A moment for fathers

21 06 2009

Father’s Day is a bit of an odd day for me.

My birth father is proof-positive that love and blood alone aren’t enough to make you a father.  They must be equaled by intent.  One of the constants in my life is that Dad always has offered the first two qualities and, rarely, the third.

But the universe has more than made up for that karmic deficiency by providing me with two father figures throughout my life.  Men who show that, if you have to choose the balance among the three qualities mentioned above, love and intent will always win out over blood.

They’re the men I honored earlier this year by changing my name, by dropping “James” (my father’s father’s name) and “Woodruff” in favor of “Brett” and “Taylor.”

“Brett” honors my step-grandfather who was my father for the first ten years of my life. His last name was “Brettman”, but all of his friends called him “Brett”.  “Taylor” honors my stepfather, who picked up the fatherhood mantle after my grandfather died and carried it until he died this past year.

But, there is a back of symbol to these two words.  Behind the men they honor are the rich lessons they imparted onto me..lessons that continue to unfold moment to moment.

A career military man, my grandfather taught me to be a gentleman; to fuel outward respect with inward pride; and to live life without a net.

On that last point…I was  sick for much of the first ten years of my life.  As a result, a lot of folks treated me like a fragile, frail object.  Not Grandaddy.  He picked me up every Saturday morning for an adventure.  He always kept me out later than my mom or grandmother wanted; let me eat whatever I wanted; talk about whatever I wanted to talk about.

He figured that, if I was going to die in childhood as a lot of docs thought, I might as well enjoy the time I had.  It’s an attitude that caused him to move back to Southern California after doctors told him that a series of heart attacks and skin cancers made him too weak for such a move.  It’s the attitude that sent him to the golf course on January 20, 1976–seven months after the move–where he dropped dead walking to the links.  One that walks with me every day.

I called my stepfather “Thoso”.  He taught me three things:  to love nature; to ground in faith; and to always, always, always enjoy food…especially dessert, specifically Blue Bell and Spring Creek B-B-Q.  I got that last lesson first and struggled for years with the second.  The first lesson, the love of nature, was his last gift to me.

Like many gifts, it’s best shared through a story.

After a lengthy struggle with Parkinson’s, Thoso died last March.  He had a rapid-fire series of strokes beforehand that brought me home to Texas 8 times between December, 2007 and March, 2008.

As I took that final flight home, 33-years of memories flashed through my mind.  Then, just as we were beginning our descent into DFW, a final image flashed:  Thoso and I were sitting on a ridge, looking out at the deceptively simple Texas landscape.  We had our arms around each other’s shoulders, gazing out.  Just sitting in silent awe at the wonders and gifts of nature.

When I got to my parents’ house, my mother told me that Thoso had slipped into a coma.  I went back to his room, knelt down and took his hand.  As I did, he opened his eyes, squinted at me as only a Texas cowboy can and said,  “We had some good times, didn’t we?”

They were the last words he ever spoke.

They weren’t just words of good-bye to my mother–his soul mate–and me.  They were words of appreciation for the gift of A life that was about to be extinguished so a new one could be born.

Never forgetting that life is a gift from nature best lived with adventure…and dignity…and pride…and faith.  What a gift to re-member on this Father’s Day…from the fathers who now walk to the left and right of my name every day.




2 responses

21 06 2009
Matthew Florence

Will, what an amazing story. Thanks so much for sharing it.

28 06 2009


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