The World’s Greatest Dad

8 Aug

Moms are really great. I have known this all of my life and I have an awesome mom. She has always been there for me. But growing up in America, we always hear about the wonder of moms. We teach kids no one loves them quite as much as a mom. Mother’s Day became a national holiday a good deal before Father’s Day for this very reason. Growing up hearing all of this always bothered me, because my dad was the most amazing man I have ever met and I doubt that will ever change. Today is his seventh birthday since he passed away. Looking back, I realize just how lucky I was to know him.

My dad was far from perfect. Much of my early life, he was an alcoholic and drug addict. It wasn’t uncommon for him to come home much later than he was supposed to and it wasn’t unusual for him and mom to split up, sometimes for a day or two and sometimes for a week or two. This all ended by the time I became a teen, but my formative years taught me a lot because of this.

In spite of his shortcomings, he always taught me to treat anyone of respect, regardless of race, gender, etc as long as they acted worthy of respect. My dad also taught me to give everyone the benefit of a doubt. I learned that if it was within my power, I should always offer help to those who needed it. If we passed someone broken down on the side of the road, in the pouring rain, I saw a father who would hop out and fix the problems. If he couldn’t fix the problem, I sat on someone’s lap, so we could give the person or persons a ride to the nearest gas station, phone, or their house. It could be Christmas morning, and often was, and we would get a phone call that someone’s power was out for some reason and we would pack up and he would solve the problem. It was just a part of life, being related to Joe. It was what he did. And it didn’t matter who called. It could be somebody he hadn’t seen in ten years or it could be an ex-brother-in-law. Life revolved around helping others.

Another major part of being my dad’s son was being treated like an adult in conversations, even if I was seven or eight. I have always been inquisitive and while stuck on these crazy jobs, lasting all hours of the day or night, I would want to talk. And he talked. I learned about history, religion, politics, and life right away. No subject was too “adult” for me to learn about. I was probably the only six year old who could tell you all of the conspiracy theories behind JFK’s assassination or the causes and consequences of Vietnam. If that wasn’t enough, he made sure I heard about the major beliefs of every major denomination of church in America, even though we didn’t darken the doors of a church frequently until I was eight or nine, and he didn’t join us until I was almost a teen.

In fact, although he was certain that God had little use for him because of his many failures, he taught me the Bible backwards and forwards before I was ten. He made sure I knew the life story of Jesus and all of the disciples and what they taught. I also knew how the prophets taught the Jewish people and what they condemned and condoned. Most of what I know about the Bible today, I learned before I started school, much less church. To go a step further, I learned how to teach from him. You have not heard a story told right, unless you heard a Bible story from my dad. He was quick, meanwhile, to explain that he knew he wasn’t in the right and one day would have to straighten up or God would straighten him up.

I am glad to say, one day, God did straighten him up. My dad, who gave his life to Jesus as a small child, but who wondered away after experiencing a lot of life like many of us, returned to God with a passion in his fifties. Smoking and drinking gave way to singing in church, with more than a hint of Elvis as his inspiration. Although he continued to pepper his language with “Joe-isms” and let slip more than a few words while teaching Sunday School, he served God more faithfully in the last ten years of his life than many people do in their entire lives. When he passed, the church house was full. I will never forget going into my family doctor a few months afterwards, and having the receptionist at the desk tell me how much she appreciated him.

I don’t listen to a lot of country music and probably never will. But two country songs remind me of him a great deal. Because of his age, I grew up listening to a good deal of Conway Twitty. The song “That’s My Job” always reminds me of him. As a little boy, I frequently woke up with nightmares, and would claim into bed with him and mom. And although I always kicked him while I slept, he never fussed. He did tease me frequently about it though, and occasionally had difficulty explaining a black eye or two at work. The other song serves as a reminder of my goal in life. It’s about a boy whose mom married and his stepdad changed his life. When he finally had a child of his own, he realized if he could be half the dad he didn’t deserve but had gotten, his children would be blessed. I have always felt that way and hope I can measure up.

In closing my rambling thoughts to honor dad, I thought I would share one of the last things he got me and I am sure there was a lesson in there somewhere. For Christmas a year before he died, while I was struggling through college for my degree to teach, he bought me an old woman puppet to be my dream girl. The man had a wicked sense of humor but boy I miss it. And if your dad is still around, and half as good as mine, I completely recommend you send him some thanks for everything.

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