To my father on his birthday
I’m Just Sayin’
by SHEILA SMITH
“You could say I’m hard to hold
But if you knew me, you’d know
I’ve got a good father
And his strength is what makes me cry
Feet on ground, heart in hand
Facing forward, be yourself”
From “Good Mother (Good Father)” by Jan Arden
“So, do you have any ideas about what I can get for your birthday?” I asked Dad.
“Nope,” he said, the same answer I get every year. “I would just like to have a good day.”
I laughed. “Well, I don’t know that I can give you a good day, but I’ll pray you have one…”
Today makes 65 years that my father, Michael Wade Smith, has been on this earth. Though I was born during his 37th year, from what I have been told and what I have seen, my father has had one heck of a ride down life’s highway.
I can assure you, our ride together has not been easy. I was told all my life, and now I finally admit, that my father and I are very much alike and our shared personality has sometimes led to, er, interesting situations. (Yeah, we’ll just use the word “interesting”.)
We are both temperamental, stubborn, fairly obnoxious, blunt and, to put it politely, chemically imbalanced beyond reason. So there was a time that putting the two of us in any close space for a given amount of time would lead to war.
Of course, those aren’t my father’s only characteristics. He’s always for the underdog and willing to help anyone in need. He stands up for those who cannot or will not stand up for their selves and fiercely – fiercely – protective of those he loves. He is intelligent and self-schooled in a number of areas and more creative and talented than entire groups of artists placed together.
Though our shared personality often led to battles, sometimes he was the only one to understand me.
When I had just turned 13, two of my friends died in an ATV accident. It was hard to lose friends but even harder, in a way, to face my own mortality.
“We’re just kids, Dad,” I told him while we were talking the night of the accident. “I just don’t understand why someone my age would die.”
Instead of giving the usual “tomorrow isn’t promised” speech that most parents would, Dad said, “You know that song you like, about ‘life’s a dance, you learn as you go?’ Well, it’s true. I can’t tell you why this happened and you’ll probably never find a real reason. But you’ll learn as you go.”
He always made good points and, because we are alike, he understood some things about me. My freshman year of high school, one of my close friends was threatened by another girl at my school. She had promised she was going to ‘beat up’ my friend.
After Mom went to bed, I walked into the living room and asked, “Dad, if I come home tomorrow with detention or a suspension, how mad will you be?”
He eyed me from behind one of the many books he was reading. “What did you do?”
“Well – I haven’t done anything – yet,” I said, then explained the situation with my friend. “I don’t want trouble and I actually get along with the other girl, but if she jumps on so-and-so, I’m not going to stand back or wait for a teacher. I can’t just stand there and do nothing.”
“Well,” Dad said, setting down his book and sighing, “I don’t want you getting in fights but I know sometimes one person can’t prevent a fight. But if you start swinging, you better make that first hit count. And don’t tell your mother about this conversation.”
He knew that, like him, I was not a troublemaker, but it took very little for me to defend someone else.
Of course, telling my father about something beforehand was always better than saying nothing, because Mikey has eyes and ears everywhere.
One night with friends when I was about 16, we went to a few houses in Jennings and covered their trees with toilet paper (It was all in good fun. The homeowners knew we were coming, just not when, and it was sort of an ongoing, friendly battle between friends.) The next afternoon, Dad called me outside.
“So, what did you do last night?”
“Just rode around Jennings with some people.”
“Hmm,” he said, nodding. “Just people? No toilet paper?”
“How do you know?!” I squeaked.
He just grinned. “Your old man has eyes and ears everywhere, kid. Don’t forget that.”
He still does have eyes and ears everywhere – aging eyes and ears, but they are everywhere, nonetheless.
It’s taken many years, but now, I understand my father, too.
After my mother died, he slowly grew closer to a woman I considered a friend and still do. They had actually met through me while my mother was sick. Dad wanted to sell some of his artwork to help raise money for Mom’s medical bills, so I directed him to then-City of Jennings Project Coordinator Polly Henry, who was planning the annual Jennings Alive arts and crafts event. Polly was someone I turned to a lot during my mother’s illness; she had helped care for her own mother before she died, so we could relate to one another, and she helped me understand what my father was dealing with, as she was also a widow who watched her husband battle a longtime illness. After Mom died and Dad became involved in more activities to keep him busy, he and Polly became friends and then they became a little more.
In April of this year, I stood with my sister and watched as Polly became Mrs. Smith, our stepmother. My father’s eyes were bright with excitement and love as they married and I was, and still am, so happy for him. I also made sure to caution Polly months before on Dad’s tendencies: “If he gets sick, he whines but he doesn’t call the doctor, so you have to call the doctor, make an appointment, then have the nurse call and tell him he has to go. Sometimes he doesn’t eat or he eats junk but he knows it’s not good for his blood sugar. These are the meds he has to take each day. If he gets snappy, snap back and he’ll hush, or just ignore him and eventually he’ll get over it”.
I don’t see or talk to my father every day, but he is always on my mind and heart. When I think of him, I thank God that I still have him, and when I do talk to him, I always make sure to leave him with an “I love you,” because I want him to know that I do and that I could never ask for a better man to have given me life. Sure, sometimes I still want to wrap my hands around his throat, but I assure you, it’s all out of love.
My father and I have come so far in life, both as individuals and as a father-daughter pair. It’s been a long road but I would never trade the times we’ve endured or the time we have been blessed to have together.
Happy birthday, Ol’ Bird. Lil’ Bird loves you more than you will ever know.
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