Sunday, March 6, 2011

Day Twenty-Seven: Daddy

November 7, 1979
There have been several opportunities to write about this person during the past twenty-some-odd days, but every time I started, I just got too emotional.  Since this “assignment” in the 30-Day Challenge is a little more open-ended, I feel I can’t more easily direct this blog in a way that I can avoid territory that hurts.  Then again, you probably know by now that I’m pretty open and honest, so I have a feeling it will veer off into aforementioned territory anyway.  Today I’m supposed to post a picture of a family member and me.  As I started looking for pictures of this person and me, I realized there are no recent pictures with the exception of some family group shots.  Since he’s not one to jump into pictures (and I usually have the camera anyway), somehow there just aren’t pictures of us together in recent years.  I plan to rectify that immediately.  For now, though, I’ll use a picture from when I was a child--a picture of my daddy and me. 


As I mentioned in an earlier blog, my mother and I didn’t always have the best relationship, mostly during my teenage years. I was mouthy and rebellious and we often clashed. No one would believe it now since I am thick as thieves with my momma and talk to her several times every day. With the exception of a few instances, however, I’ve pretty much always gotten along well with my daddy. I didn’t have one of those relationships where he was perfect in my eyes and could do no wrong. I was “daddy’s girl” in a lot of ways, but I was never blind. I knew that even though he was a great man, he had his flaws, as everyone does. But long before my momma and I reached a point where we could be friends as well as mother and daughter, I was friends with my daddy. There were few things I felt I couldn’t go to him about, and even those things I did hide from him, I did it out of a desire to not disappoint him.

Summer of 1981
Much of who I am came from my daddy. If you’ve ever met him, you know exactly what I mean. If there’s one thing my daddy and I do all the time, it’s talk. Between the two of us, I’m not sure how my momma ever got a word in, and it’s a wonder my little brother ever learned to speak. It’s no secret that my dad and I both enjoy being the center of attention, and we often do so by talking, specifically joking around or telling stories. When people ask me why I talk so much, I usually say that it’s genetic. Nature or nurture, either way, it’s from my daddy. 

Summer of 1982
I also got my love of writing from my daddy. I grew up singing songs my daddy wrote and sharing the stories he created with people I knew. I can’t remember a time when he wasn’t jotting down song lyrics on the backs or church bulletins or unused napkins at restaurants. My favorite stories were the ones he based on my brother and me. Our names were “Amberina” and “Arteemis” and we had a little dog named Kiawa. I can’t remember if our parents in the stories were some sort of adventurers or missionaries, but in every story we were in some exotic location going on an adventure. We’d float down the Amazon and battle wild animals, always victorious in the end. I wish I had the stories written down somewhere to read to Amelia when she’s older. As for me, I’m not sure if I started writing in an effort to be like him or if it’s just something that he passed down to me biologically. Before I could write, I was making up stories and songs in my head as many children do. But I honestly believe that my incentive to learn to write (and I started very early) was to have the ability to write my stories and songs down. There are still pages with my five-year-old scrawl on them, the lyrics to my simple songs about Jesus or my stories about a talking dog. As I grew a little older and my love for writing became a passion, my daddy brought home one of his yard sale treasures—a portable manual typewriter. Though my parents had a large electronic typewriter that I liked to use, this one was my very own. It was light blue with a black cover and handle; it didn’t weigh much, so I had no problem carrying it wherever I went. I still don’t know how my parents made it through our annual road trip/vacation that year with any shred of sanity left. I spent the entire week in the back seat of the minivan, pecking away on my (quite loud) typewriter. I believe I wrote the beginning of a book about vampires on that trip. Both of my parents have always been supportive of my writing, but my dad always took a special interest in it, perhaps because it was a passion we both shared. He always encouraged me and offered constructive criticism as needed.

