On Monday, Jan. 10, John Wesley Nettles turned 70 years old. Nettles was born in 1952, in Birmingham Alabama, to John T. and Hazel Nettles and he is my Dad. In honor of my father and his encouragement in my writing (and life in general) I’m sharing a letter to him.
For our true words of love and affection are too few these days. And in a world where both tongue and silence can sting, may we choose to shed light and joy on all that we hold dear in our hearts.
I honestly don’t know what to think about you turning 70 years old. Seventy seems like such an “up there” kind of number; whatever that means. But I look at you and you are so happy and healthy and have so much goodness to offer this world. In that sense, you are far from old, you are right where God needs you today.
Growing up with you as my Dad is hard to put into words, but is it easy to put into memories.
I remember you taking me to school at Dean Road Elementary. You car-pooled with two other parents, but the day we got to ride with you was always my favorite. I remember you taking us to the Sani-Freeze in downtown Auburn. You always ordered a Chocolate Malt and I usually ordered Mint Chocolate Chip. We would sit on the half-broken, stubbled wall of the parking lot with Joe and Aubrey, taking in an always pleasant Auburn night sky.
I recall our many trips to Birmingham to visit your parents. Sitting at your mothers dining room table filled with delicious food was always a treat. Your mother was always so kind and gentle and she always smelled so good. I adored her pretty red lipstick and all the pink décor in her bedroom. She was very fond of me whenever I would eat her salmon on a sandwich and I still have a vision in my head of her and Papa washing and drying dishes together in their tiny fifties model kitchen.
Papa was a man of few words, but he always found a way to make me laugh. He would make silly faces at us and when he got out his cheese curls for a snack, we became best friends. I remember one day he let me “play” in his old Buick. (No keys of course.) The seat belt got stuck and it had to be cut with a knife to get it off me.
I remember the day well, when we drove up to Birmingham to get Papa and bring him to live with us in Auburn. He was not well after your mother’s death and you sternly but lovingly made him come home with us. That was such a beautiful thing you did Dad. And I bet that was very hard. But the time and love we got to share, those next couple of years with Papa, were wonderful. Those are memories you made for all of us Dad.
In middle school and into high school, you drove me and my friends all over the place. I cannot even imagine what that was like, so thank you. And may I add that Movies and Munchies and the $1 Zippy Mart are still high on my “awesome” list. Who would think that renting movies and buying candy at a convenient store would rank so high on a childhood?
We went to church on Sundays and ate often around our dinner table. You shared house-hold chores with Mom and when things got a little wild on the weekends, we went to McDonalds or Captain D’s to eat. We had many amazing vacations and holidays were always well spent at 1139. You cooked often and loved often. The wonderful thing about you Dad, is that you were always there, always. I have no memories of life where you are absent.
And you were present with love and intention. I’m sure you could have been working more or taking up a hobby or hanging out with other men, but you weren’t. You were with us. And you did it so well. You have done it all so well Dad. I’m just so very thankful that I know you. So very thankful that I have spent a great deal of my life with you.
I have the privilege of holding so many things in my heart with you. And not just the big moments like getting married and you holding my babies for the first time, but everyday life. Everyday, you have been here for me. Thank you Dad. For being you.
I could go on and on but I’ll leave it here. A good reason for me to continue to write to you.
I love you. Happy 70th Birthday! We have so much more life to enjoy together!