Today is my father’s 75th birthday. He’s a mountain man from Virginia, reared in Tennessee, and currently roosting in Georgia with a rambling tomcat, a chocolate lab, and a mare mule named Kate. A born-again bachelor for the last quarter century, he’s actively searching for the perfect woman – one ready to submerge herself in the throes of passion, pontification, and penicillin-prone farmhouse sinks. My dad is not your average septuagenarian, to put it mildly. He’s a semi-retired Physics professor and ordained minister, and his topics of conversation swing as far-and-wide as the pendulums in his lab or his interpretations of scripture: from the seismic activity in Sri Lanka to the virtues of flip phones; from the state of the secular world to the value of a round bale of hay, he’s the most interesting man in the world. And by interesting, I mean… “interesting” is his favorite word.
He maintains a cache of “interesting” topics and tales, which he then serves up at mealtimes. His lead-ins of choice, “Let me tell you something interesting…” or “Did I ever tell you the interesting thing that happened…” or that old familiar stand by, “Interestingly enough, I once…” Regardless the build-up, rest assured that whatever he’s about to wax poetic over, it is guaranteed to “interest” only fellow astrophysicists, Pentecostal scripture enthusiasts, or mule farmers. He lives vicariously through himself. He’s the most interesting man in the world.
He’s quite the proud promoter of theoretically appropriate cuss words, as well. Bitch is his all-time favorite – and always used when referencing his dog. He gets his subversive jollies off using proper canine terms. He doesn’t always talk dirty, but when he does, he uses bitch and dam. He’s the most interesting man in the world.
And speaking of proud promoter – he’ll never shy away from discussing his storied career and numerous patents – from university to industry, from geophysics to astrophysics, from patents pending to patents expired, patents current and yet to be conceived – you name it, he’s done it. And been published. Google him, if you don’t believe him. He’s won the lifetime achievement award – twice. He’s the most interesting man in the world.
Now, he’s a good-looking man, my big-talking, bitch-dropping dad. His hair, once full and dark as coal, is now pale at the temples and sparse at the crown. His joints are arthritic, and his hands are spotted, but his mineral blue eyes are still piercing and his long, lanky frame is still imposing. And so is his didactic style. He’ll preach till the mules come home on science, politics, and God. For him, the world is black and white, just like the scripture on the page or the hair on his head. He sits tall in the saddle of his moral high horse and his seventeen-hand roan mule. His ten-gallon hat holds twenty gallons of opinions… He’s the most interesting man in the world.
I’m sure it baffles him beyond all belief that he’s raised such a liberal-minded daughter. Well, to give him credit, he’s raised three. Three outspoken, independent women. I was the firstborn. Long and lanky and leaning decidedly to the left. And then my two sisters came tumbling after. Three stair-stepped, progressive daughters sired from the seed of a staunch patriarchal papa. I don’t know how he stayed in his right mind.
Growing up, we girls would hear him commiserate with fellow fellows that he was the only male – besides a neutered tom cat, so he didn’t count — in a house full of females: four women, two bitch dogs and a mare horse. His universe was plagued with Premenstrual syndrome, prone toilet seats, rogue lip gloss and tubs clogged with long, chestnut locks. We caused him endless hours of angst. And then his most fervent prayer was answered: my brother was born. The son of his right hand and heir to the throne.
As I’ve hinted, I’m nothing like my father. He’s a far-right conservative; I’m a far-left liberal. He’s a man of science; I’m a woman of the humanities. He loves quantum physics; I love Quantum Leap. He quotes scripture; I quote Shakespeare. Given a chance, he’d shoot doves in the field for dinner, while I’d shower them in symbolism. Me, I’m reserved; my dad, he’ll share his life story with the cashier at Walmart. He has inside jokes with perfect strangers. He’s the most interesting man in the world.
And while, we’re polar-opposites, we’re also exactly alike. I’m stubborn and proud and opinionated and outspoken. I’m faithful and frugal and full of forgiveness. I cry easily, can consume ginormous amounts of popcorn, and am insanely proud of my family. I also got his height, his love of jalapeno peppers, and his passion for the stars.
One of my strongest, best memories involves me trailing after him as a youngster, the dusty clutter to his meteoric majesty, up into one or the other of the two Ole Miss observatories. It was pure perfection to stay up past my bedtime and view the moon and the planets with his astronomy class. I was in awe: of him, of his students, of his galaxy. (Had he hung the moon? Hell, I was fairly certain he’d strung the whole Milky Way.) By the first grade, I’d memorized the planets and their order. When he came to my elementary school to give a demonstration to my peers, I preened like Orion in October – all bright and blustery and bigger than the belt in my britches.
But by the sixth grade, my brother was born, Ole Miss was left behind, and a crazy cult eclipsed our cosmos connection. I don’t remember a lot of interaction with my father in those dark matter days, except for him lecturing and me not listening. Things grew twisty and tortured, and then tanked altogether. Only through the miraculous intervention of a Wise County wise woman, my fairy godmother and paternal grandmother, did we emerge on the other side of the darkness and find our way to a daughter-daddy do-over.
We haven’t always had the best relationship, my dad and I. Our philosophies are polar opposites, and our belief systems are equally rigid. But the older we grow, the closer we grow. We meet in the middle over family and food, mutual respect and love.
He’s fond of acceleration spectral density, discount stores, and long walks on the beach with a metal detector. He is left-handed and right-handed. His conversations have lost more people than the Bermuda triangle. He is indeed the most interesting man in the world. Happy Birthday, Dad.