I poured the orange juice on the potted plant with the most regal of intents. The vitamin packed liquid would provide the plant with a ton of nutrition and it would thrive—or so I thought. Later in the week my dad, sister and I sat, noses wrinkled and forks saluting midair at the dining room table, as a pungent smell permeated the room, and this time I knew it wasn’t coming from spaghetti I’d burnt. Ten minutes later we’d identified the green centerpiece as the culprit. The ribbing I got chased me through stories for years … and I’m thankful for each stinky, burnt, laugh-infused memory of growing up with a single father as my parent and a little sister as my usually unwilling protégé.
Each family has a foundation—a rock upon which the entire clan gathers around for warmth, advise, compassion and a swift kick in the butt when needed—a rock upon which each member feels secure enough to erect their own family structure and upon which the building of each load-bearing wall depends. My dad was and still is this rock.
Whether he’s sitting on the porch imparting words of wisdom to a heartbroken little girl or encouragement to a down-and-out boy who wished he’d made more tackles in the football game, Dad is the go-to guy in the family. He’s the fire that the pack gathers by to warm themselves from the chill of a brutal winter.
Dad is the keeper of the sword. He’s the rock that secures Excalibur until it is time for its light of wisdom to shine. There’ve been countless such moments over the decades and each time he’s wielded the sword with integrity—when a relationship’s needed severed, as painful as it may be, he’s release the fire of compassion that burns within his heart and cauterized the wound for quick healing. When decisiveness is called for this same sword extinguishes fear in the shaken one and expedites a quest into unfamiliar territory.
You might be thinking he sounds like a hero from Guardians of the Galaxy, but the rock that we live on sustains all life as we know it; yet, we don’t call Earth a hero. Rocks just do what they do because they can and because they know no other way to function. They just know they hold the power within to help or to hurt, to break the window or to shine a light through it. I am thankful my rock chose the latter.
From nights sleeping on a mattress on the floor so we could have the bed to grocery store trips spent humbly purchasing our feminine products listed in code as “marshmallows,” Dad’s sacrifices wouldn’t be considered such by him. Rather, he refers to the days of tossing frisbees because it was free entertainment, and sleepless nights of listening to girl chatter as, “The best days of my life.”
He assisted my drama team in building a new stage and inspired my sister and I and every kid that came around, to build a strong character within—a character that knew when it was time to reach for the sword and how to handle it with honor when we did.
Fathers protect not only their families, but the extended community with each outstretched arm of affection and with each pat on the back given, not due to catching the winning touchdown, but simply due to putting on the uniform and running onto the field, fearless and undaunted by the pessimists of the world.
Fathers teach, but sometimes the lessons are complicated, sometimes the directions are muddled and not explained well even if they are taught with the best of intent. Fathers aren’t perfect, but the light within the swords they have been entrusted with is impeccable.
As you congregate around your fathers, your rocks, I hope you rekindle a renewed exuberance for the fire burning inside of each one. That fire can either light a path for those tiny footsteps that follow or it can consume you with rage, burning up all the kindling and extinguishing the power.
As George Strait sings, “Daddies don’t just love their children every now and then. It’s a love without end. Amen.”
Michele Zirkle Marcum is a native of Meigs County, author of “Rain No Evil” and host of Life Speaks on AIR radio. Access more at soundcloud.com\lifespeaks.