Words fail when trying to describe my father, but he was truly the best man I have ever known. He provided for our family in all the important ways–we were loved immensely, we had opportunities, we were comfortable, and we were happy (mostly). He provided wisdom, humor, support, strength, and spirit in ways I find it hard to name. Professionally, he worked as an FBI agent and later as an investigator for several government agencies. In his work, he witnessed the acts of criminals and the darker side of life, but he never brought that home. If anything, he worked even harder to shield us from pain and evil.
So many small moments could be written about my dad, each one a glimpse of his rare character. This small moment is a defining memory for me. It reminds me that small actions can have lasting power.
Daddy was fastidious in keeping up with the news, mail, and household bills. He frequently wrote personal letters to family and friends. Once a check was made out to pay a bill, or a letter written to my older brother or sister, he HAD to get it in the mail. Whether it was impatience to receive a reply, or just his dislike of leaving “loose ends,” I’m not sure, but I know that trips to the post office were frequent and important to him.
One cold night in February my father, still in his suit and tie, put on his long, black wool overcoat, and wool fedora. He always wore a hat in the winter. He asked if anyone was up for a walk to the mailbox. “I’ll come!” I exclaimed. I bundled up and we headed out into the bitter cold night. I could see my breath as we walked to the blue mailbox about a half mile around the block. We looked up at the stars. “Look! There’s the Big Dipper, and there’s the Little Dipper!” Stars seemed to awaken his philosophical nature.
I can’t recall our conversation exactly, but I remember the feeling. My dad loved to ask questions of his children, such as, “Is is better to go fishing on Sunday and think about church? Or, is it better to go to church and think about fishing?” He liked to make us struggle with an idea and he always listened to what we had to say. I knew I had his full attention as we walked and talked.
Walking with my Dad that night, I think he asked me about what I wanted to become in my life. I felt he trusted me to have hopes and dreams and he wanted to be part of making them happen. Walking with my Dad, I felt valued.
We were about half-way there when my dad reached for my small hand with his big, warm hand. He had large hands with thick fingers. He always said his hands were clumsy, but I thought they were the most beautiful hands I’d ever seen or felt. The veins on his hands stood up as if proud of their work. His pinky was crooked, and his pointer finger bore the scar of an unfortunate encounter with a lawnmower blade. His hands were always warm. We walked briskly together in the cold, hand-in-hand. His big hand said, “You’re safe with me.”
“Here we are. Pull it open.” I reached up, and he let me put the letter in. I listened for it to hit the pile of mail already in the box. “Now, be sure it went down.” I opened the chute and looked to see.
I still do that.