Webster’s dictionary defines “father” as “a man that has begotten a child.” I disagree.
A father is a man who has loved, raised and cared for a child. A man who has cared for and raised a child he has not “begotten” is even more to be cherished, and is even more of a father. That certainly describes my own father, my Daddy.
My Dad married my mom when I was only 2 ½ (almost three) years old. One of my earliest memories was before their marriage. Daddy and I were on our front porch when he presented me with a Jane West doll. She was green and plastic, and if I recall correctly, had painted yellow hair. Even though I hadn’t yet developed into the country girl I would eventually become, I loved the Jane West doll and had her for many, many years. That was the first of many early memories of my Dad during my childhood.
Dad was a big kid at heart. He loved to watch Saturday morning cartoons on TV with me. We would snack on crackers and Velveeta cheese together. Some of my happiest memories, however, were made the year our television set broke. Instead of having it repaired, we had family night every night, playing games like “Crazy 8s,” “Go Fish,” and Pokeno. I quickly learned that Dad could not be trusted alone with the deck of cards. I still laugh about the time we played Crazy 8s and he played five consecutive 8 cards, adding the fifth from a spare deck of cards nearby!
My Dad was known for his trucks. I remember waking up one morning to his brand new, green Ford pick-up. He drove it for many, many years. Of course, we’d listen to country music on the radio station – San Diego county’s KCBQ! My mother never enjoyed country music, and much to her chagrin both my sister and I became die hard country music fans, no doubt from my father’s influence.
The summer I turned 8 years old, my dad spent a lot of time working late at night. A carpenter, his labor was not easy. He had chronic back pain and probably paid the chiropractor’s rent! Despite this, he spent many late nights on the job that year. My mother later told me the reason – he wanted to surprise me with my first overnight hotel stay – at Disneyland no less! We had a magnificent weekend, my first trip ever to that magical world.
Quite the tom boy, when I was 11 years old Daddy bought me my Honda mini-bike. I would ride it for hours, lost in the hills. I remember once he rode it with me. I didn’t see the ditch in front of us in the river bed and we both tumbled over.
My Dad and Mom divorced in 1976, but the end of their marriage did not end my relationship with my Dad, who has remained an important part of my life.
When I was thirteen Dad took me to a livestock auction. There I saw the neatest goats. Intrigued by my mother’s childhood goat stories, I desperately wanted one of my own. Of course, Daddy made it happen and a Nubian goat named Porsche went home with us.
At fourteen, I was saving my money for my own 35mm camera. I remember spending several weeks in the hot summer sun (100F + temps) picking jojoba nuts to sell for cash. Daddy joined us, and added his own cash to mine, so I was able to get enough money for my camera that summer.
Of course, like most teenagers, I also developed many other interests. Daddy always indulged them – including archery and shooting black powder guns! I don’t have the bow and arrows any longer, but the guns are still carefully stowed away in my cedar chest, a memory of time spent with my father.
When I was 20 and got married, it was my Daddy who proudly walked me up the altar. Two years later I saw my Daddy cry for the first time – when Jeremy, our preterm baby was born – his first (and only) grandchild.
Daddy has always been there at every point in my life, always gentle, polite, and never wanting to intrude.
On August 18, 2006 my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She came to my house with hospice services, and my sister and I took care of her. Daddy came nearly every day with my grandfather. He sat quietly in the kitchen, checking to insure that my sister and I were okay. Mom died three short weeks after her diagnosis, and my Dad has come to visit me nearly every Sunday morning since then. We’d have a couple of cups of coffee together, sharing the previous week’s happenings with each other. Sometimes, just sitting quietly (my Dad was a man of very few words!), enjoying each other’s presence, words unnecessary.
My family has always been do-it-yourselfers. Really, that translates to let’s do this project and see if we can recruit our dads to assist. Actually, we never had to recruit my Dad for any project. Despite his arthritis, he was always asking when we would be working on X, Y or Z – obviously wanting the company and opportunity to just hang around and help. Daddy has helped us build sheds, patio covers, install windows, make agility equipment for my dogs.
My Dad died in the early hours this morning. I will forever remember the first thing he said to me when we got him home from the hospital exactly a week ago today. Dad was never one to complain, so it surprised me that he said his hospital bed was “pointed the wrong direction.” Why Daddy? “Well I can’t see you practice your dog agility,” he replied! Up to the very end my Dad has been quietly observing my every day life, taking in details, and taking pride in whatever activity I pursue.
Perhaps that wouldn’t seem too remarkable to most people. But my Dad is a pretty remarkable guy. At the tender age of 22 he married my mother, and accepted me immediately as his own. Six years later he and my mother had their own child together, but one would never have known that I wasn’t his biological daughter, not even after the marital ties were broken.
I marvel at the many years I’ve spent doing genealogical research on my family lines, carefully documenting relationships, dates and events of the ancestors whose genes I carry. However, one fact remains clear to me – family is not necessarily the people with whom you share blood. Family is those whom you love.