January 1983
My father taught me to think for myself. Though we didn’t always agree on every topic, we could discuss anything—even religion—without him taking offense to my views or questions. Though I grew up in a church that generally taught us to accept what we were fed and not ask the hard questions, my dad allowed me to question and explore my beliefs. I remember coming home from Sunday school as a child, upset because I’d asked what happens to people in Africa who never hear about Jesus. I was told that they couldn’t go to Heaven if they weren’t Christians. I just didn’t think this sounded fair and kept asking the teacher why God would be so unfair. Not only would she not answer me, she scolded me for being “disrespectful to God.” When I got into the car after church that day, I was about to explode with questions. My dad didn’t dismiss me or try to avoid the conversation. He didn’t chastise me for being angry with my teacher or—at that point—with God. He did his best to explain to me. But more than anything, he asked me what I believed in my heart that God would do with those people. It was a profound moment that shaped my attitude toward God. I never realized I could have my own beliefs, not just my parents beliefs or the beliefs force fed to me by teachers with—what I hope were—good intentions.

Though my dad and I didn’t always share the same attitudes and views—which is to be expected when there’s an almost 50-year age difference—he respected what I believed. As with religion, he also didn’t force his political beliefs on me. In almost all areas, he shared his beliefs with me and allowed me to choose what I wanted to embrace or reject. There were times that our discussions would become heated on some topics, but he tended to treat me more as an equal than a child.

Since my dad was older when I was born—he actually has a grandson older than I am—he was always a bit indulgent with me, much more so than with my older siblings from what I gather. There were times he was possibly too permissive. He agreed to let me start dating a couple of months before I was fifteen. I’ll never forget my momma’s reaction (or mine!) when he told the guy to have me home at midnight (it was quickly backed up to 9:00).

Audience participation during one of my plays in college
There were things my dad knew I was doing that he probably should have grounded me over, but generally he said very little but, “Be careful and make good decisions.” At the time, I loved my father’s leniency since my mother was strict. I realize now, though, that I might not have made it to see twenty if it hadn’t been for my mother keeping a tight rein on me. I’ve joked to her before, “What on earth would have happened if Daddy had been left to care for us?” We can laugh now, but it would probably have been fairly disastrous. I’m not sure why my dad often turned a blind eye to my shenanigans. Maybe it was because he had done his share of crazy stuff as a young man. Maybe he just didn’t want to be the disciplinarian. Who knows? I admit with a certain amount of shame that I took full advantage of it, though.  

Everything I inherited or took away from my dad wasn’t as positive. Though my overall temperament is much closer to my mom’s, I got my actual temper from my father. I don’t lose my temper easily, but when I do, I have virtually no control over my mouth and sometimes over my actions. Luckily, I married someone with almost no temper, so I’ve mellowed out over the past decade (it’s just not much fun to fight with someone who doesn’t fight back). Growing up, I don’t remember my dad losing his temper too many times (at least not in my presence), but when he did, he got extremely angry and he did so very quickly.

Because of my father’s tendency to let me get away with pretty much anything, he didn’t always make us respect my mom as he should have. He never insisted that we do our share of the chores. He would sometimes say, “Help your mom clean the table,” but there were no repercussions if we didn’t. There was no “wait until your dad gets home” in our house. Mom always had to be the bad guy because she knew if she waited until daddy got home, there would be no punishment except maybe a “good talking to.” The worst, though, was the way dad allowed us to talk to our mom. I can only remember a few times when he got involved when I would smart off or be blatantly disrespectful. And there were even times when I would argue with my mom and he would take my side. Now that I’m a wife and mother, I would be so hurt if John stood by and allowed Amelia to disrespect me. To me, it’s basically saying, “I don’t respect your mother enough to make your respect her.” I’m not much for wishing to revisit the past, but I truly wish I could go back and change that one are of my life. I would have given my mother the respect she deserved, even though it wasn't demanded of me as it should have been. 

Daddy, 1950
When I was young and even as I grew into a young woman, I always saw my father as this strong, intelligent, loving man. My father is only six feet tall, so he’s not overly imposing; however, his presence is quite impressive. He has always seemed to know something about everything—and not really in a smartass way. He reads constantly and seems to absorb every word. I’ve always been proud that my father is so smart and well-read, especially since he didn’t have a great deal of formal education past high school. I’ve always felt I could call my dad when I needed him, and even if he couldn’t do anything to physically help me, I knew he would be praying for me fervently. Daddy has always been fiercely independent in almost every way (except at home where he will let my mom wait on him as much as she is willing to do so).

