My first memory of my dad was him tossing us high into the air in the Air Force base pool. Splash. Deep in the water. Silence and then his laughing face which always made me laugh too. He was a doctor for the Air Force until I was 5 and I didn’t see him very much. We moved a lot. I had homes in the snow, in the prairie, and finally on a farm that had mean peacocks. After the Air Force, we moved to Alabama, my parents’ original home.
Long nights in the ER kept Dad in bed later, so Mom would take the three of us outside to run amok until he woke up. It was tedious to wait because we all wanted to see him. Sometimes, he would take one of us to the ER to hang out in his office and nap on his little bed. Oddly, I still love hospitals and doctor’s offices today… the smell of rubbing alcohol is like coming home… Hoo. Once he woke up, he took us to the park and spun us around on the merry-go-round until one of us flew off and skidded into something or mercifully into nothing. He is 6’3″ and strong as an ox so when he spun us, the G force was tremendous. I remember holding on so tight and feeling my fingers slowly losing their grip. I loved that feeling. We would crash and laugh like idiots. That was how he raised us. Tough. You fall. You get up laughing. You crash. You laugh. Life is rough. Get up.
Before bedtime, and after we wrestled with him in the living room to Mannheim Steamroller (CLEAR THE CHAIRS, RUGRAAATS!), he came to our rooms and sang songs like “Leaving in a Jet Plane” and “Stewball” with his guitar or banjo… or mandolin. I never knew normal children’s music. I remember dancing on his feet most nights to get out my extra energy. I learned to read and perform music because music flows through him into all of us. When he is frustrated, he sits down and plays something. I now do the same. I was born with the gift of song and music is my medicine. DNA and Dad.
His humor kept me in a happy place. When I lost my job, he offered to donate me some “canned bads.” When I picked the wrong guy he would say that the guy was a plebeian and he had horrible taste in everything… maybe something about having an ugly mother. When I was sick, he would offer to take me out back and shoot me. He taught us to look at life as a dance… You don’t want to waste your time waltzing with jackasses. And drink the punch, it’s spiked.
My dad is good for goodness’ sake. Holding fast to the Hippocratic Oath, he truly enjoys saving people’s lives and making them well. He trusts everyone because he thinks they are like him… trustworthy. He loves my mom with all of his heart and has spent his life making her feel like she is the most important, relevant, beautiful woman he has even known. He is constant. He loves fiercely. People have done things to him that seem unforgivable and he has compassion for them. Even behind closed doors when we tried to get him to fight, he would convince us that two wrongs will not fix broken people. I’m talking about big wrongs. The little wrongs, like bad service and smoking in public, are things he’ll rail heartily against.
He once cut a cigarette out of someone’s mouth (with scissors) on an airplane because he loathes second hand smoke. He physically sat another man down at a football game when he was acting drunk and belligerent in front of us… That poor idiot sat stock still and white as a sheet the rest of the game… I don’t think he blinked. He used to drive us to school in a Winnebago just to embarrass us and then do donuts around the parking lot with subwoofers booming. I still remember the look of pure joy on his face as he danced with his hands out the window to our horrified faces. He also loved to open the door with a shotgun or crossbow for many of our pale-faced dates. These are just a few gems but I have a lifetime of others.
Something I took for granted until I was an adult was his stance on my being a girl. He didn’t think (even in the South) that being a girl meant anything other than a gender title. And I was not a typical girl. I loved to have mud fights with the boys on my block. I love the art of battle. I still do but now I have my sons as sparring partners. My siblings didn’t want to hunt, but I did. He happily took me and still does. Dad won medals as a triathlete, marathon runner, and Ironman (so did my mom). So, naturally, I ran my first road race at 18 months because he said I could do it. The police car followed me as I crossed the finish line and my parents rushed in and hugged me. I’ve never stopped running. When I received an invitation to the debutante ball, I remember Dad saying (when he saw my incredulous eyes), “You don’t have to go.” Oh. Thank. GOD. Anyone who knows me would know how ridiculous I would feel in a white ball gown so I could “coming out to society.” Wut. He taught me to fear nothing and to try everything. My friends thought I was on drugs when I went rappelling, laughing, face first off a 150 ft cliff without flinching. I learned to be brave from a guy who wanted to pilot airplanes for a side job and did just that.
At 70, he still works hard as a doctor, husband, gardener, art collector, and grandfather. I hope he never stops calling me Magpie, Rugraticus Americanus, Skin Flint, Bozo, and Crumb Cruncher. He still answers the phone in the middle of the night, even though he knows he won’t fall back asleep, to give me advice on whether or not I should take my child to the Emergency Room. He still listens to my “incessant babbling” when I call to see how he is doing. He now tosses my children high in the air so they can land in the ocean. Splash. Deep in the water. They come up laughing to see his laughing face. He is Dad. He is Doc. He is a healer. He is everything.
Amazing tribute , Michelle….so so true
Tears Shelle. You captured the man we have all known our whole lives and is still the example I look to when I need a calibration of my moral compass. Dad is a rare breed indeed.
We love ya Doc.
Loved your article. You have sufficiently captured his whole being. He is a good man and has instilled the joy of life in all those that surround him!