Category: Father’s Day


This past Friday night I had the privilege to enjoy one of life’s rare, almost perfect, dare I say glorious evenings with my family. Not only with my husband and our two children who are still at home, but my parents, my brother, and my oldest son who lives now in Texas. It’s a rarity for all of us to be in the same place at the same time: my brother is in town between chef jobs at an exclusive hunting lodge in the Midwest and Alex is home for a week – the first time since Christmas.

I love to cook, and I try to be creative, but I am absolutely no match for my brother. He is a self-taught chef and in a word, amazing. “Chef Bo” has an instinctive sixth sense about technique, taste, texture, and presentation. Meats, fish, seafood, veggies, potatoes, sauces, fruits, desserts, you name it – he has a recipe somewhere in his head. I don’t even understand about half of what he does or how. But one thing is certain: it is always delicious. I don’t just mean “wow, that’s really good.” I mean, “How did you do that? That’s ridiculous good! Yes, more. Right there on my plate. Yep, keep it coming.”

So last Friday we decided on a menu, took our field trip for food shopping, and met at my house to begin preparing for the gorging that lay ahead. My mom was leaving town the next day for a choir trip so we were celebrating an early Father’s Day. And it was all hands on deck: I was working on the meat, Chef Bo was directing the appetizers and preparing side dishes, kids were chopping fruit and cutting blocks of cheese, Richard was cooking bacon. Everyone right there in the kitchen, together, doing something.

Knives flying, oven heating, refrigerator and pantry opened and closed, it all started coming together. Add a little move-your-feet music to the mix (U-verse, my family thanks you) and we had Paula Deen meets MasterChef.  We were laughing, talking, feeding ourselves a bite over here and playfully stealing a bite from someone else over there. By the time my parents arrived, the house smelled delicious. And we had artfully arranged the appetizers on a new (smaller) dish to disguise how much had already been consumed.

My responsibility for this particular feast was the meat: BBQ boneless ribs. Mmmm, my mouth waters just thinking about them. I’ve baked them many times before but I don’t remember ever cooking them when my brother was going to be eating them (did I mentioned he’s a chef?). Talk about pressure. The main attraction, the one thing everything else on the table centered on – even the appetizers – was my responsibility! Aye-yi-yi! I have to admit, I was tempted to change things up a bit, try something new, do them just a little different, but I stayed true to my personal recipe and slid the baking dishes into the oven.

Chef Bo, with a raised eyebrow asked, “Are you sure about those ribs? You know we’re eating in 2 ½ hours right?” I acknowledged the clock and his question with a simple, “uh-huh” and a smile.

Fast forward to 7pm. Appetizers consumed. Table set. Side dishes working on the stove and in the oven. Clock ticking. Laughter. Conversation. Billiards tournament underway in the basement.  And then it was time: time to pour the drinks, summon everyone to the table, and let the feasting begin. Everyone who knows me knows I love having my family around the table together (Norman Rockwell, my grandmothers and my mother, I thank you). So on any other day, just the fact that we were all together would have been enough. Not this evening. Not this meal. The ribs had to be perfect: tender and juicy but not watery, with sauce that wasn’t too thick or pasty. We all sat down and held hands to bless the food and our time together. Dishes began to move around the table in every direction, forks and spoons clinking, passing this, sharing that. And then the moment of truth: Chef Bo took a bite of those cooked-to-perfection ribs. I placed my napkin in my lap and sat back in my chair waiting, watching.

A big, surprised expression in those cat-like green eyes of his followed by a huge smile answered my unspoken question. “Wow! Those are amazing! How did you do that?”

Ah, yes, the sweetness of a food triumph.

What followed was in a word, carnage. We ate ribs until we couldn’t lift our forks. We ate homemade mac n’ cheese made from lasagna noodles (I told you, he’s a chef!). We ate a most unusual and delicious green bean and sweet pea concoction I feel very sure I could not re-create. Chef Bo asked my secret for the ribs followed immediately by, “No, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know. You can keep that culinary secret and I’ll just keep eating.”

We ate, we laughed, we told stories on each other. We shared a meal and we shared memories. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does it is truly unforgettable. No one rushed away from the dinner table, no one was anxious to go do something else or be somewhere else. Just family. Just perfect. And the email I received from my brother the next morning went something like this:

“About last night…it was grrreeeaaat. One of our best family times ever. And how exactly did you do those ribs???”


