This year marks the seventh year that I have been without my dad. It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long, and yet, it seems an eternity. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about him, or miss him. I long to hear his voice, hear him call me and my kids by pet names like “tweetie” and “kiddo”. He truly left a void in our lives that will never be filled. My “dad” was actually my adoptive father. My mother and father had married young and separated when I was a newborn. My mother struggled with being such a young mother (having my oldest sister when she was only 17-years-old). There is a lot of chapters in my story, but this blog is dedicated to my dad. My adopted dad, who ultimately became known as “Papa”, became an integral part of my family when I was only a few months old. He and his wife, my adoptive mother, were good friends of my paternal grandparents. They soon became my Godparents and eventually my adoptive parents. I don’t like the term “adoptive father”, as the term itself suggests that he was not my real father, and let me assure you, he was a very real father to me. He truly loved me from the time he first held me. He was kind, loving, protective, and he was there for me and my kids from day one. He was a retired Marine that was so eager to serve his country, that he lied about his age, entering the service at age seventeen. This created a few problems later, when his actual birth certificate didn’t match what the Marine Corp had on file for him. After he passed away, I had several conversations about this story, as to clear-up the discrepancy (not an easy task when it comes to the federal government). I can remember him laughing about his rushing into the Corp. He was born and raised in Texas. He was a Marine through and through. Even after he retired, he continued the habits that had been formed through his training in the military. I can remember him putting his work boots on each morning. He would always start with the left foot, proceeding to roll up his pants first, then put on his white calf-high socks, (not much lighter than his pale, white legs) followed by his boots. He would lace them up, twisting around the metal clasps and then wrapping around the boots once or twice, since the laces were always way too long. I once asked him why he didn’t get shorter laces so he didn’t have to wrap them around his boots, and he replied, “That’s how I learned how to do it, and that’s how I’ve always done it”. He was a man of structure and consistency. He was predictable. He was the constant in my life.
There are a lot of “Papa-isms” that my kids and I enjoy remembering about him. His name was Arthur Paul (much like southerners might name a child “Billy Bob”), but you NEVER called him “Arthur” (bless the poor souls that made that mistake). He liked to fix things. Technically, he seemed to break things, or make things “more broken” in his efforts to fix them. God bless him, he would do anything for anyone, and would make an attempt to be “Mr. Fixit” for just about anything. If he was in the process of fixing something, and someone (referring to his methodology) told him “That won’t work”, he would reply, “I’ll make it work”. That was usually a statement made just prior to him making things worse. He was working on my washing machine one time and had parts (big and small) scattered all over the floor. He was cursing and grunting while trying to get a part to fit somewhere. It wasn’t fitting, and he began to “make it fit”. It wasn’t long before more parts went flying and we ended up having to call a specialized washing machine repairman. It was something always done as a last-ditch effort to fix something after he had spent countless hours working on whatever it was that needed fixing. I came home one day, for lunch with a friend of mine, only to find his truck parked at my house. Knowing we had a leaky toilet, I shared with my friend that he must be there trying to fix it…I then proceeded to confide that he was known as much for breaking, as he was for fixing. As expected, he was wrangling with the stubborn toilet. I introduced him to my friend while he was leaned over with a wrench, and about that time, he busted a pipe, creating a fountain of water all over the three of us. He cursed and continued wrestling with the commode, while us girls giggled at the confirmation of his legendary “fixit” skills .
Papa used to be extremely hard-of-hearing. He was ultimately my babysitter for years, and I used to wonder why my sweet, little, angelic, cherubic children were so loud all of the time. I was always having to remind them that we were indoors and needed to use our inside voice (to no avail). One day, I realized, as one of them was having a conversation with Papa that their high volume was to ensure that he could hear. They had become conditioned to it, and it became habit. It became endearing because we knew it was because they spent so much time with him, as he was helping us out (free of charge, I might add). Because he was hard of hearing, I believe he often would nod and agree to something, even though he really hadn’t heard a word that was said. Or, he would commonly say “do what?” as an automatic response to something someone said, only to process and respond while someone was repeating what was said. Because of this, we had a papa-pause. We often paused after he said “do what?”, allowing him adequate time to process what was just said and then respond. He always cupped his ear when saying this, as it helped him hear what was being said. This used to crack me up, although it’s becoming less funny as I find myself sometimes doing the same thing these days. He would have found this funny, and I’m sure he smiles from above when he sees me following in his footsteps
There are the special phrases Papa used to say, such as “I’m gonna make me a sammitch”, in reference to his bologne or ham sandwich (often layered with pungent onions) To this day, my kids and I will often use the same phrases in loving reference to him. We laugh about the many silly phrases and words he used.
He even had a certain way of doing things that would make us laugh. When joining in listening to music with one of us, he would start snapping his fingers (in efforts to be cool, of course)….they didn’t really “snap”, they would make more of a dry thud sound, all while having the biggest grin on his face. I can still see that grin, it literally went from ear-to-ear. We would be cracking up because there was literally no noise with his snaps. He knew I hate onions, and yet, he would eat an onion “sammitch” and then get real close and say “Hhhhhhhhiiiiiiiii”….to ensure his malodorous breath reached across the room, causing us to scold him while we giggled and yelled “Ewwwwwwwww!!!!!” He loved to see us smile and laugh and he would do just about anything to make that happen.
I don’t want to take anything away from my biological father, who is alive and well. I was blessed to have two dads in my life. I had them both walk me down the aisle when I was first married. I have always known my father, and have a close relationship with him. As a child, I had a difficult time understanding why I didn’t live with my mom and/or dad, but over the years, I came to understand how fortunate I was to have not one, but two dads. One father was the “see-once-a-year” fun dad that would take me to cool places like the beach, and art galleries. Having lived in Southern California, he introduced me to fine dining and upscale living. I loved spending time in the summer with my dad; however Papa was my stability; my rock. We lived simply. We always had a nice home; not a mansion, but certainly comfortable. He always made sure I had what I needed. I didn’t want for anything. He was there for me through every important event in my life. He was at every band concert, every dance recital, and every award ceremony or other school activity. He was at every one of my kids’ ball games and track events. He was the first to offer to help watch the kids, even when they were sick. He was there during the good times, and during the not-so-good times. He was there for me when I was on, what seemed like, perpetual bed-rest during my three pregnancies, and when I lost my newborn child. He was there for me when my mom died of cancer (at age 44) and when my Godmother passed away suddenly from a stroke. He was truly there during the darkest of times. He was there.
He was very firm in his beliefs and we didn’t always agree. I am chuckling as I write this, as we even had several heated discussions over the years about politics and beliefs. He came from a different era and much of what he believed was a result of how, and when he was raised. We had to occasionally agree to walk away from a discussion, although he really enjoyed “getting my goat”, so to speak. I just typically tried to steer clear of discussions on which topics we had strong (and clashing) views. It really was rare to have an argument with him. He was just so kind, loving, generous and supportive. He was truly a character, in the best sense of the word. Just writing about him makes me pause and reflect on how lucky my kids and I were to have him in our life, and what a devastating void his passing has left.
The picture at the top of this blog post above is a commissioned painting I did of a father and daughter. I love this painting and what it clearly represents; unconditional love. There is a beautiful story behind this picture, but it is not my story to tell, so I will just share my own. I miss my dad every single day. My children miss their Papa. We are appreciative of the many beautiful memories that we were blessed to have with this very special man. We cherish every moment spent with him.
A Buddist quote states, “The trouble is, you think you have time”. There is such truth in this statement. What I wouldn’t give to spend another moment with him, letting him know how much he is loved and appreciated. I only wish we had more time.