I was sixteen years old when I first heard the story about my dad and his blue Jaguar, and I think there’s no better time than Father’s Day than to share it with you.
My father is the second oldest of six children who were born and raised in Missouri and Kentucky. Their mom, my grandma, raised them pretty much on her own, while their dad worked away from home with the Tennessee Valley Authority. Though Grandma and Grandpa provided their six kids with most of what they needed during the Depression, my dad has told me many stories of growing up in those lean years. Stories of when he and his brothers used to go to nearby corn fields and gather corn that had dropped to the ground during harvest. Stories of Grandma sewing clothes out of potato sacks.
So, you can imagine how my dad must have felt when he graduated from Air Force Cadet Training and headed to his first assignment in Hawaii to be an Air Force Pilot.
On that magical, mystical island, he bought a blue Jaguar.
Now, just imagine being young and on your own with a job, making good money, owning a shiny new convertible . . . and in Hawaii, with beautiful girls all around. Imagine the freedom you’d feel. The hope for your future.
One of those beautiful girls he met was my mom. And the shortened version of the story goes, the young lovers were swept up in a whirlwind romance, enjoying Hawaii, that convertible, each other, until two words brought them crashing back to reality:
Well, the result of that whirlwind romance was marriage and me, and I often think about how each of them must have felt back then. That surely must have been the end of many hopes and dreams. You already know the path my father was walking. Well, my mom had just starred in her first movie, Jungle Heat, and I’m sure she had dreams of continuing her acting and singing career.
There have been times when I’ve thought, “I spoiled it all.”
But this past Christmas, I gave my dad two gifts. One was a canvas print of him with his Jaguar. The other was a photo of our family–his children and grandchildren. When I looked at those two pictures together, I thought about the fork in the road my father faced more than fifty years ago, and I wondered how he feels about it today.
He had two choices. The blue Jaguar or my mom (and me). Needless to say, he said goodbye to the blue Jaguar and all it represented. There were many challenges in our lives over the next decades. I understand them much better looking back on them as an adult than I did looking upon them as a child.
My dad’s Air Force career kept him away from home much of my childhood, just as his father’s job kept him away from home for much of my dad’s childhood. That’s just the way things work sometimes. And though my dad knows he didn’t have much choice, I know he regrets the time he missed in our growing up.
But, to me, my life with my dad is a fine example of quality vs. quantity. Sure, I wish he’d been around more, and when he’d leave for another trip, I’d count the days until his return, because the times he was home were quality times. He taught me valuable lessons, such as the one I talked about here, in my blog post titled “Past Influences.” He was perhaps my first example of “show, don’t tell,” because he showed me patience, gentleness, integrity and love by his example.
This year, Dad turned 80, though you’d never know it to look at him. He can still ride a bike up a hill a whole lot better than I can. And, I’m so grateful that we’ve had so many years now to catch up on the time we missed in my childhood. Best of all? Now, I’ve got quality and quantity time with my dad.
Dad, thank you for your love, your sacrifices and your lessons. I love you!