Pride and a little prejudice

Published 2:48 pm Tuesday, October 2, 2012

I have written lots of times about my father. Some of what I write he likes, some not, but he never fusses or pouts or tries to tell me what to write. He is honest that way.

On the contrary, he brags on me to total strangers in grocery stores and doctors’ waiting rooms and doesn’t stop when met with studied indifference.

He will turn 87 this week. I don’t know why we “turn” an age, as in turning a page. Maybe I’ve answered my own question.

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Some of my first memories of my Daddy are on Pensacola Bay, looking out at him on the vast green water. He is water-skiing, a tall and invincible man skimming water on wood, as close to flying as a human could come.

For a few wonderful childhood years, we spent a lot of time on Pensacola Beach. When I’d try to cross the blinding white sand, it felt scalding-hot to tender young feet. My father would hear me cry out and come and scoop me up and rush me to the lace trim of the ocean.

He’s been rescuing me ever since.

He taught me the usual things a good father teaches: how to ride a bike, how to drive a car, how to stay quiet when adults are talking. He also taught me how to parallel park and play poker.

He taught more by example. He got up and went to work every day, rain or shine, with shoes polished and mind right. He’d been to world war in the Pacific; every duty that followed was gravy.

He gave me the things I most wanted: a horse, music lessons, a cocker spaniel puppy.

But more importantly he gave me the things I needed: square meals, comfortable home, discipline, money for college.

I remember vividly the times he was sick and in bed, because they were such rare occasions. Once he had his tonsils out and ate a lot of ice cream. Another time he fell while trimming a tree and broke his leg. He never complained about the pin or the pain.

On Sunday nights, he’d pop some popcorn and we’d turn on “Bonanza.” I felt like a member of a fine and exclusive club.

In college I won the election for campus newspaper editor. Before the first issue came out, I panicked. This thing that I’d wanted so badly now seemed overwhelming and scary.

I phoned my father, of course. He told me I’d already been doing the job, not to let the title of editor scare me. Just do your best, he said, and I’ll be proud.

And he was.

Out of college, I tried with my former husband to start a weekly newspaper. It failed after 26 weeks, but it wouldn’t have lasted that long without help from my father’s employer. There was at least one page of advertising on which we could depend.

When we came home broke and tired in our old pea-green Pinto, Daddy didn’t say “I told you so,” though he endlessly had preached the wisdom of working for an established company.

I want to take this newspaper you are reading and thump these words the way I’ve seen my father do. “That’s my father,” I’d tell you. “And I’m mighty proud of him.”

(To find out more about Rheta Grimsley Johnson and her books, visit