“Dad, what’s a first down?” I asked.
“It’s when the team moves the ball 10 yards down the field,” he replied, trying to listen to the announcer on the television.
“Dad, how many downs do they get? I asked another question as he stared intently at the screen.
“Four,” he snapped as a critical play unfolded on the screen before us. I realized that he was involved with the game and briefly kept quiet. Fortunately for me (and all the other children across America), the television stations required frequent paid advertising in order to broadcast the games. These were the times my father and I bonded the most. I never imagined as a child that I would live most of my life without a father. I thought he would always be there.
Though my dad was a man of few words, he loved to share with me his favorite things—football, cares and stories about walking to school. Every Sunday afternoon during the season, he would lay on the sofa and watch NFL games. He taught me about football as I sat next to him. We talked about the plays, the teams, and the divisions.
Other times, we talked about cars (his second favorite sport). I learned the basics of clutches, transmissions, RPM’s, tire sizes, treads, and miles per hour. Sometimes we talked about school and how far he walked when he was a child. We lived in the house behind the one where he was raised, and I walked the same paths he walked. It didn’t seem that far to me. I realize now that distances seem to stretch farther the older we become. I thought he would always be there to share his favorite things.
Dad protected me from unknown dangers. When I was a toddler living in the desert of Arizona, there seemed to be an abundance of rattlesnakes. Daddy didn’t like rattlesnakes and felt they should all be dead. Therefore, whenever he saw one as we drove on the dirt roads, he’d stop, retrieve the shovel from the back of the truck, walk right up to the coiled snake, and chop off its head. Then he’d chop off the rattle for his ever-increasing rattle collection.
As a teen in a small West Texas town, the cool thing to do was hang out late. However, Dad set firm boundaries and early curfews for me. Of course I didn’t seem to appreciate it then, but I realized in hindsight now his rules protected me. I thought he would always be there to protect me.
Dad comforted me when I felt sad and lonely. When I was 8 years old, my best friend came over to spend the night. In the middle of the night, she decided to go home. After she left, I was upset that she didn’t want to stay until the morning. My father came to my room to comfort and console me. I thought he would always be there to comfort me.
Dad rescued me from dangerous situations. After comforting me when my best friend went home, he unknowingly dropped a burning ash from his cigarette on the mattress. After he and Mom returned to their bed, the ash grew into flames that consumed the mattress. The smell of smoke alerted them to the danger. Dad pulled me out of the burning bed, doused the mattress with water, and removed it from the house before any harm came to our home or me. Exhausted from sobbing over my friend, I had fallen into a deep sleep, and I didn’t wake up until it was all over. I thought he would always be there to rescue me.
Dad consistently displayed encouraging support for me. He always pushed me a bit further and told me I could do just a little bit better. He was there at every basketball game I played and every band event in which I participated. He took vacation time from work to drive halfway across the state of Texas to be at out-of-town competitions. I thought he would always be there to support me.
Dad taught me about responsibility. After school, I cleaned the house and prepared dinner for my parents. Dad demonstrated responsibility as I watched him work long, hard hours and come home with the smell of diesel on his clothes and grease-stained hands. He expected me to work diligently on my schoolwork.
Dad taught me how to excel in math, which was my least favorite subject. After I received a driving permit at 15, he patiently taught me how to drive a car with a standardized transmission. Then, after I demonstrated responsibility, I was allowed to drive to and from my part-time job, along with running errands. I thought he would always be there to teach me.
Though my father’s income was small, his love for me was huge. Many times as a young child I went to work with him. He worked hard as a farm equipment mechanic for John Deere®. I would climb on the tractors and pretend I was driving in the fields like I did in his lap as a toddler when he worked on the farm. He valued the time we spent together, and he made sacrifices to provide for his family. His love guided me through my selfish and rebellious teenage years. I thought he would always be there to love me.
Cancer snuffed out the life of my father. He was 48 years old. I took it for granted that he would always be there to share his favorite things with me, to protect me, to comfort me, to rescue me, to support me, to teach me, and to love me. This Father’s Day as I reflect on the years that have passed without my father, I realize I should live each day by caring and loving the people put in my life as if there is no tomorrow. Our lives are like a mist. They’re here and then they’re gone.
© 2022 Shonda Savage Whitworth
The above article was originally published in June 2004 Encounter by Standard Publishing.