 

I wrote this and submitted it to a greeting card company last year.  My Daddy was the inspiration for every word.  
  
Dad,

You were the first man to ever hold me in your arms
The first man whose shoulder I laid my head on
The first man whose hand I reached for
The first man whose name I called when I was scared

You were the first man to ever kiss me goodnight
The first man to smile as I modeled a new dress
The first man to wipe away my tears
The first man to celebrate my accomplishments

You were the first man to ever say to me, “you are beautiful’
The first man who ate cookies I made from scratch
The first man who wore a “hand-painted” shirt or tie
The first man who wrapped me in his arms for a photograph


You were the first man to let me go as I became a woman

And you will always be the first man I ever loved.

Thanks, Dad.


Happy Father’s Day.  I love you.

Dawn asked me to write a guest post for Father’s Day about three seconds after I asked her to write her guest post for my blog. Being her friend, and always looking for a chance to add a writing credit, I quickly agreed.
Then I started thinking about what to write.
Should I be funny? Should I be heartfelt? What could be written about fatherhood that hadn’t been written before?
Then my grandfather got sick.
The past couple of weeks my dad’s side of the family has been on high alert over my Pop Harold. He went into the hospital with trouble breathing, only to find out he had congestive heart failure and a heart rate just this side of deadly. The docs were able to get the fluid off his heart, but they weren’t able to isolate the cause of his heart racing, so that meant an extended stay in the critical care wing. Turns out it was a tiny valve malfunction and a blocked artery. They gave him medicine and sent him home on Tuesday.
They don’t expect him to ever really recover. We’ve brought in hospice to help out.
Being on the verge of losing my Pop Harold made think about the three main fatherly influence in my life, and I realized: if pedigree were all that mattered, I would be the world’s greatest dad.
Between my father, Rickey, and my two Pops – Pop Harold (my dad’s dad) and Pop Emmette (my mom’s dad) – I have the kind of patriarchal lineage one only finds when reading Biblical genealogies. Those three men represent the finest collection of fatherly wisdom ever assembled – a Daddy Dream Team – and it is my privilege to call myself their son.
I lost Pop Emmette eight years ago this August. I remember the day he died, how I stood over his body in a tiny ER alcove while the world went to hell around me. Doctors and nurses were rushing by outside the curtain that was supposed to give us privacy, and it was a weird juxtaposition to my feeling as if the world had suddenly stood still. Pop’s body seemed half its size; without his soul to fill it, the skin just sagged.
I spoke at his funeral. I told stories that he had told me, stories that were inappropriate for a funeral because they were designed to make people laugh their butts off. I think I may be the only preacher in the world who intentionally turned his grandfather’s funeral into a stand up routine and had the audience roaring with laughter despite themselves. I remember thinking, in that moment, how much of a gift Pop had given me through his stories. How much of me was bound up in him.
Now, with Pop Harold at home but simply waiting to pass on, I find myself planning to speak at another funeral. This one will be different, however. Not because Pop Harold wasn’t a funny man – he certainly could be – but more because Pop Harold’s life has been more of a mystery to me. Perhaps it’s because I was too enraptured in Emmette’s stories to ever ask Harold for his, or maybe it’s because Pop Harold never wanted to share his stories like Emmette did, but whichever it was, I don’t know nearly as much about Pop Harold as I did Pop Emmette.
But what I’ve learned is different. Not better, necessarily, but different. It’s like having silk in one hand and Egyptian cotton in the other – the texture is soft and wonderful for each, but for entirely different reasons.
Pop Harold has shown me the challenge and majesty of aging. That when people seem to have outlived their usefulness, they still have purpose: to teach those around them about the power and necessity of love and family. Pop’s life has become one final lesson from the Good Book – something he spent years studying – and it’s a lesson that we have learned fitfully, painfully even, but one we’ve learned well. When he is gone, there will be no laughter. There will be tears and plenty of them because such is the depth of our love.
And through all of this has been my own father, Dad, as I call him. In some ways we are polar opposites – he’s quiet, good with money, not artistic in the least – and in other ways we are almost carbon copies of each other. I look in the mirror and see where my hair is going gray in the same places his did, at the same age. I see his brown eyes looking back at me through my glasses. Our hair even parts on the same side (when I part mine).
We’ve never been talkers, the kind of father-son duo that can sit up late into the night swapping stories and telling tales. When we do talk, it’s usually to-the-point conversations, even when we’re just shooting the breeze. I’ve never thought it odd or abnormal because what my father says is so packed with wisdom and meaning that it simply doesn’t take more words than he uses.
Unlike me. I can take more words than three people need. But that’s just what makes him so interesting to me. It’s part of why I respect him.
He leads by quiet example, almost by sheer force. Not as a bully forces, mind you; more like Gregory Peck in To Kill A Mockingbird. When my father sets a course of action, his integrity almost compels other people to choose that same course. This explains how he was able to become a vice-president in a major bank without his college degree: he learned everything he could, choose what was right, and got others to do the same.
And then there’s me.
I’m a father now – my daughter, Ella, is 5 and my son, Jonathan, is 2 – and one would think that given the examples I’ve had, I’d be a flawless father.
I’m not.
But even as I make major mistakes, I’m learning that perfection is not required of a father. Nothing astounds me more than when I screw up and my kids look past it. Not in a “we’ll remember this later and use it against you” way, but in a genuinely forgiving way. The more I am with my children, the more I begin to understand things like grace and love and mercy – not just from me to them, but from them to me. I can look into their eyes and see how much they truly love me, not because I’m perfect but because I’m daddy.
That’s a lesson that no one but your kids can teach you. And it’s the best lesson in the world.
Happy Father’s Day to all of you fathers out there, wherever you are.

