cane pole, bait my hook and skin a catfish.

He also gave me my stubborness and hardheadedness and taught me to argue. He taught me not to trust, something I still battle with to this day. He struggled with being able to relax and I hear his voice in my mind always telling me to be busy not lazy. I laugh like him, throwing my head back and laughing the loudest in the room. I have a soft heart like him, always trying to rescue the things that are lost causes. He gave me my love of stories, both hearing them and telling them.

And he gave me my love of the land. He taught me the feeling of peace that can only come from being surrounded by the natural world. A love that I now translate into art. A story that I try to tell through painting. He died years before I started painting, but I think he would be proud and I think he would understand completely my need to capture the love of place and light and wonder.

My dad taught me that people that we love aren’t perfect. That sometimes they can be hard to love and even harder to understand. But you love them anyway. I miss his voice, deep and gravelly. I miss his laugh, loud and contagious. I miss his fried fish, boiled peanuts and shrimp salad. I miss his stories and his arm heavy and comforting on my shoulders. I miss hearing his advice, wanted or unwanted.

He was larger than life and he still is.

Twenty years ago at this moment, 11:08 he let go of this life. But his spirit is still here. He finally won the battle.

I love you dad.

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I am a landscape painter living and painting on the Georgia coast. Painting and writing is a way to reach out and share my observations, my experiences and my inspirations with you. It is how I tell my story and the story of the wild, beautiful landscape where I live.

10 thoughts on “An Homage to my dad

  1. You are indeed, one heck of a storyteller/writer –another talent in addition to your artwork!!!! The two together make you unstoppable… quite envious I am!!!! Loved reading about your Dad….just lost mine….what a tribute, Dottie!!!
    I know we will miss them until we meet again, but we’re left with the comfort of their memories and all we learned and inherited from them…..thoughts and prayers today…..

    Liked by 1 person

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