Sunday, June 19, 2016

My Dad

Cecil Grayson Irvin graduated to heaven in 1996. 
I wrote this tribute as a Father's Day gift to him in about 1983.
Just before he died, he promised to meet me just inside the gate.
The older I get, the more I look forward to that day
I know he'll be there. 
Daddy was a man of honor. 
He always kept his word. 

            My Dad is a tall, slender man (“Slim” the guys at work used to call him) with gentle blue eyes and slightly rounded shoulder caused, I am sure, by years of bending his 6’5” frame to catch the words of those shorter than he.
            Of course I can’t remember it, but the family tells of Dad teaching me to walk by standing me on the toes of his shoes as he walked backwards.
            I remember as a child waiting excitedly for the car to pull up in the drive when he returned from his over-the-road trucking job. He would unfold his tall frame from the driver’s seat and put on the brown cap that matched his driver’s uniform. Dad took pride in his well-pressed uniforms with the company badge embroidered on the shoulder. We often laughed to see other motorists slow noticeably when we passed, thinking they were being monitored by a policeman in an unmarked car.
            When I was little, he was often “on the road.” But when he was home, I climbed onto his lap after meals, just for the feeling of being sheltered by his arms while he visited with Mother or read the evening paper. When I grew older, and Tuesday and Thursday nights were Dad’s nights home, Mother would cook corn bread with ham and beans or round steak with biscuits, and we would bask in his presence, just glad that he would be there to share our supper, coffee, and late night popcorn.
            On Sundays, Dad read me the comics and then entertained me by taking out pen and paper and drawing Dick Tracy and Brenda Starr. I still love to read the comic strips, enduring considerable chiding from my husband for the habit. I can’t copy the characters like Dad, but I occasionally clip one to slip into Bob’s lunch sack. He enjoys it in spite of himself.
            When childhood terrors over starting school after the summer overtook me, Dad was there to help relax the wrenching knot in my stomach. With his quiet voice he reassured me that everything would be all right. I believed him, and the knot loosened, and it was all right.
            I don’t remember him ever spanking me. Mother says he didn’t. He never had to. There was just something in his quiet love for me that motivated me to obey.
            In the days before seat belts and car seats, Dad used to sit me on his lap and let me think I was guiding the car.
            On summer nights when I was in junior high, we went to baseball games, sitting high in stadium seats provided by the St. Louis Cardinals to students with the right grade point average. Dad bought me soda pop and peanuts and we cheered Orlando Cepeda, Bob Gibson, and Lou Brock. I knew every player’s batting average and skipped classes once to watch the World Series on T.V. Without Dad in the next seat, baseball just isn’t much fun anymore.
            He taught me to drive defensively—and then trusted me with his car on a weekend away with other students. I would have done anything to keep from betraying his trust, and we all drove carefully that weekend. Dad must have spent a couple of sleepless nights wondering if his daughter would become another highway statistic. But he trusted me. He understood my need for independence.
            I remember my first car. Dad drove it home, parked it in the driveway, and ordered me to change an imaginary flat tire.
            He spoiled me. On snowy mornings I would go outside to find my car cleaned off, the driveway shoveled so that I could drive off to classes at the university.
            I remember tears in his eyes as he walked me down the aisle to become Mrs. Robert Whitson. Those tears still shine every time we have to say goodbye after a visit that spans the miles between Nebraska and Illinois.
            When my first child was born, the familiar knots returned to my stomach over the responsibility of motherhood. Dad reassured me. He drove me to the grocery store and patiently experimented until he found a way to fit the infant seat securely in a grocery cart while still leaving room for groceries. He couldn’t have known how much it meant to have him there, his frame towering over me, protecting his “little girl”—and a new granddaughter.
            Dad loves the Lord. He serves in quiet ways that people often don’t notice. For years, he and mother visited widows of fellow drivers killed on the road, providing help with business details, organizing a fund to provide cash in the early days of widowhood. He still chauffeurs “the elderly” around town and on trips to the airport.
            Dad taught me how to walk. He taught me to love baseball and comic strip characters and molasses-and-butter on bread. He taught me to obey authority. He proved that things would be all right next year in school, and that I could be an efficient mother, after all. He taught me about my heavenly Father, too. Oh, not with many words, but by being there, by loving, by listening—by being so very much like Him.
            I’m over thirty now, and much too old to call my Father “Daddy,” but he will always be “Daddy” in my heart … in my thoughts … in my prayers … because part of me will always be a little girl when he’s around.

            I love you, Daddy … Happy Father’s Day.