I woke up this morning, thinking about two things.. taking the dog for a walk and my Dad. I guess it's only right, since today is Father's Day.
When I logged onto LJ, there was a question asking about your favorite memory of Dad; I'll get to that in a minute.
What I want to do first is share a picture and make an introduction. This is MY DADDY; James Verner Stoltz, Jr. But you can call him Jim. This picture came from a cousin about a month or so ago, and it's one of only three pictures I have of him (we won't go into the whys, let's just leave that alone). When I was born, he was 38 (remember, I'm the youngest of three kids and one stepdaughter); but the only steps we had were attached to the house, so as I tell people I shared him with two older sisters and a brother, but being a parent is unique in that you get to be someone's singular parent. I can claim him as MY Daddy but yet so can my brother. When we're together, he was OUR Daddy. See how cool that is?
It was taken during a family reunion long about 1980 or so (it might be earlier). The woman in the picture is my Grandmother (my father's mother, Susie Sabra Cunningham Stoltz.. I always thought Sabra was an interesting name). The reunion was in Red Hill in Illinois, (or maybe Indiana); and I was probably around 14 at the OLDEST. My Dad was the third boy, and one of 12 children. They called him Junior; and he was named after my grandfather. (He was the third boy but named after my grandfather because my grandfather didn't know his own legal name; it took him three tries to figure out what his name was...but I digress)....
Friends, meet my father....
So, now that you've been introduced, let me tell you about my favorite memories. He was 6'4" and about 270 pounds although he told the world he was a perfect "200". He was a 20 year veteran of the navy and was enlisted from 1945 through 1969. With a small stint in here of public sector employment. He left the family farm when he was 18 to join the navy and "see the world". The only parts he really saw were Illinois, Connecticut and Virginia and he's got kids from all three states to prove it :-)
Anyways, back to the memories....
The first one is dancing with my dad. As a seven or eight year old, I remember my parents had a record/8-track tape player. They would listen to country music (my dad's favorite) and he would lead me around the room "dancing" as my feet stood on his worn work shoes (they were steel toed); we would dance around the room that way and it always ended with a big hug.
Now we fast forward about 18 years or so and my mom and I are going to visit the wife of one of my dad's workers at the power plant. She just had a baby the week before. We go and bring our customary gift (a hand-crocheted baby blanket). They're really very nice and they're invited over to dinner. The husband, wife and new little girl show up for dinner and we let them in... the first thing out of the husband's mouth is "So YOU'RE the GENIUS that Jim keeps telling us about!" My dad turns beet red and says nothing. Throughout the whole dinner the husband keeps telling us how my dad goes on and on about his youngest little girl and how smart she is; and that one day she's going to do something big. He goes on and on about how my dad tells them I'm talented and a really good kid.
I sat there dumbfounded. I had no idea he ever talked about his family at work. None at all. I really had no clue he was telling people about ME!
When the family left, he looked at me and said "Well, why wouldn't I tell people the truth?!" and left it at that.
Fast forward another few years. I had just gotten laid off from my job and was really uncertain what I was going to do. I was in the upstairs living room and he came and sat down in his favorite chair. He had a serious look on his face. He leaned forward with concern in his eyes.
"I want to tell you something." Ut oh. A conversation that serious meant I was in trouble about SOMETHING. "Okay." "Out of all four of my children, you are the one that I most proud of. You are the smartest of all of you kids, you are strong, and you can do anything you set your mind to. This is YOUR time and your chance to make something of yourself. You should set your mind to college." "I don't know... what if I fail?" "You won't. You have never failed at anything you set your mind to." "Of everyone, you are the least likely to need someone to take care of you. I'm very proud of you. Your sister had her chance at college and she chose not to use it.. now it's your turn."
My father never said those to words to me as a kid growing up. He really rarely said much of anything. That conversation was monumental to me. It was proof that my father really loved me and he wanted the best for me. It was proof that he thought I was smart, special and loveable. That one conversation has kept me going for about twenty years. It's amazing how one affirmation from a parent can last almost a lifetime.
My father died a few years after that conversation and to this day, the missing him still hurts. Father's Day is hard. The fourth of July is hard (it is the day the Nation celebrates his birthday). It's not as hard as it used to be when I hear people talk about their fathers who are still living (it's the curse of being older than most of my friends and the fact that my parents were a lot older than most of my friend's parents.. they were really almost old enough to be my grandparents). I get jealous at times, and I get really frustrated when things happen that I KNOW my dad would be able to fix in no time with his blue toolbox of doom.
All of the house stuff would have been taken care of in no time; the car repairs would have been no sweat for my Dad. So yes, I still miss him; and I guess I always will. There still isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about him at least for a second. As I said in Facebook, he might be gone from this earth, but he's not gone from my heart.
I miss you Daddy. I hope you and Mom are dancing together in heaven! You are missed and loved more than I can say.