Today is Father’s Day – a day that for the past 12 years has been difficult for me. My husband and I do not have children, so Father’s day hasn’t taken on new meaning for us as parents. It’s more of a day for us to honor our own fathers. My father passed away suddenly in 1998, so this day is difficult for me – and I’d imagine for my siblings as well. So, today instead of focusing on the sadness, let’s reflect back on the gifts and lessons that my father instilled in me. I’ll share some funny and unique things about him and who he was and why I feel honored to have him as a parent, even if our time was cut short.
My father was a self-made man. He came from a lower-middle class family. My grandfather owned a gas station and was a mechanic. When he was 18, he enlisted in the US Navy and served for 3 years, 3 months and 1 day. I recently requested his discharge paperwork and so I have some answers to questions I was never able to ask or document before he passed. After seeing those numbers, I remember him telling me how long he served in the Navy – he was a stickler for details – something that I inherited from him as well. I remember silly statistics like he did. Something that drives my husband nuts – I’ll remember silly details like what campsite we camped on in a specific park.
In the Navy, my father was assigned to work on an aircraft carrier – I believe he was assigned to the USS Kitty Hawk. He would get frustrated and remark about how being stationed on an aircraft carrier affected his hearing if he would have trouble hearing us when we spoke to him. I suppose he worked on or near the deck where the jets take off and land, but I am not sure. I am working on requesting a more complete history of his service, so I hope to have more answers to these questions that I never thought to ask him.
After the Navy, he went to college via the GI Bill and obtained his undergraduate degree in statistics. I believe that he was the first of the 4 children from his family to graduate from a university – and one of only two children from the family to get his undergraduate degree. He got married and went to work at an insurance company as a claims adjuster. After 6 years of working for the insurance company, he decided to quit, move his family to New Orleans and attend law school at Loyola University. He and my mom had two young children at this point, my oldest brother was just a few months old when they moved to New Orleans. Law school students are not allowed to work for the first year of the three year program – because the coursework is so demanding. My father and mother managed to survive by making a modest income by restoring antique slot machines and watching their spending closely. My mom was pregnant with me when my father graduated from law school and they moved back to Lafayette, where he began his own law practice.
We didn’t call my father “Dad” or “Daddy” – he wished to be called “Poppa”. While it was unique, so was he and I love the fact that we called him “Poppa”. It just sounds right to me.
My poppa was a compassionate person, and he treated everyone he met with respect. He went into law because he felt as an insurance adjuster, he was not able to fairly treat the claimants and he felt that they needed someone to represent them – to be their voice. This was the reason why he decided to go into law – to represent individuals in claims against insurance companies. He knew how the claims process worked (since he’d worked in the industry) and that gave him an advantage. He wanted to represent the “little people” when dealing with large corporations. He built a solid business on that model – and he did it without the outlandish and obscene advertising you see many attorneys engage in these days. Many trial attorneys advertise via TV commercials, full page phone book ads and billboards – my father did not believe in advertising. He was a firm believer that if you did your job and you did it well, your clients would refer you to their friends and family – and that was the best advertising one could hope for. In a nutshell – do a good job and the business would come. Another invaluable lesson from my father.
His most favorite thing in the world was to have his kids visit with him. He told me just before he passed away that he always dreamed of having a home where his kids would want to come and visit him. Visiting him was like going on vacation – he had separate quarters for guests – right next to a game room with a pool table, slot machines, pin ball machines and a jukebox that piped music through the game room, the pool area and his shop. The guest apartment also was right next to a beautiful pool. He had a shop where he kept his collectible items along with his antique cars. My sister and I could wash our cars, then pull them into an air-conditioned garage to wax them. It was awesome.
He especially loved for us to rub our noses on his cheek – I have no idea why and where on earth he came up with this strange tradition, I suppose it was like his version of an eskimo kiss? I hated it as a child. He had nicknames for all 5 of his kids. Some of us still have them – my brother is still referred to as “Bear” – his family nickname.
My father was also a very social person. It seemed as though everywhere we went, there were people there that he knew. When we’d ride in an antique car in a parade, people would approach the car and greet him and want to chat. Consequently, I seem to have inherited that trait as well. I was recently told by a colleague that everywhere we go, I seem to know someone and I do make friends easily. One of the reasons that I think my father was so well known was because he was involved in a number of hobbies – another thing that seems to have translated into my life. I have too many hobbies to list – and I have to make an effort to ensure that I spread my time among all of them to keep a balance in my life. As I age, I see more of my parents in myself and I am thankful for the gifts they have given to me. I miss my father dearly, but I see him live on in spirit – in myself, my siblings and their children. Genetics are a funny thing and sometimes you can’t help but surrender to them.
Happy Father’s Day, Poppa. Even though you aren’t here for me to call you and wish you that in person, you’ll always be in my heart. I love you.