Happy Father's Day to all you dads and those who will reach that wonderful status in the future. Here is my tribute to my dad which I penned on what would have been his 81st birthday. The final picture is the last one of my parents taken together. Dad died four months later and Mom fifteen months after this photo taken on Christmas Day, 2007, their 58th anniversary. I was blessed doubly.
Today was Dad's birthday. My father was born on Valentine's Day, got married to Mom on Christmas Day, and died on Tax Day, April 15th of 2008. You've heard of a Man For All Seasons? Dad was a Man For All Holidays. There was no one quite like him. He could make a party out of the smallest situation. He made his home open to strangers and he mourned with the grieving. Who knows how many marriages were saved by the counseling of Roger W. Hawley? He was a minister of the gospel who went back to college and earned his doctorate. He was a professor who made a profound impact on many who sat in his classrooms at three institutions of higher education. He could make twelve hour car trips with seven people, no air conditioner, and no radio an adventure. He made snow ice cream when it snowed and made us get up before school to shovel that same snow from the driveway and sidewalk. He loved his kids unconditionally and he loved Mom to his last breath. To say he gave his life for her doesn't do justice to his commitment. His greatest disappointment was leaving the woman he loved, in the vicious grip of Alzheimer's, in the care of others. But, he left a legacy of kindness and warmth and wisdom wherever his feet stepped.
When he died, I took the phone we had just bought him but I haven't emotionally been able to take Dad's message off the answering machine yet. Dave called me tonight and said it was ironic to hear Dad's voice on his birthday. It's funny what you want to take home with you after the death of your parents. The one thing I wanted of Mom's was a cedar chest crafted for her by my Uncle Bill. What became mine of Dad's is an odd assortment of his possessions. There's an old mantle clock that belonged to my grandparents and I keep Dad's office nameplate on my desk. I retrieved the blue ball he squeezed in therapy three days before he died. I have the last gift he ever bought Mom, a stuffed white Valentine's puppy holding a heart in his mouth, which he never was able to deliver. Dad would have given it to her two years ago today but he had to go back into the hospital a few days before: he never left St. Luke's.
There's one other keepsake in my apartment; a metal grave marker from the New Corinth Cemetery outside of Nashville, Arkansas. Provided by the Nashville Funeral Home, it's stamped with Dad's name and date of death and it served until the tombstone was in place. There's still some dirt on the stake. That same patch of dirt covers the coffins of both my parents and maternal grandparents as well as numerous aunts, uncles, and cousins. That patch of dirt also was the foundation of the tiny church building on that site where my folks married one long ago Christmas Day. That Arkansas hilltop is the closest thing to a sacred plot of ground for me. It's not really a religious place but then again, maybe it is. Dad never made much money, never became famous, and never had a monument built in his honor. But he taught his children the Word Of God so we, in effect, are his, and Mom's, monuments. It's a big responsibility being a monument...but it's the best birthday gift we could give him.
Applicable quote of the day:
"To a father, when a child dies, the future dies; to a child when a parent dies, the past dies."
Red Auerbach (Boston Celtics)
E-mail me at email@example.com