In tribute to my late father, I’d hoped to post a grainy old photo that shows him helping me stand in the surf of Crandon Park Beach on Key Biscayne. He was in his prime in the picture, a tall man with red, wavy hair. I was ten months old with red-gold hair, a few shades lighter than his.
Unfortunately, my scanner died this weekend and I was unable to share the photo.
What I can share are words penned across the back of the picture. I believe my aunt wrote them, as the photo was part of a collection of old family pictures she gave me. Her inscription captures my lifelong relationship with my dad:
“She need never be afraid with those hands to hold her up!”
My dad did that so well, holding me up from the day I was born until lung cancer took him nearly two decades ago. He loved me boundlessly, worked hard to give me a better, easier life than he’d had, and he spoiled me beyond measure. When I was born, he gained fame in Miami by buying out the collection of infant and small child clothing (and toys) in Belk department store.
His grand shopping spree at Belk was only the start of a lifetime of indulging me. He was all about ‘wanting his little girl happy.’ Of course, I benefited. But it was his love and ‘those big, strong hands always holding me up’ that meant the most. He loved me with the whole of his heart and then some. I loved him just as much. I always will. He was and is my first and forever hero.
He was a hero in all ways. A WW II Veteran, he ran to join the Navy, eager to fight for his country. He spent the war in the South Pacific and felt an affinity to the Navy and the sea all his life. He kept in touch with his sea-mates, attending ship reunions. I joined him at some, and was always so happy to see how well-loved he was. Everyone loved him, in fact. He was that kind of man. He never spoke a harsh word about anyone and was kind and friendly to everyone who crossed his path. When he died, I think all of Miami mourned him.
He didn’t live to see my first sale, but he knew there’d be one. He believed in my writing even when I didn’t. He’d have been so proud.
I dedicated Wedding For A Knight to him and I’m sharing that tribute here:
“In loving memory of my father, my first and forever hero. Tall, red-haired, and dashingly handsome, his life-long good looks reflected his Scottish ancestry, but it was his big heart and generous spirit that set him apart and made him so beloved by all who knew him. Soft-spoken, unassuming, and dear, his friends called him a gentle giant, praising him as a man who had a good word for everyone, including God’s littlest creatures. Yes, he loved dogs. And if I should live a thousand lifetimes, I will never stop missing him.”
Wedding For A Knight was my first book to hit USA Today. I like to think my dad had a hand in that success. He always did look out for ‘his little girl.’ And, yes, he called me that even when I was grown.
He was the father I’d wish for every ‘little girl.’ And my heart will burst when the day comes and I can run into his arms again. As I believe, I know that will happen. Until then, I’m sure he’s around, loving me from beyond, watching out for me as ever.
Even death can’t shake the grip of ‘those strong hands.’ I credit him with the strength that carries me through life. He never ever let me be afraid, and I refuse to fear even now. When times get rough, I keep on keeping on. The fortitude he taught me helped when I had to grant his last wish, scattering his ashes at sea. This was done off the shores of Key Biscayne, within view of Crandon Park Beach. For that reason, too, the ‘strong hands’ photo has special significance to me. (I’ll share it when my scanner is fixed or replaced) It cost me a lot to return my father to the sea he loved so much. But I wouldn’t have been his daughter if I didn’t stand tall and ‘man up.’
I owe him… everything.
Have a Happy Father’s Day, Tarts. If your dad is still around, give him a hug from me today. And please share memories of your own first and forever hero.