The morning of the accident he told me "good-bye", but I was too sleepy to utter three simple words: I love you. As a parent now, I know my sometimes rebellious teens love me, but to hear them utter those words is a gift and a blessing, and I wish I could've given that final gift to my father.
If I could have had a glimpse into the future prior to that morning, I would've pleaded with Daddy not to go, basing my case on the fact that I needed his praise, his guidance. I'd need him there to snap pictures, evaluate the guy taking me to my first dance. Years into the future I'd need him there to walk me down the aisle to my groom, and to be the first to hold his wailing grandson, shortly after my boy's birth. Those things were never meant to be. But in the short fifteen years he graced my life, he taught me a lifetime of lessons.
1. Almost anything can be accomplished, just as long as you try.
As a youth growing up just after the Great Depression, my father didn't have a storybook childhood. My grandfather was financially comfortable, but he feared another Wall Street crash and didn't bother investing in hired help. Instead, Grandfather worked his children from before the rooster crowed until long after dark.
Education wasn't as important as money to my grandfather. He demanded Daddy assist with the crops, and forced him to skip high school classes. The result was devastating. My father missed too many classes, and was forced to drop out of high school.
Relief from oppression came in the form of the military. While in the Army, Daddy obtained his GED, and quickly rose though the ranks to Sergeant Major before he retired. But his tenacity didn't stop there, and for a good reason--he now had a wife to support.
Mother told me in later years that it was Daddy's goal to become an engineer for the state highway department, and he did everything he could to achieve his dream. Advanced math wasn't taught in rural high schools, because it wasn't thought to be needed. Staying up until early morning hours, my father taught himself trigonometry, geometry, and algebra. Eventually he achieved his goal of designing roads for the state of Texas.
"The only real failure is never trying at all," is something Daddy always stressed. "You can do anything, just as long as you try." His words, his history, and watching him trying until her succeeded at his goals has always been my inspiration for overcoming obstacles.
2. Treat people the way you want to be treated.
My father never met a stranger, and as a result was a well-respected figure in our community. Daddy believed that a person's race, religion, or gender was not a deciding factor in how they should be treated. And he believed in looking deeper than physical beauty, and instead at the person's heart. "We all bleed the same, have the same emotions, the same desires," he always told me. "You treat every person with the same amount of respect you'd like for yourself, if not more."
3. Enjoy the little things in life.
It's no secret that Daddy was a workaholic. Not only did he toil as an engineer for the highway department, his spare time was spent working on our ranch. Some family reunions were missed as a result of the latter, but he always made it a point to attend every high school drama performance I was in, every athletic event I played in, and every band concert. Daddy had a very loud voice, and I didn't have to look in the crowd to know he was sitting on the front row, leading the cheers and applause.
And there was the Sunday walks I took with him through woods. He delighted in every bird song, and every animal print stamped into the ground we encountered. On one of our treks, I asked my father why he insisted on being at my school events, and why he exclaimed on the things we found in nature.
Taking my chin into his work-roughened hand and looking into my eyes, Daddy smiled and said. "Because life is too short, and it's important to realize and appreciate what matters."
My father has been gone physically for thirty years, but his lessons remain in my heart, and it's that legacy I gladly pass on to my children.