I called him “Daddy” when he taught me to ride a bike, and baited my fishing hook because I heard the worm scream, and whisker-scratched me good night.
I still called him Daddy when he talked about his college track days and set up the high jump in the yard. I have my mother’s short legs instead of his long ones. He set the bar so I could execute a clean jump. “Good job, Punky. Now, a little higher.”
At bedtime, I asked questions. “Daddy, how does an airplane stay up in the sky? Why can we see the moon in the day time?” My mother knew my ploy, but he ignored her sighs and launched into explanations that hurt my brain. I knew my Daddy was the world’s smartest man.
He said he was an independent, but our family’s political leanings were clear: “When in doubt, vote Republican.” During the Kennedy-Nixon race the talk at family dinners was so vile I was terrified and sad when Kennedy won. The world was going to end, and my first ever birthday party was four days after the Inaugural. I asked God to let us live until the party was over. When months and months went by and it was almost my birthday again, I wondered if Daddy might be wrong about the “damned Democrats”.
Against the warning of co-workers, he bought a house in the only integrated section of town. Daddy wanted my brothers and me to know from experience everyone is human. He started a Boy Scout troop at the neighborhood school and got word to black parents their sons were welcome. He treated them like he did us—yelled when they messed up, smiled when they did good, and told them they can do better. Even so, Daddy didn’t like Dr. King and was unhappy with my adoration. “He’s going too fast. Whites won’t change that quickly.”
I challenged him on that. “But Daddy, it’s already been 100 YEARS!!! How long would you wait? How long would you want your children to wait?” He became quiet and turned back to his newspaper, but he wasn’t reading it. He was a stubborn man, but he had a heart. That’s why the term “Compassionate Conservative” never made me laugh.
In high school I stopped questions before bedtime and began calling him “Dad”. But habits are hard to break and sometimes “Daddy” slipped out. I’d blush, and he’d grin.
After the grandchildren were born he became “Grandpa”. I watched him play with my kids and delight in every thing they said and did. Once he caught my eye and smiled, “They remind me of you.” That was a surprise gift from my children. I saw the man I missed when I was so busy growing up.
When my first grandchild was born he teased that I was now officially old. But I was only a grandparent. He was the great one.
The cemetery is a half a mile away from my house. I drive by it several times a week. If I’m alone in the car I turn down the radio to say hello. I alway call my mother “Mom.” But his name depends on the day…Daddy, Dad, Grandpa, Great Grandpa.
I have added another one: Father.
When he was alive, “Father” was too formal for the man who removed his suit jacket and tie as he walked through our kitchen door. He wanted to give them all away when he retired but Mom insisted he keep one for funerals. If she had been alive when he died we would have buried him in it. But she was already gone, so my brothers and I donated that suit to Goodwill and buried him in his brown flannel shirt and corduroys.
“Father” is an honoring name.
A sacred name.
To be used when needed.