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Who's Your Daddy?

Mama and Betty, Downtown Florence, 1944 When I was two years old, I knew my daddy, in some ways. I didn't know him as a WW II veteran of the US Army Air Force. I didn't know him as an airplane pilot or airplane mechanic, small engine repairman or insurance salesman. I didn't know him as a brother, uncle or son, or as a husband, son-in-law or brother-in-law. I didn't know him as a house painter, screen door fixer, lawn mower, or light-bulb replacer. Or as a banjo player / barbershop quartet singer, neighbor, friend, or as a ballroom dancer. Yet he was all those things, to other people.

To two-year-old me he was just a marvelous big creature who loved me. He was a smiler. A carrier-on-the-shoulder. A hugger and tickler who got down on the floor and played baby dolls with me, or wound up the wobbly spinning top for me, over, and over, and over. He let me climb up in his lap when he was trying to read the newspaper, and read the funnies out loud to me. He was a food taster who offered me little bites of his grown-up meals. He was a goofy "mareseatoats" song singer and a "once upon a time" story reader.

Sometimes he pointed a square box at me and called, "Smile," which I probably did most of the time. I still have the black and white prints to prove it. I didn't really understand the definition of father yet but I knew the word daddy. And I knew my daddy, in all the facets of my two-year-old personal relationship with him, limited though they were.

A few years later I knew my daddy as mama's best friend, who would dress up in a fancy suit and necktie and go somewhere with her, who herself was dressed up in a frilly dress and high heels. Off they'd go to some place I couldn't go. Baby sitter time.

He was the chauffeur to any places we went as a family, the bill-payer when we went to the movies or out to eat, the final declarer of the absolutely perfectly decorated Christmas tree, the slow present opener who (like so many other gentleman of his era) used his pocket knife to carefully unstick the scotch tape and avoid tearing or wrinkling up the wrapping paper.

I also knew daddy as occasional nay-sayer and occasional deep thinker. “Can I, daddy, can I have that?” might result in long moments of deep thought before daddy's well-meditated "no" answer was forthcoming, complete with reasonable, logical explanation. Only in cases of youngster temper-tantrum threats did he resort to "because I said so," but if daddy said so, it was so.

In my pre-teen years I got to know daddy as a good tic-tac-toe player, Chinese checker player, and monopoly player. I got to hear him play his banjo and sing four-part harmony. I also discovered that mama and daddy weren't always in perfect agreement - sometimes they had slightly loud discussions, at least that's what they called them. Not yelling, not arguing, not fighting, but discussing points of view that sometimes clashed. I never listened and therefore I have no clear idea what those differences were all about. It's probably just as well.

In my early teens, I began to know daddy as the family bread-winner who sometimes couldn't work, who was suffering from heart disease caused by rheumatic fever contracted during WWII. For several years he and mama corresponded with various veteran offices, attempting to meet the many paperwork requirements for daddy to get veterans / disability benefits for this service-related heart condition. Many thanks to Congressman Johnny McMillan, he finally began receiving the benefits.

In September 1959, daddy and mama took me out to dinner for my birthday at the P & M Steakhouse in downtown Florence. It was quite an event, to have such a nice steak dinner in such a nice place. And they gave me such a nice birthday present - a birthstone ring, gold filigree with a large blue sapphire stone. I loved it. Here I was, having a very special grown-up occasion with my parents!

1960 daddy and mama traveled back and forth to the Medical College Hospital in Charleston, where plans were made for surgery to repair daddy's heart valve, damaged by the rheumatic fever. However, a week before the date for that surgery, daddy died of a massive heart attack. I was 16 years old.

I never got the chance to know daddy in all the many-faceted adult roles that other people knew. A few people have shared with me over the years about daddy as their friend. He was a valued friend to many. My mother never really recovered from losing her best friend, lover and husband, and I never really recovered from losing my daddy. Over the years I have come to realize that daddy was a multi-faceted person, including a multi-faceted father to my brother and me. I knew him, but not as well as I would have liked, and the opportunity to know him better ended for me in 1960.

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