Friday, December 10, 2010

Remembering my father on his birthday

Today is my father's birthday.  He died in 1985 but every year I think about him on his special day.  In fact, I think of him often.  There are times when it's hard for me to reconcile that my father was ever a child, a new born.  He was always so adult to me.

Yet, I know that he was born on a snowy morning in Virginia.  He was the youngest child and had three sisters. One of the sisters ran across the farm field to tell a neighbor that she had a baby brother born that morning.  I try to imagine what it must have been like to be in that big old house.  I would have liked to know my father as a young man.  I wish many times that I had asked his sisters what he was like and what he liked to do. 

I really only know about him as a young man from my mother. My mother told me a story about how they first met.  My dad sent a friend of his to ask my mother if she would go out with him.  My mother retorted, "Tell him to ask me himself".  Good answer, I thought.  So they went on that date to a floating theater.  My father was so nervous that he dropped his wallet.  I suppose that he was already smitten by my mother even before that first date.

I have looked at pictures from that time of him and see a handsome man who towers above my petite mother.  I have my mother's diary and have read about the parties they would have before I was born.  There would be oyster roasts and card games.  I have nothing that was written by my father, other than a few signatures that I cherish and a letter that he wrote to my mother that professed great love for her.  I never received a letter from him.  My father was a man of few words and didn't talk about feelings to me. We didn't have those fatherly chats that I've read about.  I wish that we had.  

But he left me a lot of other things that I am grateful for.  

He taught me how to care for a large vegetable garden growing in the backyard. He loved to grow vegetables. He would till up the soil, plant tomatoes, beans, corn, and strawberries. I would help him put the seeds in the ground. It was my job thereafter to weed and water the plants. From doing this I learned responsibility.

My father taught me how to fish and feel at home on the water. He was quite a fisherman. He always had a boat, and we would get up early to be able to hit the water on the last of ebb tide. He showed me how to bait my hook, wait for the fish to bite and then set the hook. My father taught me how to run the boat and to read the water.  From watching and waiting for fish and tide I learned patience.

My father taught me about monetary values. I was given a weekly allowance but was not allowed to spend it freely. I was told to put some of it aside so that it would accumulate into a larger sum. I was taught to think about what I spent money on and to not buy things that wouldn't last. My father would not loan money to others, but he would loan tools and give away fish and vegetables to neighbors and friends. From this, I learned appreciation of what I had, and about charity.

My father taught me to tell the truth. He had a suspicion that I was taking his cigarettes and smoking them with my cousin when I was around 7 years old. He asked me if I had stolen them and was smoking. I told him that I had. He lectured me but told me that I did right by telling the truth because my punishment would have been worse had I not. He told me that he couldn't stand a liar. From him, I learned about honesty.

My father taught me that actions speak louder than words. He wasn't a "windbag" or "blowhard".  He would listen to what others had to say and then make his own decisions. He said that there were a lot of people who could talk their way out of anything but it was their deeds that were important. I learned the importance of doing from him.

My father taught me to care for animals and to love them. The few times I saw him cry were when an animal died or was hurt. He once took my cat to the medical doctor to get a fish hook out of her mouth. There was no vet in town at the time. "Mama cat" became a star and was written up in the local paper. From him, I learned about empathy.

My father taught me to stand up for myself. He never let people walk all over him. And he wasn't afraid to speak his mind if provoked. He didn't like injustice to people or animals. He didn't look down on people but treated everyone he met fairly, unless they proved to be unfair. From him, I learned about fairness.

And I know that there were many other life lessons that I learned from my father. All of these things he taught me have shaped me.  And somewhere along the line he also learned those things as he was growing up.  Perhaps his father taught them to him.  Like each of us, he had his own demons, and often I would wish that he were different.  Yet, as an adult, I realize that he did a good job in teaching me to think and do for myself. 

Although I won't get to ask him all the things that I wish I had asked him when he was alive, I realize that by understanding myself better, perhaps I have also reached an understanding of who he was. 


  1. Some people can look in the mirror and see their heritage, you are one of them Syd. I am not. Thank God.

  2. This is a great reflection in love today! Thanks for sharing your father Syd

  3. smiles. some nice memories to keep you warm for today syd....and glad that he left you lots of good ones...

  4. This brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for sharing your father, he was obviously a great man. It makes me wistful, because my father is dying. He too, was a man of few words. I don't have anything written by him either.

    I am keeping a journal that I draw pictures in. I often draw pictures of my dreams and my prayers. I guess I'm doing it for my son. I don't know, maybe not everyone appreciates these things. Thanks for saying that you still have your mother's diary. That's very touching.

  5. What a beautiful tribute. Today is the birthday of a very good friend of mine and he, too, is all of the things you said about your father. And he has taught his son those virtues.
    Oh Syd. You are such a thought-provoking man. You carry your father's DNA and that is how you know him best. You know that and honor it.

  6. What a wonderful post about your father. He taught you so many valuable things that so many people lack or are not taught.

    Your words about your father brought tears to my eyes. My father has taught me many of the same things. I've been fortunate too.

    Thanks for sharing this.

  7. What lovely remembrances, Syd. You express exactly why I started and am continuing my blog ... to let my three children know who I was as a youngser and what formed me as a person. I never knew that with my folks (as you mentioned) and I think it is important.
    Your dad raised an amazing son and I'll be he knew that.

  8. This is a beautiful tribute, Syd, and the last paragraph is VERY wise.

    Anybody who likes animals is okay by me. Your father sounded like a good man. God bless him.



  9. Beautiful tribute! Much of what you wrote also describes my father. Fantastic memories you have helped me recall.

    Anonymous #1

  10. what a beautiful tribute to your father Syd... just beautiful!

  11. It was hard to read all the things your father taught you, Syd, as Jacksons father has not taught him much.

    I am so glad for you that you do have those memories and that you hold him so close to your heart. Your tender love for him is are you.

  12. What a beautiful post, Syd. It spoke to me, and where I am right now. I missed the chance to get ahold of my dad at Thanksgiving, because of a rift that has grown almost unbreachable because my father also allows my mom to be the keeper of communications at their home. I just want to say that I too have yearnings to know my father's story. I think I need to Let Go and Let God take care of that. Your post reminds me that if (or when) father and I get closer, it will be in God's hands, not mine.

  13. i`m sorry man,
    it is very nice to think obout him

  14. This was a beautiful and loving blog. I am so glad you wrote this. I am so glad you are here to share with us, your father.

    It takes courage and love to be a parent of anyone, but it takes joy and forgiveness to remember those who go before with such an open loving heart.
    Thank you

  15. Wow... to have only one thing written by one's father. Thank God you have that one thing...

    Thanks for writing about this.

    Parenting. My son paused a DVD we were watching the other day and looked me straight in the eye and said, "You're my mama." Yeah, I said. "You're the one shaping me into a person," he said. There is Daddy, too, I said, but I gave his hand a squeeze. I hope he gets all the good stuff and none of the bad. --G

  16. I'm glad you have such strong memories of your father...they are priceless.

    My dad is still alive, and I have learned very many practical things from him, but sometimes I wish I knew him better. He just has that father exterior that is so hard to get past.

  17. This was so very touching to me. Your heart really spoke today. I often think of my sons and how much they were able to learn from their dad before he passed. To know that they might write a letter like this one day gives me such peace. Thank you.


  18. Such a sensitive tribute to your father.

  19. This is one of the best tributes I've ever read. Thanks.


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