Happy Birthday, Daddy

July 24th is one of my favorite days of the year.

It’s my Daddy’s birthday.

And I celebrate by remembering the fun things we did together when I was a kid, like:

1. Sunday drives around Los Angeles. Dad worked for the LA Water & Power. He was one of those guys that cause traffic jams, digging up the roads to lay pipe for water mains. He worked in a lot of interesting locales around town, so on weekends he’d take us exploring. Didn’t cost much. A tank of gas. But you couldn’t put a price tag on the fun we’d have as a family.

2. Exercising. An Army veteran, Dad believed in regular exercise. Every evening after dinner he’d guide us through a series of calisthenics. Though I don’t practice faithfully, I love exercise because of Dad.

3. Home repair. Just recently I laid new tile in my kitchen. I glean the joy of DIY from Dad, who was a master carpenter. He always worked on Saturday mornings repairing cabinets, building closets, adding room additions for family, friends and referrals. Dad was a hard working man. My best memory of working with Dad was mixing concrete in a wheel barrel, for the foundation, when he added a room to our house. I guess that’s why I love HGTV so much – new building and gardening intrigues me.

4. Cutting the lawn. Every Friday after school Mom would pull out the push lawnmower, shears, edger. We could see her pruning rose bushes from blocks away, as we approached the house. I’d groan. My sister and my job was to edge, clear flower beds, cut back hedges before Dad got home to cut the grass. Every Friday. We never missed. Though I complained then, today I love having a lush, green lawn, well edged, with bushes blooming with onamental flowers. I like to enjoy them growing on the vine. Such natural beauty that my neighbors and I can enjoy.

5. Church. My first church experience – Dad taking me to Sunday School. That first day we were early so he took me down the block to buy an individual size sweet potato pie and a carton of milk from a street vendor. I remember sitting on the black vinyl stool in my pretty little chiffon dress. Took off my gloves and devoured the pie. Didn’t realize dad was bribbing me. All elementary Sunday School classes met in the church basement for a song fest before breaking into individual classrooms. Dad sat next to me. After the first chorus of “I Will Make You Fishers of Men” he was sitting behind me. Next I looked up he was sitting next to the door. Then he was gone. My teacher found me and guided me to her classroom. The rest of my churchgoing experience is a blur of exciting activities – drawing pictures of Jesus, learning Bible stories and preparing for holy holidays. Though I’m not a weekly attendee at any church I raised my children in the Christian church and now see my grandson following in those footsteps.

6. Watering the grass. When I was growing up most people in my neighborhood didn’t have water sprinklers. In the evening, especially in the summer, everyone would come outside to water their grass. It was more social gathering than a chore. Dad would uncoil the water hose. Mom, sister and I would sit on the porch enjoying remnants of the spray. Neighbors would talk about the news, swap recipes, exchange ideas about manure or cross pollinating roses. On hot evenings the kids would dart in and out of the water. Great fun.

7. Social time. Dad always had a large cadre of friends. He liked people, they liked him. He loved the social scene. Every weekend he and mom would either host or attend a social gathering, usually Saturday afternoons, if he worked in the morning. Someone would BBQ, or make a pot of stew or gumbo (depending on time of year). Friends would bring a dish – salad, rolls, cake/pie, fruit . . . there was always mounds of fruit because most people had a fruit tree in their yard . . . and we’d eat until stuffed, play like crazy, talk up a storm, and maybe take a nap. There was always a bunch of kids to play with. It was a great time to relax and forget about the week’s drudgery.

8. Prayer. My dad not only taught me a reverence for church attendance, he taught me how to pray. I’d watch him get on his knees every night before bed to say his prayers. Never ashamed. Never weak. Always reverent and humble he’d come to the Lord in thankfulness for his family and God’s care – thankful that we had good health, a roof over our head, enough food to eat, and a decent pair of shoes on our feet. He laid a solid foundation.

9. Going through the going through. My older brother was born with a birth defect. Six months after birth he died devastating my parents. But they didn’t give up. They had my sister two years later then me. They never forgot that little boy, my dad’s name sake. As much as Dad loved my sister and me, I know what a toll losing my brother must have taken on him and my mom. I’m so thankful they never gave up on having a family.

10. Fried Chicken. Dad was originally from the South. He ate grits slathered with butter for breakfast, had to have black eyed peas for New Year. Another ritual: Southern Fried Chicken and Potato Salad each and every Sunday afternoon. After breakfast, then Sunday School, we went for our ride of exploration, then returned home for chicken and salad. Tradition. Routine. A solid foundation. That’s what Dad and Mom modeled for my sister and me.

Happy Birthday, Daddy.

I love you and thank you for so many lessons you taught me about living a beautiful, happy, industrious, fulfilled life. If I had chosen him myself, I couldn’t have picked a better dad.

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