Monday, July 30, 2012

Daddy: A Life Remembered

It was my father’s birthday yesterday, July 29th. He would have been 99 years old. He is Daddy. And he will remain Daddy to me for the rest of my life. He died when he was 81 years old. His life remains an inspiration to me, as it was to many others, especially his St. Pete High choral and orchestra students.

Daddy physically suffered so much in his life, beginning with the onset of migraines at eight years old. But he kept his ironic sense of humor and also, more importantly, practiced his art and his philosophy of life. Life was an adventure to him, and he had many adventures. He inspired me with his honesty, his integrity to his art, music, and his sense of excellence and of fun at whatever he did. He was always sweet and kind; I remember a couple of times when he tried to be “enraged” as a parent, but he could never pull it off. Once, he caught me climbing onto the top of the refrigerator to steal cookies, and warned me he would spank me if I didn’t get down. My response was simply, “No you won’t.” And we had a good laugh about it.

He came from a very unemotional family, yet I believe that Papa groused and raged a lot, and was very opinionated. Mama just purely loved David, her third of five sons, and he clearly was her favorite. He loved her in return immensely, completely. She took good care of him, and she brought him to the doctor at age eight when he began having frequent migraines. It was at that visit that the doctor had the intuitive sense to measure David’s legs and discovered one shorter than the other – Legg-Perthés disease where the top of the femur wears away. The treatment was horrible – a cast for two years from his chest to his knees. I don’t know how he managed, but he did and somehow managed to stay active. He walked with a very slight limp as an adult, and I never noticed it until a friend at St. Pete High pointed it out to me. Yet, he excelled as an athlete and was always very active, especially on very long bike rides into his fifties (like a trip across the Gandy Bridge from St. Petersburg to Tampa). In college he achieved the Third Best of the Southeastern Conference in field and track in the javelin throw.

He studied the flute as a teenager and found his true love, music; he wanted to go to college. He was discouraged by his father to do so (even though Papa held a Ph.D. in history from Wake Forest College). It was 1931-32, the Great Depression, and somehow Daddy saved up $300 and hitchhiked to Chapel Hill where he was accepted at the University of North Carolina. On his hitchhiking trip, one of his drivers stole his very valuable Haynes flute, but he was able to track it down and reclaim it. He was persistent and determined always, no matter the task or adventure before him, and he impressed those qualities on all his four children.

He brought his two younger brothers, Truett and Ed (who both went on to earn MDs), to Chapel Hill as soon as he was able to. Truett was only 15 years old at the time. The three brothers all played musical instruments, Truett the oboe and Ed the baritone tuba, and they formed a trio and played in the school cafeteria in the evenings (and cleaned the hall, too) to earn enough money to live on. Daddy became the drum major of the marching band (the guy with the gigantic hat and huge directing staff) and held that leadership position for at least two years.

There’s a lot more to tell, and I know all of you have stories of your father – good, bad, indifferent. My father was my hero. My father was possessed by his love of music and as far as I’m concerned, that’s what he pursued wholeheartedly his whole life. He taught me, by demonstrating it, to live my passion. Oh, he couldn’t fix the slightest thing in our home. He did, however, completely disassemble and rebuild a car’s engine one summer. He only had a few parts left over … but the car ran perfectly for years after that. After graduating from UNC with his master’s degree, he got a book and taught himself how to tune pianos, and he was the best, most musical (and in demand) piano tuner I’ve ever known.

Next year, 2013, he would have been 100 years old. But honestly he suffered so much physically and I wouldn’t have wanted him to live longer than he did. In October of 1993, he got very sick and came very close to dying. But he didn’t, and in his recovery he unearthed his two Haynes flutes and began playing again. He also had an electronic keyboard and began playing that, too. Daily. I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone so inspired to live passionately and to create beauty as he.

On January 11, 1994, though, he passed quietly in the middle of the night. He had told my mother and the rest of us sometime between October and January that there was no one he was going to miss more than her, Doris. Their love for each other was improbable and unlikely, but I could never imagine a more lively match.

I hope, in your comments, dear readers, that you will share a story or two about your own father, the presence, the absence, the good, the bad, and the essence of your fathers.  I look forward to reading them.

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