In the past few years, I’ve watched my father change in so many ways. He walks with a stoop and slight shuffle now, due in part to years of walking on knees that needed to be replaced but also due to the Parkinson’s which he was diagnosed with last year. The man I grew up watching kneel at the altar every Sunday family as he prayed for his family now struggles to stand up from the dinner table. His days of diving from the side of the pool or helping me with my pitching are long over. But physical changes are expected as one ages, and he still gets around better than many people even a decade younger than he. No, as sad as his loss of full mobility has been, it’s the other changes that have broken my heart a little each time I’ve seen him. The man who has always had an answer for everything is now left asking so many questions. I don’t really want to provide any more details than I must since I feel it is almost disrespectful to him. It’s not that he’s been reduced to some shell or child, but he’s just so different. Every week seems to bring more changes, and each time I say goodbye I want to hug him a little longer. I know he realizes that he’s different, and I know it must be hard for him. Each time he can’t remember a name or looks to my mother for direction in a simple task, I can’t imagine how much it frustrates him. Being so much like him, though, I have to believe it scares him and even makes more than a little angry.

Amelia and her Grampa
I don’t know what the future holds for my father. There’s no way to know how quickly things will progress or how much it will rob him of his abilities. I never let myself dwell on this for too long. After seeing my grandfather succumb to Alzheimer’s, I refuse to even entertain the thought of my father not knowing who I am. Even now, with the changes that hinder his movement and thoughts, I can still only see my daddy. I’m so thankful that he’s getting to be in my daughter’s life, and I pray that he stays healthy enough that she not only gets old enough to remember him, but also that she gets to really know him. I accept that there are parts of him she’ll only know through me, but he’s still himself enough that she can enjoy how wonderful he is. I want her to remember him singing to her. I want her to learn his silly jokes. And I want her to know how very much he loves her and how proud he is of her. 

Of the twenty-seven days of this challenge, this has been the absolute hardest for me to write. Each sentence, every paragraph feels like an epitaph. I know that may sound morbid, but so often it is not until we have lost someone we love that we sit down and reflect on his life. But I don’t want to wait until that day comes, whether it’s in a year or twenty years. My father is not a perfect man, but I’ve never for even a moment doubted his love and devotion to me. So much of who he is runs through my veins and an even bigger part of me is a reflection of what he has instilled in me.

William Arthur Jewell—Bill—has been many things in his life. He has served his country, his community, his God. He has been a son, a brother, a husband and now a grandfather. But for me, he has had only one role that mattered—he is my Daddy.


Amy said...

"I loved this! I love Mr.Jewell..he is one of the best men in the world, he has always been so good to my mother(and family) I was in tears after reading this.. Those pictures are so sweet!!Thank you for sharing this!!!"

Anonymous said...

Amber, This tribute to your father is profoundly moving. I have always adored my Uncle Bill, and wish I could have seen more of him during my adult years.

When he and Aunt Glenda attended my parents' 50th anniversary party, I had more fun when the party was officially over, and most guests had gone home because Uncle Bill sat outside with a small group of people (& me), regaling us with so many funny stories I had never heard about our family's history. I was exhausted from having planned and organized the party, and so enjoyed those 2 hours when my Uncle Bill had me laughing one minute, transfixed another, and getting teary-eyed, realizing just how much I have always loved my Uncle Bill. That moment in time was sweetened by the presence of Aunt Aretha.

Ann Fortner Guerin said...

I didn't mean to be anonymous. LOL I guess I'm not signed up correctly.

This is your cousin, Ann. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Amber, what a lovely tribute to you dad. So beautifully and thoughtfully written. As I was reading I began to think of my dear brother, Rod, who died last year the day before my birthday. So many of the things you wrote about your dad would apply to me and my brother. I, too, wish there were more pics of us as we were older.

I have said to Bob that I truly believe that Rod was the only person in my life who loved me totally unconditionally. AND he was loved the same way. There were so many who loved him and were touched by him.

Hope you continue your writing. Your word choices are wonderful and your love of what you are doing show in every paragraph.

I love you and I feel blessed to know John, your dad and mom, and hopefully very soon Amelia.
Aunt-tea Shelta

waytenmom said...

Thank you for sharing this (I came over from the 3 Minute Ficton Page). I especially like the way your dad worked with you about religion. Having grown up in some "only one way to Heaven" denominations, I think he did a wonderful thing in the way he handled the question!

Sara Kirk-Doyle said...

Your father is a great man & over the years has also become part of our family. The post office is not the same without him.