My dad. Gone at age 73. It hits me when I use a phrase of his, see a picture of him or remember the things he loved.
He loved cats and tennis. He loved junk food and bad jokes. He loved winning at almost anything. He was pretty in love with himself too. And yet, I know he loved me and Stephen deeply.
While my dad could never have been accused of being overly sentimental, he did care underneath a sarcastic wit and otherwise seeminly Vulcan exterior.
When we went through his room, a disaster of a mess if there ever was one, we found carefully preserved newspaper clippings from his own PR and photos of his many dates with women from around the world preserved in albums.
We found classical music CDs next to videotapes of The Sound of Music and Guys and Dolls. We found vitamins next to bags of Cheetos. Our own recent photos were carelessly slung beneath piles of papers, looked at once and ignored after that.
Still, I noticed that the wooden donkey that I carved in high school, during the year I lived with him, was at his bedside.
Four miniature horses were out back, little creatures he acquired earlier this year. All stallions, they were friendly enough, with the largest one named "Elvis" and the rest with no names. We needed to find these little guys good homes, so I called some veterinarians and found out we needed a Coggins test on all of them to transport them.
A traveling vet made a "farm visit" and admired the little guys for their manners, saying they looked healthy, with three of them being a "bachelor" tribe of youngsters, only about three years old, and Elvis being the leader by being larger, older, and wiser (about 10 years old).
Camden, South Carolina is horse country, so it wasn't long before we connected with owners of singleton horses who needed a friend. After getting the word out, we had three visitors in one afternoon, all of whom wanted one or two of the horses, but not the skinny blond (sorrel-colored) horse my sister-in-law dubbed "Bon Jovi."
At 8 pm the night we were leaving town, I got a call from Crystal, a vet tech, whose father-in-law was willing to take all four horses. Crystal had come out to see the horses and was impressed with them, considering taking one for her lonely filly. Her father-in-law used to be involved with racehorses, so he knew horses well. He was willing to take all four of the horses in the morning and geld them the following week. Wanting to take no chances that Bon Jovi would end up an orphan (he was also the one most bonded to other horses), I said "yes, you can have all four of them." And that was that. The horses had a good home, as pets for this man's grandchildren to visit.
The heat was oppressive in Camden, with nary a stir in the air that was damp with humidity. The fire ants were downright militants when you came too close to their hills. My brother, Kelly, Steve, and I worked for two days to get the basics covered. We stayed at a bed and breakfast on Broad Street, with a charming practice of delivering oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and ice to the rooms each afternoon.
Camden was never our home, so we felt somewhat estranged from this place we found ourselves in and even our father's home itself. We grew up far away and spent little time with our father when we were growing up.
I was probably the most like my dad out of four kids although I spent a lot of time in denial about that -- because I disagreed with him so often and valued such different things in life.
I value relationships and he had little time for relationships, even for those of us whom he liked. I can be a bit perfectionistic, while he often quipped "there's a reason that pencils come with erasers." We argued about politics, only always. I got mad at him for making stuff up and passing it off as truth. I worried about his health when he worried about getting a deal at Taco Bell. I could go on.
But I also recognize that a lot of my dad lives on in me and in my brother, noticeably at times in the phrases that we picked up from him (calling some of our favorite people "trolls" or sharing that you can "trust everybody but always cut the cards").
I could go on and on, but this is a blog posting and is already quite long. My dad was a mystery in many ways, a funny, brilliant, impatient, impossible, tacky, cartoon-like character of a man.
I miss him, his weird sense of humor, his endless optimism, but also just because he was my dad.