Willie Nelson made these words famous crooning about all the girls who had been in and out of his life for various purposes (some honorable, some not so much) and for varying lengths of time.  Father’s Day is quickly approaching so I’d like to share about the men who have deeply impacted and influenced my life. 

Tomorrow you will be treated to a special guest blogger – a dear friend of mine and former co-worker who, in my humble (but accurate) opinion, ought to be famously famous and hangin’ out on top of the best seller list for months at a time.  But I guess if those things were true about him, I wouldn’t know him as a friend.  He is as “Southern gentleman” as they come, possesses a wonderfully salty personality complimented by a heavy shot of Tabasco, and shares Biblical truths with deeply profound insight.  Not to mention he’s crazy in love with his wife and over the moon for his kids.  I’m confident you will be delighted by tomorrow’s blog featuring Jason Brooks.  But for now, I’d like to give you my perspective on some pretty incredible men…here they are:

My first crush: I was in Kindergarten and his name was Bruce. I really can’t tell you much more about him except to say I have warm memories of my 5-year-old smile, happily swinging my shoulders back and forth, dreamily fantasizing that he was crushing on me, too.  Unfortunately, even among our small Kindergarten class of boys and girls, I’m fairly confident he didn’t know I was alive.

David Cassidy, lead singer for the Partridge Family.  I thought he looked like the older, more grown-up version of my brother, and I absolutely adored my brother (more about him later).  I knew every word to every song, every facial expression, and probably the pattern on every 70s-inspired shirt he wore.  Driving down the interstate one day, my Dad pointed out that their tour bus was beside us.  It was destiny!  I just knew that David Cassidy would look out his window, see the girl (literally – I think I was 10) of his dreams and serenade me into the gorgeous Eastern sunset.  Alas, the old man driving the bus was not influenced by my frantic waving or my Dad’s honking and did not sense the urgency of waking my prince from his slumber somewhere in the back of the bus.  And down the highway he went…

My Grandfathers, PawPaw and PaPa.  PawPaw was my Dad’s dad and PaPa was my mother’s.  PawPaw was very much like a piece of M&Ms candy: crusty and a little hard on the outside but soft and sweet on the inside.  He bragged that I was the only one of his grandchildren he ever changed a diaper for.  PawPaw was a WWII vet, a self made man, and an expert gardener.  He graciously allotted a small area of his massive back yard for a swing set where my cousins and I spent many hours sliding, swinging, and teeter-tottering on summer days while he and my grandmother harvested summer vegetables and fruits.  He was a collector of all things Coca-Cola, loved to go antique shopping, and spoiled my grandmother. I was angry with him when he re-married quickly after my Grandmother died and it was PawPaw who first taught me that no one can dictate how another person grieves.  You see, my Grandmother died of Alzheimer’s and he had grieved the loss of the woman he knew and loved for so long that by the time she physically died, he simply moved through the steps of her funeral and burial.  I didn’t like being angry at him. I felt as if I were somehow betraying him, but it was driven by the sense that he had betrayed my Grammie.  It didn’t last long.  The first time I met his new wife and saw that big Andy Taylor smile on his face, all was forgiven.  He was a good man and I loved him. 

