If he hadn't died when I was in my mid-20's, today would have been my father's 78th birthday. It is a strange thought this idea of him being almost 80. Then again there are times when I can't get over the fact that the next few days will see me entering my late 30's. How did THAT happen? I am now almost the age he was when I was born.
My dad and I had an at times emotionally tumultuous relationship. When I was a girl, he seemed gruff and impatient to me. He was a tough guy with antiquated ideas about what it meant to be manly. He was also creative, sensitive, and trained to stifle those things by an abusive, cold, bigoted bitch of a mother (oh, grandmama) who once broke a flashlight over his head and a distant father, whose interests lied more heavily with the ladies than they did with parenting. When my grandfather did dispense fatherly advice, it was such gems as "Boy, don't come home crying because someone is picking on you. You either stay and fight him like a man or you can come home and fight me. Either way, you're going to get your ass kicked."
As is to be expected, this philosophy of child rearing contributed to producing a flawed human being - a beautiful one, who could be very noble and sweet, but flawed nonetheless. While my father was hard working, honest, and funny (when he wasn't stressed), his temper was not among his finer characteristics. As a kid, I was shy and always a little afraid of him. I don't think he knew quite what do to with a little girl, especially the kind of super sensitive girly girl I was. I think he might have connected better with a boy during those early years, but I have no doubt that he loved me and that he did his best.
Our birthdays a little over a week apart, I was his belated blue-eyed birthday present. Everyone said that I looked just like him. He said that I look like my mother. I am told that on the day I was born, he scrawled "Yabba dabba doo" on the calendar in big, red letters. No, there's no doubt that he loved me.
Our relationship improved a lot as I got older. We seemed to do better once I was old enough to really talk to him. One of my favorite memories of him was the night before I left home to move to California. I was excited, scared, worried, and unable to sleep. So, we spent the evening sitting quietly on the front porch, talking until late into the night about all the places he'd lived and drinking bourbon under the stars.
The other one that stands out in my mind was one spring when I was about seven, and he decided to remodel my bedroom for my birthday. Great mystery surrounded this early "roomening". For what seemed like forever, but was in reality probably only a couple days, I was relocated to the guest room with the excuse that he was doing some sort of vague repairs that necessitated my staying out of my room, so I wouldn't get hurt. Being a really obedient (and lily livered) kid, I never questioned it.
Then, on the day of the big unveiling, my mom took me out for the afternoon. When we got home, he was in the kitchen frying hamburger for tacos. He'd cut himself and was wearing a bandaid on his finger. I remember asking him about it and him teasing me about it being nothing, but that if I happened to find the rest of his finger to be sure to return it. Then, he asked me to go into my room to retrieve something or other that he'd accidentally left there.
When I opened the door, I found it carpeted in my favorite color (blue) and filled with a Holly Hobbie bedecked canopy bed and cream colored bedroom set with gold trim. Looking back as an adult, I think he was as excited about the surprise as I was. He put so much care and attention into creating a space a little girl would love.
On these anniversaries that is how I like to think of him. Even after all these years, it's difficult to think about him after he got sick. He became so weak and frail after his stroke. Being helpless left not only his body, but also his pride and ultimately his spirit wounded. His illness brought us closer, but I prefer to think of him as the guy with sparkling blue eyes who remodeled my bedroom, taught me to drink Southern Comfort, and took me fishing, swearing me to secrecy when we stopped at Troy's fish market on the way home to make up for having only caught a boot and a rock. I think that's probably how he'd want to be remembered - with love.