Tales from the Quarter: My Dad

01:00 June 16, 2020
By: Debbie Lindsey

It is not just Father's Day that reminds me of Dad. It's often the smallest of things, like a folded newspaper, that causes me to reflect on my life with him. He was never bored or impatient while waiting for someone, as long as he had his newspaper or Time Magazine to read. I might be late to meet him somewhere, but I could rest assured that he'd have his reading material with him.

I also think of him when I swim, for he loved swimming. He was not an athletic man by any means, but he could sure tread water (he swore it cured his bad back). From the time I was able to swim, he and I would set off in search of some sort of watering hole (not a bar—well, maybe years later), be it a creek, bay, lake, or pool.

These outings would continue for as long as I lived in my hometown. I never did have a car, so he'd pick me up at my apartment. We'd take off in his Volkswagen Bug and head toward an extravagance my folks allowed themselves: a pool at the Grand Hotel situated at Point Clear, Alabama, about 35 miles from Mobile. We would gab like mad every mile of the way to and from, often stopping off to visit my Aunt Ethel who lived along the way, and then she would out-gab us. Talking seemed to run large on my dad's side of the family, a trait I fully inherited (much to the chagrin of my friends). In fact, I was the only one who could out-talk her, and therefore, when she telephoned my folks, they would hand her over to me to wind her down and give their ears a rest. She was my favorite aunt.

Dad gifted me the love of musicals. I was totally smitten by show tunes and suspect that my folks regretted, at times, infecting me with song and dance when their visiting friends were held hostage by me, a precocious eight-year-old with absolutely no musical talent. I was born to entertain—or so I thought. It would be years before I realized just how tone-deaf I was and that my two left feet would be an embarrassment to Fred Astaire.

Going for walks with Dad was a ritual we began when I was little and would always continue. He was a talker like I was and enjoyed sharing his time with me. I would later learn that some of those earlier walks were a crucial time for him to decompress. His business was going under, and the worry and weight of this must have been intolerable, what with a family to support and all. Yet all I remember from those strolls was how pleasant they were.

Dad was my moral compass. (Of course, my mom was stand-up and a great role model, but her story will wait another day.) Right and wrong was not something he preached; it was something he lived, with the good surpassing his flaws. In fact, he gave me a sense of good being attainable, even in conjunction with selfishness or ego. When I was a bit older, one of my heroes was Ralph Nader, the consumer crusader (that is, before the idiot cost Gore the election years later). And Dad, in response to me beating myself up about not feeling totally altruistic in some matter, said, "Don't think Nader isn't driven by a large ego. He would have to be, and that's fine, because it propels him in his work." Dad wasn't particularly a Nader fan, but his point was well given and taken. Common sense was Dad's mantra. And it has guided me, along with his absolute honesty.

My favorite story about Dad's integrity was the time he found a small change purse with 20 or so bucks in it and no ID. He took out a classified ad in the newspaper under "Lost & Found" and told me that if no one claimed it, he would give it to me. That act of honesty was above and beyond, and it has guided me more times that I can count. It's the little things that make a person soar. Currently, during this pandemic and economic collapse, the acts of generosity truly define the better angels. And we are reminded that one mere act of thoughtfulness can make someone's day—perhaps even save a life. Dad would have worn a mask (in between puffing his Camels), donated, and volunteered, finding ways to give back to the community.

Dad would never raise a hand to my sister or me and yet was never indifferent to our misbehaving or to any of our transgressions. He told me that his dad didn't communicate or talk much with him, so he promised himself that he would talk to his kids. His lectures were punishment enough. As an adult, I can appreciate his desire to discipline with verbal reprimands. But as a kid, ears burning from these talks was tedious at best. I am afraid that I learned the art of lecturing to the point of nagging—just ask my husband.

Dad's one trait that I can not reflect back on as positive was his temper. He could "fly off the handle," as they say, and while never physical about it, he certainly could put me on edge. That too was inherited. I have a lousy temper. Righteous anger is fine, and I have plenty of that—no apologies. But my hissy-fits and short temper are plain stupid. Dad would probably lecture me about that.

I could go on forever with saccharine-laced antidotes. I will simply end with the wish that Dad could read this or that I could pick up the phone and tell him thanks.

Martin Philo Lindsey was born November 11, 1908, and continues to live in my heart.

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