Father’s Day. Depending on a person’s point of view, Father’s Day conjures varying emotions. Joy. Sorrow. And everything between.
From my perspective, it stirs up the sweetest of memories. Not because I recall a lifetime of sentimental Father’s Days with the family hailing ours as the best of the best (although we knew he was). Nor because I recall a specific card or message penned through tears of gratitude. But because I remember one event involving my father–Wilson Freeman Brooks–not on Father’s Day, but on three days in the spring of 1967, days that will live in my memory forever. Even when my mind is gone, my heart will remember.
Daddy and Father’s Day
Daddy was a farmer in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas. As such, he and Mr. Sun worked basically the same hours. He started farming at age 21 by working as a field hand and living in a cottage with no electricity or running water.
In a few years, he had saved enough to build Mother the brick house she always dreamed of. He was at home at the head of the table three meals per day. He drank coffee with my mother, never with the “boys” down at the coffee shop. And he never wasted a breath on profanity or off-color jokes.
He joined one organization–Texas Farm Bureau; served as an officer in four organizations–Farm Bureau, Raymondville School Board, Willacy County School Board, and the Hayhurst Foundation; and was added by God to the rolls of one eternal body–the church of our Lord Jesus Christ.
For years, Daddy was a very successful farmer. Everything he did turned to gold—-until it didn’t. And when it didn’t, it didn’t in huge ways.
Many folks referred to him as a modern-day Job. And in ways, he was. He didn’t have his four children taken from him, but he did bury one boy and almost buried another when at age 19 his son ran his small car under a parked 18-wheeler, spending a month in a coma. Daddy’s heart and soul were forever marked by that experience.
On the heels of that accident came a physical malady no one–not even Mayo Clinic–could diagnose. All Daddy and those of us who loved him could do was watch him slowly and ever-so-cruelly melt away. His muscular system from his shoulders to his feet atrophied over the course of 10 years, leaving him at his death in 1971 a wheelchair and braces-bound skeleton. Although he was an impressive man always, it was during those 10 years that Daddy’s greatest influence was seen and felt. He never missed a church service, nor a Bible class which he taught without stopping from age 21 to his death at 57, nor an opportunity to raise a weak hand at his lap or hanging to his side to signal hello or to shake hands.
And on top of everything else, Daddy’s farm business, much like his muscular system, slowly atrophied. For example, when he bought expensive hail insurance, no hail was seen for miles. But when he hadn’t the money for crop insurance, his crops got hailed out. When the sun was shining, the cotton pickers were broken down. But when they were fixed, it rained. For 10 solid years, Daddy’s was the opposite of the Midas touch. Everything he touched turned to dust.
Did Daddy agonize? Yes. Did he complain or ask “Why me?” Never. In fact, when I asked him “Why you?” he said, “All I know is I trust God and believe whatever He’s doing is for my spiritual good.”
How Daddy Fathered
It wasn’t in Daddy’s makeup to force himself or his views on anyone. He thought deeply, prayed unceasingly, and presented well-formulated arguments to anyone who would listen. But he let others make up their own minds. Even his kids.
One example occurred at the beginning of my dating years. A young man “with a history” asked to come calling. My mother’s reaction: Absolutely not! But Daddy’s: “I don’t have all the answers. But I can tell you what I’ve learned by living life over the years, and I can warn you of the possibilities I see. I could forbid you to see this young man, but I know you’re old enough to figure out how to do so behind my back. That’s not what I want. I want you to consider what I have to say and make a wise decision yourself.”
Daddy never had to forbid me to do anything. All I had to do was look at his face . . . into his tender eyes . . . and the decisions came naturally. I respected him beyond any force on Earth.
One Unforgettable Event = An Unforgettable “Father’s Day”
With college aid, I was able to attend Abilene Christian College in Abilene, Texas.
College years were emotional years for me. Living in a dorm, I was exhausted most of the time and slept the better part of the holidays at home. But I found myself in tears fairly often too. Chalk it up to exhaustion, stress, emotional roller-coasters, dating drama–who knows? All I recall is that I was often emotional. I had extremely happy, carefree days but plenty of days of disappointment too.
We had no phones in our dorm rooms. There was one pay phone provided in the hallway for each floor of each wing. Consequently, we girls found ourselves lined up, waiting for someone to get off the phone. I discovered Wednesday evenings right after church was a good time to call Mother and Daddy. This was a time when others were drifting in from their dates to church and club meetings and a perfect time for me to grab that phone booth.
An Important Phone Call That Heralded a Unique Type of Father’s Day
On one Wednesday night, I was struggling with something emotional–the what is obscured by floodwaters under the proverbial bridge. I only remember that I was “blue” as Mother used to say, and talking to Mother and Daddy helped. Our conversation, as I recall, wasn’t a lot different from other similar calls, and we said goodnight and went on to bed like many a Wednesday night.
The next morning I felt some better and went about my day–classes, socializing, cafeteria, and all the rest.
That afternoon I was in my room studying when my “buzzer” went off. (When we had a caller in the lobby, the receptionist “buzzed” our rooms, and we went down to see who it was.)
I pictured a couple of possibilities–both guys I had been dating–and wondered what either of them would want with me in the mid-afternoon. I pushed aside the swinging door into the lobby and looked around for one of the two guys and my eyes came to rest on a graying-haired, painfully thin, far-from-fashionable older man sitting between well-dressed and cologned “jay birds” waiting for their dates.
Looking much as he had three years prior when he delivered me to ACC via U-Haul trailer–travel worn and exhausted, Daddy grinned at me.
What Are You Doing Here?
Daddy. 500 miles from home. In my dorm lobby? “What are you doing here?”
“On the phone last night . . . You sounded like you needed me.”
As Daddy’s illness progressed, his abilities dwindled. He sat in a recliner most of each day and got around outside the house in an electric wheelchair powered by one finger. He had arm braces that helped him manipulate his arms and a body brace that held his torso straight. Driving had long been out of the question.
I hugged him and looked around. “Where’s Mother?”
“At home. I wanted to do this myself . . . alone.”
“But you can’t drive 500 miles. Surely. You can’t lift your arms. You can barely lift your hands from your lap. How in the world . . .?
“I managed, babe.”
The Visit That Became Unforgettable Father’s Days
Daddy remained three full days that morphed into something way better than Father’s Day. They were a father’s day experience that has lasted a lifetime. the most memorable imaginable.
I saw him into a nearby motel and picked him up every morning for a day of “shadowing” his college junior daughter. He couldn’t hold his head up straight, but he did his best. Couldn’t walk at the pace of a college junior, but I learned I could slow down. He ate with me in the cafeteria. Went to church with me. Visited with my girlfriends and a male friend or two. And then he was gone.
But Daddy left an impression and a memory of several “father’s days” that still live fifty-two years later. I will never forget his sensitivity to the emotions he heard in my voice over the phone that night in 1967. Nor will I forget the aching heart that led him to tell Mother the next morning, “I’m going to see Linda. Alone.” Or the love that drew him onto the highway, creeping along seldom-used roads, avoiding the worst of traffic, eyes fixed ahead, looking for Abilene, Texas and his girl.
I’ll never forget the sight of my deteriorating father sitting among an array of robust young men in my dorm lobby with eyes for me alone. That was some father’s day. The best.
My heart remembers. It always will. Thank you, Daddy. I love you so dearly and thank God you were my father.
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Books by Linda Brooks Davis