Happy Father’s Day, Daddy

Mom and Dad 1967 Family Reunion

Mom and Dad 1967 Family Reunion

There were so many pictures of Daddy I wanted to post. My favorite of us together when I was six or seven, a wonderful summer afternoon full of fishing, hammock time, and conversation at Aunt Etoile’s lake house where civilization was far away, neighbors mostly only appeared on weekends, and there wasn’t much else to do but fish, converse, and walk along the dirt road. But that one is at my friend Cheryl’s house because it was in an art show.

We are still in “getting the house together” mode so our old photo albums have been moved to make way for Fran’s photo albums and those were the only ones I could find. He isn’t in those, as he was long gone before I met my husband and became part of their family.

But I did find this one in a box of loose photos. It’s a rare one of Mom and Dad together – usually one or the other was taking the picture. And this one says a lot about Daddy and about her and who they were.

The handwritten note on back of the photo tags it as August 1967. Location: family reunion at Uncle Vincent and Aunt Dora Mae’s in Pascagoula, Mississippi, where Daddy grew up and most of his family still lived (and many live there now). We were living up north (It was after New York. Was it Maine? British Columbia? somewhere out of the South) so that particular reunion was a fabulous time for us as we had spent the past few years feeling like strangers in a strange land – before cell phones, before Skype and Facebook and Twitter and things that make it seem not quite so far away these days.

Mom and my sister Carol had made handkerchiefs for our guys and matching dresses for us (we have a big family, it can sometimes take a while to explain who’s related to who and how) – it was a brilliant idea – we could spend less time explaining and more time eating and playing (I was eleven).

It was a particularly sweet time as well because our family was normally far-flung – Carol had married a dashing young Air Force officer and after a stint in Labrador they just happened to be stationed in Biloxi, Mississippi, not far from Pascagoula. My brother Al was home from Viet Nam (air rescue medic) and stationed at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. They both teased us about their being in “the neighborhood” and us being far away for a change and nagged us about being home in time for the reunion (as if we would have missed it).

Family was what Mom and Dad were all about and it’s a love they passed on to us and hopefully we have passed on to our children.

I know I’m biased, but I was blessed to have the world’s best father. Daddy was my hero, my confidant, my best friend from the day I was big enough to hold a wrench while he tinkered on the cars, followed by following him around his mill where he explained the technicalities of the #2 machine, which was finicky at best (lessons I later applied to the machines I calibrated in the Air Force – they all had their personalities too). We spent hours out in the forest where he taught me how to grade pine trees for lumber and the importance of replanting. Back at the mill, he showed me how paper was made. It didn’t matter that I was five, six, or seven – Daddy explained things so clearly I understood and never talked down to me. Daddy loved to fish and we spent many an early morning or jubilee night down at the pier or out at the lake just sitting in the quiet and being together. Daddy loved baseball and we spent lots of time at the ballpark as well. Every night after supper he and I would walk the dog (my sister’s poodle which became temporarily ours when we lived in New York and Carol and Bill were stationed in Labrador). I loved those walks the best, though I remember them mostly being in winter, in the snow. Daddy also loved astronomy and would point out the stars to me as we walked. He would have loved Google Sky Maps, which I now have on my phone, courtesy of my son. My children and I continued those after supper walks and watched the stars as well. I taught them what Daddy had taught me. And remembered him every time. I often felt his presence on those walks, pointing out a long-forgotten constellation or two.

Daddy was sweet, gentle, and kind but he was also very firm about the difference between right and wrong and held us (and himself) to a high standard. My brother, sister, and I rarely recall him getting upset about much but if we smarted off to Mom he was quick to show his warrior side.

A little more than a year after this picture was taken, Daddy was gone. A heart attack, sudden, though his health (never great) had been declining.

My world was shattered. My heart was broken. My life was never the same.

But I am so grateful to have had him as my father, even for such a short time (I was twelve when he died). I am grateful for all of those who loved him as much as I did and shared stories about him. Long after he was gone when I would encounter people who had worked for him through the years, they told me many stories of his leadership, his kindness, his problem-solving skills, his ability to understand the company from the nuts and bolts side and the executive side as well. Daddy never went to college, though I heard that one of his high school teachers gave him college level math and chemistry to hold his interest because the regular coursework was too easy for him. He worked his way up, had a natural talent for math, engineering, chemistry, and physics and supplemented that with lots of reading and study on his own. He was often puzzled when he would get a college engineering grad as an employee and have to teach them the basics.

Daddy: Didn’t they teach you that in college?
New Engineering Grad: No, sir.
Daddy: Come on, then. Let me show you how it works.

He was firm about things running properly and correctly. “Mr. Ros could tell you to go straight to hell, that your work was crap, and then show you how to fix it and have you smiling all the way back.” Many years after he was gone his workers would tell me stories with a tear and a smile and tell me how much they loved Daddy, the ways he helped them outside of work that nobody but he and they ever knew about, how much they missed him, and how they would’ve worked for him any time anywhere even though he demanded the best of them, himself, and everyone else, because he was also fair.

Daddy’s faith was strong (he was a devout Catholic, as was Mom). He did much good in his short time on earth, much of it unheralded. He thought it didn’t count if people knew it was you. He helped build a church with his bare hands and carpentry skills along with a parish full of other good men who made a difference. It’s fitting that the only other picture I have handy today is from a friend back home whose father also helped build this church.

The men who built St. Thomas Catholic Church, Chickasaw, AL

The men who built St. Thomas Catholic Church, Chickasaw, AL

That’s Daddy in the third row center-ish, dark curly hair, white shirt, tie, and that smile that said how much he enjoyed life. My brother Al looks just like him and when I look at my son I see Daddy’s eyes and curly hair, though Ryan’s isn’t as dark.

One of the gifts of getting older is being able to see beyond the sadness to the good that remains. And Daddy’s wonderful, loving heart beats on through his family, through the generations.

I picture him in heaven now, with Mom and our brother Joseph, who died before the rest of us were born. We had Daddy on earth. It’s only fair that Joseph gets Daddy and Mom to himself for awhile in heaven. My brother told me a story of going to the Senior Bowl with Daddy and on the way home they detoured by Magnolia Cemetery to visit Joseph’s grave. It was the only time my brother ever saw Daddy cry.

I love you, Daddy. I miss you still. But I take your love, your values, with me wherever I go and many times when I have a dilemma I think “What would Daddy do?” and I always get an answer. Thank you for that. And for always making room for me in your life. And most of all, for being you.