Remembering My Dad

The passing of Tim Russert on the Friday before Father’s Day has been a sobering reminder of just how short live really is and how one never knows what a day will bring. From all accounts of his life being remembered by his colleges, I can only think that when Tim rolled out of bed Friday morning that he was most likely focused on what he was doing on his Father’s Day presentation of “Meet the Press.” Instead, his friends and colleges gathered around the “Meet the Press” set and remembered a kid from Buffalo and his impact.

The art of morning was a fixture in the Southern community that I sprang from. Death was a time of celebrating a person’s life. When my father died, I remember setting in the front room along with his body, a part of the tradition of bringing the dead relative home for the last time, and listening and telling stories about his life. Even then, I remember hearing stuff that I had long forgotten and have forgotten again about my dad along with somethings that I had never heard while he was alive.

My dad was a strong but quiet Southern gentleman. He was soft spoken and loved what he did in life because he sponsored what he really loved which was travel. He worked hard as a barber in the little community that I grew up in. He knew everyone and everyone knew him. If you were going to get you hair cut, he was, for a long period of time, the only game in town. I would set and watch him cut hair and have a conversation with the person who was captive in his chair. He listened, provided stories from his own life, cried and laughed with his customers, many of who were his friends. While we attended church on Sunday, my dad, long before it was fashionable to do so, was missional to his community, functioning as barber-pastor to the community. He cut hair for the down and outer and the mayor calling each in turn without showing partiality.

He would speak his piece with firmness and compassion in public or private. On one occasion, in a hot newly integrated South, he was asked by a black customer to cut his hair. His response, “I’ve never cut a black man’s hair before, but if you will guide me along, I would be happy to do so.” Another customer walking in and seeing my dad cutting this man’s hair retorted, “I’ll never do business with you again.” About an hour later, my dad was standing in a grocery line with the man and the white man who had walked out of his barbershop was standing between two blacks waiting to be checked out. My dad piped up and said, “Are you going to stop buying your food here also?” He grinned knowing that he had sent a message to a white bigot in a public place about how stupid his point of view really was.

One of the things that amazes me and I still think about it often. I’m just a little kid from a small town in the South with a Dad whose parents took him out of school when he was in the third grade because he was almost killed in a hail storm walking home on the railroad tracks from school. Here I am in just one generation allowed to participate in and receive two Doctor of Ministry degrees. It’s still mind boggling to me. Schooling for me was not an option for him. I remember on one occasion that I planned this great day of skipping school and going to the beach which was just a mere sixty miles from where I lived. On that day, Dad took me to school and dropped me off. I met with two other friends, one which had a car, and we slipped out of the parking lot and was off for a free day of sun and surf. When we returned back to the school, I went to my locker and got some books, tucked them under my arm, and my friend took me home. When I walked in the front door, my Dad was there waiting. I made some comment about having so much homework that I had to get to. Without hesitation he asked, “where were you today, son.” I replied, “in school of course, can’t you see all this work I brought home to work on.” Then he told me the short story of how he thought I was up to something sneaky so he had returned to the school and requested to see me. He was told that I was absence that day. He reported how strange that was because he had delivered me to the school that morning. The next day I was expelled from school for three days. I left and went to my Dad’s barbershop where he told me that I should go across the street to the drug store where I worked because the owner wanted to see me. I asked what did he want. He told me that he knew that I was not going to be in school the next three days and he wanted me to work. To myself I thought, that’s great, no school and three extra days of income. I went across the street and the owner put me to work immediately. He also informed me that he needed me the whole day for the next three days. All I could see was dollar signs in my eyes. At supper (what we called the evening meal) that evening, my dad asked about my work schedule. I told him how much I was going to work. He said” Good, you do know the you are not going to get paid for working these three days, don’t you.” I thought my ears was playing tricks on me. Dad went on to tell me that he had “cut a deal” with my boss to provide me with work but that he didn’t have to pay me. I wanted to know why. In his typical soft spoken voice he said, “There are consequences for actions. You missed a whole day of learning that you can’t regain. I thought a different set of lessons would be helpful for you. This was typical teaching from my dad. Learn one way or learn another way, but learn. I’m sure that my son and daughter can understand this because this form of finding consequences has been applied to certain situations during their life. I didn’t even know where I learned that from until I reflected later. That came from Dad.

The last time I saw my dad alive was as we embraced on the front steps of his home as Donna and I were leaving on a speaking tour in the mid-west. He held me tightly and said, “Good by.” It sounded so final. I looked at him and said, “We’re going to be back.” He said, “I know, but I won’t be here.” In less than a month from that exchange he catapulted into the next phase of life. His physical life was no long available to be seen or touched, but his presence lives with me to this day. He was a great dad and I was honored to be his son. I have hopped over the years that I have been able to be as great of a dad to my two children as he was to me. I miss him today, maybe more than before because I am where he was so many years ago, entering into the winter of my life and realizing how life is so precious but so short. Thanks Dad!

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Robin Allio June 16, 2008 at 11:13 am

That was an awesome story to read for Father’s Day. Thanks for your reflextions. I felt like I was right there in the barber shop with you. I wish I could have met your father. He seems like a wonderful man…

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Melody June 24, 2008 at 11:26 am

I think you are one of the best teller of stories that I have ever heard. I think you should consider writing a book about your life. Granddaddy was one true southern gentlemen married to one of the most outspoken southern women ever.

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