I loved both my Grandfathers.  But my PaPa and I shared something special. I don’t know why, I don’t even know how to describe it.  It simply was.  He was a perfect balance of strong and tender.  An unexpected quick wit, he could make us laugh about anything.  I remember one summer when the five granddaughters enjoyed an extended stay with him and my Grandmother.  Every morning started out around the breakfast table on our knees.  We were all too young to appreciate the prayers he prayed over us, but the love that motivated those prayers was undeniable.  PaPa had a way of making each one of us believe that we were his favorite.  He loved ‘his girls’ and told us at every opportunity. He approached the pulpit before every sermon with a sense of deep gratitude that he had been given the privilege and calling to impact other people’s lives with the grace of God.  Losing him to cancer was almost more than any of us could bear.  PaPa lived with dignity and showed us how to die with the same.  He ran his race well and finished strong, telling everyone his greatest regret was being forced to leave his family. He loved us hard and I miss him every day.

My Dad. He was raised ‘Bobby’, a beautiful boy with snow white hair (even then) and crystal blue eyes.  My Mom started calling him ‘Bob’ when they began dating and I’ve heard him called several nicknames over the years, Father Time and Mr. C. among others.  He is the strongest man I’ve ever known.  Period.  I loved crawling up in his lap as a little girl and remember many vacations being launched into what felt like outer space as he threw me across the pool.  I was his shadow, following him around as close as a second skin any time he was home.  He and my Mom bought me a beat up old baby grand piano that he lovingly restored to a work of art.  My Dad is not openly affectionate but one look in those pools of blue and there is no question about his love.  On the flip side, those same eyes could make my blood run cold when I knew I’d disobeyed or disappointed him.  And I returned the flash of lightning only once, when he inadvertently referred to someone else by my nickname, ‘Sweetie’.  No words necessary.  That is one mistake made only once.  My knight in shining armor, my manager, the calm waters in my sometimes turbulent life, my hero.  My Dad. 

My Brother.  I think I must have loved him even before I was born.  When we were young I told him I wanted to marry him.  “We can’t get married,” he flatly replied. “We’ll have messed up babies!”  My solution was simple. “We don’t have to have babies.  I just want to marry you.”  Yes, we had our share of fusses and fights but nobody, and I mean nobody, other than him dared to mess with me. We had daring (and often dangerous) adventures throughout high school that involved fast cars, unchaperoned parties, and the Chattahoochee River (details intentionally omitted).  He moved home to Georgia from South Carolina when I was diagnosed with cancer and dedicated a tattoo on his right arm to my battle.  It is a sunset with the Chinese symbols representing, “Dawn, my bravest sister.”  No matter how long between phone calls, emails, or visits, I know we will always pick up where we left off.  He is a terrific uncle to my kids and one of my greatest sources of encouragement. 

My Husband.  I was a tough cookie when Richard and I began dating.  Divorced and a single mom, I was bound and determined not to get hurt again.  Richard was patient, funny, a great debater, and knew the way to my heart was through my son, Alex.  After four years of dating (some great dates, some ‘Hell nights’ as we refer to them now), we married on a hot and humid August evening.  After a North/South honeymoon to New York City and Charleston, we woke up Saturday morning to Alex climbing up in the bed and asking why Richard was there.  “Remember Mommy and I got married last week?”  Alex propped himself up on his elbows, rested them on Richard’s chest and asked, “Does that mean I can call you Dad now?” Yep.  I got a winner. Two houses, more cars than I can remember, five dogs, one lizard, and two more children later, we have had our share of good and bad times.  Richard married me for “better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.”  He has lived up to his commitment.  We have been better and we have been worse, we have been poorer and by contrast there have been seasons of richness.  And he was the rock by my side in sickness.  Every day, sometimes moment by moment, he cared for me.  He handled the house, the children, drove me to endless doctor appointments, and sat beside me for every doctor’s appointment and chemo treatment.  We may never have one of those marriages that everyone looks on and says, “Oh, we want to be like them” but we are in it to win it. 

Happy Father’s Day.

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