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On Father's Day

My father belonged to the generation and culture of Southern men that seriously avoided any talk of feelings. He was no-nonsense, work-from-dawn-till-dusk, back as straight as a two-by-four, but he had his gentle moments. His hands were rough, his arms lean and powerful, and he would scoop me up one-handed after a day in the fields, and I would rub my small fingers across his bristly jawline. He wiped away tears when he left me at college and, later, when we said goodbye at the airport, as I headed for the Peace Corps. My father declared his love for Jesus in heartfelt prayers, but he never told me he loved me. I don’t believe I ever told him I loved him, either.
            Our family was poor, though I didn’t know it. I had everything I needed, more than  many families in our rural community. Daddy paid for medicine that other men could not buy for their children. He put men to work when he didn’t need their help. Men would come to the back door owing Daddy money and leave with a few bills from him. At his funeral, the preacher spoke of him as a righteous man, but what touched me most were the not-so-well-dressed men who stood at the coffin, telling me what Daddy had meant to them during hard times.
            Years before, my father was in Baptist Hospital scheduled for open-heart surgery the next day. My mother, who had been with him every minute, had finally gone home for the day. I promised I wouldn’t leave his bedside. The day dragged by. Daddy was quiet, with a faraway look in his blue eyes. I was glad when the hospital chaplain dropped in for a visit.
            The chaplain tried to put my father at ease, and after a while, he got Daddy talking about his family. There was my brother who had worked for John Deere since college. We said he bled green. My sister was head nurse of the Baptist Hospital nursery. There was another brother who died of rheumatic fever when he was sixteen, and I was five.
            “And that’s the baby,” Daddy said, swinging his thumb toward me.
            This was déjà vu, and I delivered my line: “I was an accident.”
            My parents had never contradicted me when I said that, but I always knew they wished I was not so mouthy. The chaplain chuckled.
            My father’s expression didn’t change at first. Then the tiniest smile crept into the corners of his mouth. He said, “No, you were a gift.”
            On this Father’s Day, I wish I could tell him that he was a gift, too. I wish I could thank him for showing me that integrity, loyalty, and kindness matter more than what we label success in today’s world. I wish I could tell him that his words to me in the hospital were a gift, echoing in my head and heart many times when responsibilities for him, my mother, and my siblings--all of them gone now--were heavier than I thought I could bear. I wish I could say, “I love you.”
            It’s not important that he never told me, “I love you.” I know. I always knew.

Thank you for reading about my dad. Please follow me and check out my website if you liked this.

pgallaher@copyright 2019
Published in The Tennessean


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