One of the earliest memories I have, so early that it is more an impression than a memory, is the smell of warm donuts in the morning. I’ve written about this before for National Donut Day, but this first memory is a very important one. You see, when I was young, real young…like two or three… my father was in the US Navy and he was away from home a lot. Sometimes he was gone for weeks or even months at the time, especially once he was stationed on the USS Enterprise (CVN-65). But when he came home, it didn’t matter how tired he was or how long he’d been gone, one of the things he always did was go and get donuts for breakfast.
So that smell of warm bread, sugar, and chocolate frosting began to mean more than just a sweet treat to me. It meant home, and family, and as I grew older I recognized it for what it really was; the simple and consistent reflection of a deep and steady love of a dad for his family.
I was blessed with a father who cared about us, really cared. He loved the family, loved his kids and his wife, and he found ways to show it that weren’t always over the top or extravagant, but were steadfast and consistent. And in today’s world that is sometimes more rare. I didn’t always see it at the time growing up, but now that I’m a father myself, I can recognize the incredible value of the lessons he taught me.
When I was a kid, Dad would say things to me like, “Live your life so that it doesn’t matter what anyone says about you, even if they’re lying,” or, “The only things a man has that no one can take are his word and his honor, so take care of both.” When I was ten years old, those sayings didn’t make much sense, but he said them often enough that I remember them now. And now, they make a lot of sense. They’re principles by which I try to live my life, and lessons that I’m doing my best to pass on to my own kids.
One of the most powerful pieces of advice he ever gave me, though, came after an intense argument we had, one of the few that resulted in both of us yelling and cursing at each other. I had just turned twenty one years old and my life was in absolute shambles. A long-term relationship had ended, I had two kids from different moms, I had dropped out of the Air Force ROTC and college. I was lost and had no clue where I was going or even who I was anymore. And after the argument my dad looked at me and said, “Son, you decide who you are in this life. You pick the road you’re going to walk, whatever that is, and then you walk it no matter what. And the people who love you, who really love you, will walk it with you every step of the way. And screw everyone else.”
It was exactly what I needed. It forced me to really think about and decide who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do with my life. The answer, of course, was the same that it had been since I was in the third grade and read Treasure Island. I wanted to be an author. Up to that point I had listened to a lot of other people about why I should be an engineer, or an electrician, or an Air Force officer, but I hadn’t listened to what my own heart and soul was telling me. Once I did, my life turned around and things started to change.
While I was going to school for a degree in creative writing (still in progress….) I met the woman who would become my wife. We’re still together after eleven years of marriage, we have two beautiful little girls together, one of my sons who lives with us and one who doesn’t, and a life more full of love and real, deep happiness than I ever could have imagined. And, as unbelievable as I still sometimes find it, I am an author. A real, full-time author with four books on the market and 20k+ copies sold. The only thing about it that’s bittersweet is the fact that my father, the man who set my feet on this path and helped push, prod, and carry me down it isn’t here to see it all happen.
My dad passed away suddenly twelve years ago, and I still miss him. I still find myself sometimes reaching for the phone to send him a text or give him a call. I still think about things I need to ask him or seek his advice about, things I need to tell him. To be honest, I don’t think that feeling will ever fully fade, and I don’t think I want it to.
But I think the good Lord above knew just how difficult that loss was going to be for me, because He provided in the way He always does, with what we need before we know we need it. That provision and blessing came in the form of a father in law, Randy Poole. Randy has been a constant source of strength and support since Courtney and I got together, even before we were married. He brought me into his family, made me a part of it, and has never once made me feel anything other than loved and accepted. For more than a decade Randy has supported me, believed in me, had faith in me, even when it was difficult to have faith in myself.
I have been richly blessed in my life with an amazing father, who I miss dearly and daily, and with multiple other father figures who have shaped who I am over the years. I’m thankful for each and every one of them, and for the impact they have had on my life. And every day I do my best to pass on the wisdom, love, and lessons I’ve learned to my own kids. Being a father isn’t always easy, I know that now way better than I did when I was kid. But being a father has defined who I am and my life in a way that few other things ever have or will.
I wouldn’t be the person or the man I am today if I wasn’t a father, I know that. And I wouldn’t be the father I am today if it wasn’t for all of the amazing examples I’ve had in my life.