The first man I loved was my father. I lost him long ago, but countless memories remain, even from when I was a baby.
In one of those memories, he leans over my crib, patting my back, singing “Hush, Little Baby” to lull me to sleep. In another, he lifts me up, points to the sky and says, “Look! There’s the Man in the Moon!”
In every memory, I see his lake blue eyes smiling down upon me. Except for when I fell off a horse, or lost the bait on a hook, or had to tell him I couldn’t come live with him, because I had to watch over my mother.
If you’d had the pleasure to know my dad, you’d remember him, too. He was John Wayne, Clark Kent, George Burns, Daffy Duck, a one-of-a-kind unforgettable soul.
At least, that’s who he was when he was with me. Some of us — maybe all — are at our best when we’re with children. They free us to be who we truly are, and accept us, flaws and all.
With adults, Dad was more guarded, especially with my mother. Their marriage ended when I was 2. I have no memory of their being together. My older sister remembers a bit too much and tells me I’m lucky I don’t.
I lived with my mother 40 miles from the farm where Dad lived with his parents, but I often spent time with him on the farm on weekends or holidays or in summer. He sent my mother a check each month to be sure I had lunch money or shoes or just a dollar to spend.
A little spending money was good for the soul, he said, but it should be used wisely. He’d give me a nickel and say with a wink, “Don’t spend it all in one place.”
I learned a lot from my dad about fathers. That they can nurture and care for their children, even if they can’t always be with them. That they can be tender-hearted, even with callouses on their hands. That it’s their God-given nature to guide and protect and provide for their families. That they can’t be all things to all people, but they can be what their children need most from them: A father who loves them.
I knew that not all fathers were like that; only the best ones. And I asked God to give my children the very best of all.
It’s often said that women tend to marry men who are very much like their fathers. I’ve looked for my dad’s character in most every man I’ve met — not to father my children, but to be someone I could trust and learn from and enjoy.
My children’s father in many ways was nothing like my dad. But in the ways that mattered most, he was just the best. Ask my kids. They’ll tell you.
We lost him to cancer soon after my youngest finished high school. But his great love for his children and his impact upon them lives on in their memories and their characters. As I often remind them, you don’t have to be in the room with someone to know that they still love you.
In my second marriage, I wasn’t looking for a father for my children. But I saw in him the same qualities I had loved in my dad and my first husband.
I especially loved the kind of father he was to his two boys. You can tell a lot about the character of guy who keeps paddling a raft on a raging river when everybody else is just hanging on for dear life.
Imagine my surprise after we were married to see him become the best grandpa ever.
I see in my children and my grandchildren glimpses of my father and their fathers. I’ve been blessed to know some great men in my life, and I am thankful for each one of them.
But my heart holds a special place for my first love. I keep a nickel in my wallet and never spend it in one place. I sing “Hush, Little Baby” to lull my grandbabes to sleep. And at night, when I look up at a star-spattered sky, the Man in the Moon is forever my dad.
Sharon Randall can be reached at P.O. Box 416, Pacific Grove CA 93950 or on her website, www:sharonrandall.com.