It’s often been said that anyone can be a father, but it takes a real man to be a dad.
My dad was a real man.
Before losing his eyesight to diabetes in 1974, he was a barber. Since there’s little demand for blind barbers these days, he needed some help and enrolled in the Alabama School for the Blind in Talladega.
Upon the completion of the program in Talladega, he’d acquired the necessary skills and training to operate a business.
He didn’t open up a Fortune 500 company, but he did participate in the Business Enterprise Program for the Blind.
This program provides participants who are legally blind with the opportunity to operate their own food service or vending facility. The Business Enterprises Program provides initial training for potential licensees and ongoing counseling and management services to established operators.
All operators retain the majority of the net proceeds from their facility and a small percentage goes back to the division to assist with the program’s operations and expenses.
My dad, who was completely blind, managed the snack machines at many federal and state buildings in Montgomery.
At this point, he and my mom were divorced and he’d remarried another lady who was legally blind. Therefore, neither could drive, so he had to walk to the bus stop every day with nothing but his keen senses and a walking cane and then somehow managed to maneuver his way around our capitol city.
My brother and I went to work with him a few times, but, at the time, had no idea what we were witnessing. Now, however, I’m in awe of what he did. He set such a great example for his two young and impressionable boys to emulate.
He didn’t claim to be special, he just led by example. He put his pants on one leg at a time just like any other father. He just didn’t know what color they were once he got them on.
We would spend every other weekend with him, as well as a few weeks during the summer. Oftentimes, as we were loading back up into our 1971 gas guzzling Sherman tank to head back to Opelika, our dad would give us money. It never was much. If we were lucky, it was a Kennedy half dollar.
We used to get a lot of spankings but I usually had time to pad my backside before the blind man took off his belt. Hey, a boy’s gotta do what a boy’s gotta do.
Unfortunately, I didn’t always have time to pad the backside.
One day, before getting into the gas guzzler, I asked him for the money, and he yanked his belt off like Sinbad the Sailor. I got a lot of whippings when I was a kid, but there are about four of them that stand out above all the rest. This was one of them.
He taught me a valuable lesson that day. I hadn’t done anything to earn that money and certainly wasn’t entitled to it. Since that day, I’ve never held my hand out expecting something for doing nothing. I’m grateful he set me straight at such an early age.
He was a real father.
He taught us to say “Yes, sir” and “No, sir.”
For Christmas, he bought us enriching gifts such as globes, books, and encyclopedias.
He even made us eat all of our vegetables. While my brother gladly obliged, I fake moaned and groaned as I either fed them to the dog or quietly raked them into the trashcan.
Once again, a boy’s gotta do what a boy’s gotta do.
Sorry, daddy, but I still don’t eat vegetables.
Diabetes ended his life prematurely. He was just 35 years old. My brother was 11; I was a month shy of turning nine.
We weren’t with him for very long, but we were with him long enough to be forever impacted by his fatherly ways. The man knew what he was doing. He had a great father, as well. It’s amazing how that works.
Sadly not all kids have great fathers and that’s a shame. Every kid needs a father or a father figure in his or her life. When my dad died, one of my uncles picked up the slack.
If a father figure is not available, the mother must pull double duty. Although, incredibly difficult, it can be done. I’m grateful to have had a strong mother, too.
So, to all the dads out there, I say Happy Father’s Day; however, if you’re just a father and not a dad, the time to make that transition is right now.
Jody Fuller is a comic, speaker, and soldier. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, please visit www.jodyfuller.com.