A FATHER'S DAY LETTER TO PAPA SMITH
Dear Papa Smith,
I'm sorry to be so long in writing. But I know you forgive my negligence. Knowing you, Papa, you will boom out, ”Aw, shoot,”and bring up something funny. You've always accepted me, "warts and all,”as you say with those loving laugh lines creasing your face all over.
How is that you've always known me so well, Papa? How is it that I have known you so well? Not because I am named for you. When I was little, I believed that was why. Later though, I learned that I wasn't the only one named for you. Not by a long shot! There are lots of cousins—firsts, and worse—bearing all or part of your name. Even a girl or two! Now, with my son and others of his generation named for you, there’s an army of your namesakes out there.
Still, Papa, I claim that we—you and I—always have had a special bond. You made me feel like that from the beginning, as I've told you.
"I love you, Papa." It was the longest time before I could say that because it's the way boys are. But, you never had any trouble saying you loved me. I knew it anyway.
I miss you, Papa. I miss laughing with you; playing music and telling tales with you. Some may not be able to fathom that I spend those fun times with you anyway. That’s the way it’s always been with you and me.
Mainly, Papa, I'm writing now to thank you for the priceless gift you gave me. No, I don't mean that old slip-bark whistle with your name (and mine) carved in it. And I don't mean 'Hell Broke Loose in Georgia,' that favorite fiddle tune you shared. Nor, all those hunting stories—some of them “windies,”you finally admitted. Not even your big old rocker which I cherish above all because Mama Smith said you wanted me to have it.
No, Papa, I write to thank you for a much greater gift than all those things. (I see you squirming and twisting on your moustache! Mother said you'd be sheepish that way if I started to be serious with you.)
You left treasures for all your descendants, Papa, especially your daughters. You gave them wit, music, modesty, self esteem, purity, and feminism at its ultimate.
Oh sure, you had fine sons, too. They, likewise, had their "Papa" stories. Theirs’being mostly the fiddling and the funny stuff you are so well remembered for. They, also, revered you for the model you provided them.
Yet, Papa, you've gotta know that the greatest gift you left was a pattern; an example for any father raising a daughter!
Throughout my formative years, I heard about the respectful and honoring ways you had for treating your daughters! This not only from Mother but from Aunt Marie, Aunt Era, Aunt Mattie and all. When Mother and her sisters got together, the stories flowed of how "Papa took tender care of us girls. Kind of put us on a pedestal and kept us there,”they'd say. (Years later, you even "spoke" that message gently to me that hot day I had my children picking up rocks in our new yard. "Benny, can't you find something a bit gentler for little Bev to do, you asked?" I could, and did.)
So, Papa, I met you through your daughters' accounts. Those impressions sank into a sensitive boy and stayed. I grew up thinking that the most meaningful thing I could do in life was to be a model father to daughters. My ambition became to be the kind of father to daughters that you were; to one day have daughters who would remember their father with the reverence your daughters held for you.
I hear it is usual for young fathers to want sons first. Not me! I asked God to give me a daughter first, and he did. You were the reason for that, Papa. As you know, I've been blessed with two beautiful daughters (and two super sons). It is for others to judge what kind of father I've been to them. That's not the point here. The point is that you assured your immortality by the kind of "father-to-daughters" you were. Here, I lift up that fact and laud you for it.
My Mother—your beloved Eva Lee—knewshe was your favorite. (But then, so did the others.) Mother's admiration for you was so deep and enduring that, through her, I could hardly know you better. Yet, at times I have grieved that you did not live a few months longer—until my birth—so that we could have experienced each other face to face.
But then, we've known each other on a higher plane!
Happy Father’s Day, Papa Smith! Through your gift, you live among us. We love you and thank you. Me especially!