If my daddy did not like the Father’s Day presents any of his six children gave him, he told us so. Or he showed us so by tossing aside yet another tie, shirt or set of handkerchiefs. But gifts such as peanut brittle, pistachios or pliers typically made the cut.
Whether as a dad, husband of 60 years, friend or newspaperman, Fred J. Flagler Jr. never pretended. He either liked something or he didn’t. He balked at unsolicited enthusiasm. Though he was hard to buy for, he squawked if any of us teamed up to buy a Father’s Day or birthday gift. “Now wait a minute,” he would say. “What’s this business of going together on a present?”
As a little kid, I usually gave him a box of Tampa Nugget cigars or Old Spice aftershave. About 15 years ago, I finally came up with a gift that touched his heart: a homemade card and a list of tips I had gleaned from him. He was pleased, surprisingly so. My dad passed away in 2009 at age 83. Despite the time that’s gone by, many lessons and memories from him travel through my mind every day:
• Keep your hair out of your face.
• Sit up straight with your rear end back in the kitchen chair and your napkin in your lap.
• Regularly clean under the refrigerator to keep the coils clear, and clear the lint from the dryer.
• Keep WD-40, duct tape and a pair of needle-nose pliers on hand to fix, or salvage, just about anything.
• Know the difference between flat-head and Phillips-head screwdrivers, and that left means loose, right means tight.
• To make homemade vanilla ice cream, use half-and-half if you must, but whipping cream is preferable.
• Answer questions briefly and directly, and don’t use “yeah” or “uh-huh.”
• Do justice, love kindness and walk humbly.
My father also advised me not to go into the newspaper business, partly because of the low pay and long hours. But I didn’t listen. I even married a newspaper guy.
Until his last year of life, my father had the gift of a strong voice – for telling stories and jokes, for telling the truth in his daily newspapers, for backing the arts in Winston-Salem, for opposing strip-mining in the state, for demanding better customer service and for getting the best health care for my mother.
The week before his death, I gave him a birthday gift that brought a smile and approving nod despite his weak health. His rear end had grown flat, and it was uncomfortable for him to sit in his wheelchair. I fashioned him a new padded rear end out of squishy falsies.
I also replenished his Old Spice. For old time’s sake, I keep that last bottle in my bathroom cabinet.
Betsy Flagler, a journalist based in Davidson, is a mother and preschool teacher. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 704-236-9510.