Most people called him “Big Dan”. I called him “Daddy”. He was twenty-four and a half years old when I was born, his first child. This past Sunday was the twenty-third time that I celebrated Father’s Day without him. I do not know why this was one of the hardest.
I have been married over two and a half times as long as I lived under my Daddy’s roof. We had a great relationship while I was growing up, though we went through the typical struggles most teenage boys have with their father. He wanted my hair short. I wanted it long. We fought until he gave in. I discovered I hated my hair long. The older I get, the more I think some variation of those four sentences sum up most of the family struggles in life.
I started building Hardee’s because I needed to escape Daddy’s long shadow. Ironically, he helped me achieve that goal by supporting me financially and encouraging me every step of the way. How I wish I could rest just one more day under that shadow he cast.
Maybe I am more mindful this year of Father’s Day since four of my nieces and nephews have had their first child in the past six months. Big Dan would now have eight great grandchildren. He was a great father. He was an even better grandfather. I hope that is what my children say about me one day.
I was a better son as an adult than as a child. Maybe that is only in my eyes. My parents used to say I was born old. Perhaps they were right. Now that my children are grown, with their own families, I understand how my parents chose to live as empty nesters. In fact, my wife and I have copied them in many ways. We still have so much to discover, learn, and enjoy. Travel while you can, my mother would say.
My father was always 24 years older than me, until he died. I have spent the last 22 years catching up with him. I still think of him as 71, even as I approach that same age myself. I am aging and he is not. Life is one of our greatest gifts. While I mourn my Dad’s passing at a relatively early age, he lived almost two decades longer than his own father. My mother has lived to be two decades older than my father when he passed.
If life is one of our greatest gifts, then love is another. I understand my father’s love for me more today than I did as a child. His lessons to me are now crystal clear even as I find myself retired. In fact, he taught me how to enjoy retirement, and to not wait too long to enjoy the fruits of your labor.
Love multiplies. My parents’ love for each other and their children took deep root with me. This Father’s Day, I reflected on whether I am leaving that same legacy. I think I am. I hope I am.
If life and love are two great gifts, then surely time must be a third. My father lived longer than his father and my mother has had a longer life than both her parents. I remember my father as a youthful 71-year-old who thrived on his children and grandchildren. I look at my mother as a vibrant and healthy 91-year-old who has lived to see her grandchildren all married, and then have children of their own. I wish my father had more time but am grateful that my mother continues to live a full life decades later.
In just under one thousand days, I will be the same age as my Dad when he passed away. I sometimes think about what it will be like to be older than he was. I used to think that it was my charge to be better than he was, if that was in fact possible. I do not think that anymore.
Big Dan would be as proud of me as I am of him. He lived life to the fullest and when his time came, too early, he faced his death with amazing grace and dignity. That is something I hope, when my own time comes, I can do as well as he did.
In the meantime, I have a thousand days to become a better man, just as he did until the very end. If I had one hope, it would be that twenty-two years after I pass away, on some Father’s Day in the future, my children will rejoice in my life, remember me with love and cherish our time together.
In the meantime, I will continue to remember the love, life, and time I was blessed to have had with Big Dan, who will always be known as Daddy to me.
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org