Every night of my life - til I went away to college and then whenever we were together - those were the last words I spoke before going to sleep.
Those were not trite words for me. They verbalized my security, my comfort, my stability. And yes, my love. We never hung up the phone or left the other's presence without saying "I love you". That's the way it always was.
Saying good night was not a rote tradition. It was a sweet, familiar, declaration.
Good night, Daddy. Love you. See you in the morning.
Good night , Daddy.
Stability. The familiar end to every day
Comfort. Confidence of acceptance and significance
Today I said those words for the last time.
Good night, my dear Daddy. You've run your race so well. It's time for you to rest.
I wish you all could have known my Dad. Your life would've been the better for it. He was indeed a champion, a true gentleman, a prince.
Born as #7 out of 10, he grew up knowing what it meant to work hard and to have little in the way of money or things. But in the stuff that really counted - he was rich. Character, intellect, relationships, faith - his family was loaded.
Other than working a lot of manual labor jobs and playing lots of football & tennis, his early years were rather uneventful. He tells of Christmas gifts of an orange or maybe a pocketknife and of his Mama's good cooking. Of pranks with his brothers and of lots of hymn singing.
Then, like many high school graduates of his time, he enlisted in the Army and served well. But unlike many others of his day, he then accepted Uncle Sam's offer of college and off he went. He was a standout on the college tennis team and especially in the classroom and it was during his days at West Georgia that he met my Mom and convinced her to fall in love with him. She says it didn't take much work on his part.
Leaving West Georgia Junior College, he continued his Bachelor of Science in Biology at Emory University. He married my Mom on Christmas break and they lived in a tiny apartment while he finished his degree. She tells of the many times she spent reading in the bathtub because he had study groups in the other room!
After that degree, he went on to earn another one, bring two kids into the world, and open his own pharmacy in a town he'd never heard of. It was there that my parents spent 50+ years, raising us, taking care of sick folks, starting a school, and building a fortune in relationships and memories and faith. And respect. How many times over the past months have I heard people say "I respect your Dad so very much. More than anyone I know." I understand. Me, too.
It took a lot of quiet courage for my Dad to lead the life he did.
To go to college, when that wasn't the norm for his lineage. And then to earn not one, but two, degrees. Magna Cum Laude, I might add.
To move to a tiny, unknown town where pretty much everyone ran family businesses that had been in place for generations. To set up shop as a stranger in the midst of tight circles. And to succeed splendidly.
To desire a better education for my brother and me so much that he joined with a small group of other courageous men to risk everything by starting an independent school. It cost them a lot - not just of money but also of time and public opinion - and yet they persevered. And, some 50 years later, thousands of lives testify to their successful sacrifice.
To serve his church faithfully and consistently even when it was not "convenient".
To hold the bar of behavior up high for my brother and me, more by the way he lived his life rather than what he demanded.
To treat people of all ethnicities with respect and courtesy when that was not the commonly held view in small southern towns of the '60's.
To love my Mom so kindly and so faithfully for 61 years. I really do not know how either will breathe without the other. Either one. I really do not know.
I wish all you could've known my Dad. He was the epitome of genuine grace, kindness, and superior intellect. With just enough stubbornness to be endearing. When he felt his position was worth fighting for, wild horses couldn't drag him away from his resolve. I've seen the firm set to his jaw many times and just shook my head in dismay as some poor uninformed soul tried to persuade him away from his position. Futile. Absolutely futile.
Quiet reserve - he never sought to be the focus of attention. So unpretentious - he never found his significance in impressing people. Well, OK, except maybe to make sure they knew about his son the doctor but I suppose that's forgiveable -- the boy is quite remarkable!
Poised - I cannot remember a time he lost control. He came close one time with a car salesman but instead we just left the dealership and went back home to do business in Meriwether County. Even then, he didn't lose it and seeing his backbone just made me respect him more.
Diligent - everything he did was worth working hard at. As I cleaned up the area by his recliner, I found his well worn dictionary -- he used it to work crossword puzzles right up to his last few days. Which reminds me - he never used foul language. He said it was a sign of a limited vocabulary and he modeled for us the exercise of a rich lexical word-stock.
Kind - always kind. Never harsh or cruel. Kind. Thoughtful. Like the day he managed to prop himself up on his walker and limp from his recliner into my kitchen to be sure I would help him get a birthday gift for him to give my Mom. Yeah, that time. Especially that time.
Gracious - even when he could hardly balance himself, he would stand when a woman or older person entered the room. And how he endured the pain and indignities of his last days with such grace that even the nurses marveled. Never complained. Always asking others about themselves and their families. Murmuring "thank you" and "God bless" to the angels who bathed his frail body when he could no longer move on his own. Grace. Especially under pressure. Wow.
Daddy, you ran your race well. You left deep tracks for us to try and follow. You took time all through the race to notice those beside you, those on the sidelines, and those behind you. You shared generously with all - your financial resources, your wisdom, and especially your kindness.
I know you heard me, that last time I stroked your head and whispered "Good night, Daddy. Love you. See you in the morning." Even when you couldn't respond, just saying those words still brought me security, comfort, stability.
It'll be a long night without you, Daddy.
But there is still stability. You've left me a great foundation. Thank you.
I love you.
And I know you love me and that is great comfort.
And I know I'll see you in The Morning.
Oh what security there is in that!
To live is Christ
To die is gain
You won today, Daddy. You won.
Save me a place beside you. I love you.
And if you're on the golf course when I get there, I'll find you.