My father was 44 years old when I was born in Spain. A successful partner with a big accounting firm in the 1970’s, he was working a three-year stint in the Madrid office when I arrived on the scene. He left the firm due to what he felt was unethical behavior by guys at the top. Since that time, I’ve watched him make countless decisions that personify his integrity.
When I was a little girl, my dad didn’t really know how to have a relationship with me. Dolls and ballet weren’t his thing. But he always came to my gymnastics meets. He watched all the events except beam. The idea of me falling off the skinny contraption suspended in air made him too nervous, so he made trips to the concession stand during my routines. He has worried about me for 37 years and counting!
I can only imagine my dad’s excitement when I decided to play basketball in the 5th grade. Finally, an activity we could bond over! For the next five years he would teach my AAU team to run the best match-up zone defense the state of Florida has ever seen. We won the state tournament five consecutive years with that defense.
A basketball star in his day, my dad grew up in a small town in West Virginia, his high school experience a real life Hoosiers story. He was named MVP in the state championship game of 1948. He went on to play for the West Virginia University Mountaineers, who were ranked 6th in the nation his senior year. After that he played for the Air Force, while serving our country in an intelligence group that cracked enemy codes during the Korean War. I’ve always wondered what amazing secrets he knows that he’ll take to his grave.
The first time I remember being close to my dad was after I graduated college. When I no longer needed lectures about wearing skimpy swimsuits or dating the wrong boys. I had turned out alright and we could finally be friends.
I am so thankful, after open heart surgery in 1994, my dad was healthy enough to walk me down the aisle in 2000. I’ll never forget standing there, waiting for the doors of the chapel to open. I was a nervous wreck. He reassured me, “It’s just like shooting a free throw, Tracy. Step up to the line and make the shot. Visualize nothing but net!”
One of my favorite memories is our father-daughter dance at the reception. We specifically wanted to avoid any of the typical sappy songs. Not our style. So when the band started mistakenly playing Butterfly Kisses we busted out laughing! We pretty much laughed our entire way through the dance.
Since that time, my dad and I have become separated by thousands of miles and several debilitating strokes. I see him only once a year. He’s 81 now. His body weak and frail, his mind stolen by wicked disease. On the outside he may not appear the same man I knew growing up. But when I look into his eyes I still see the wise, humble man of integrity I know. A little girl’s hero.
He wasn’t the perfect dad. But he’ll always be my best dad.