Today, in Heaven, my father turns 81. He was a mountain man from Virginia, reared in Tennessee, and most recently roosted in Georgia with a rambling tomcat, a chocolate lab, and a mare mule named Kate. A born-again bachelor for his last quarter century, he actively sought the perfect woman – one ready to submerge herself in the throes of passion, pontification, and penicillin-prone farmhouse sinks. My dad was not your average septuagenarian (he died just before his 80th birthday. He was a semi-retired Physics professor and ordained minister, and his topics of conversation swung 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 was the most interesting man in the world. And by interesting, I mean… “interesting” was his favorite word.
He maintained a cache of “interesting” topics and tales, which he then served 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 was about to wax poetic over, it was guaranteed to “interest” only fellow astrophysicists, Pentecostal scripture enthusiasts, or mule farmers. He lived vicariously through himself. He was the most interesting man in the world.
He was quite the proud promoter of theoretically appropriate cuss words, as well. Bitch was his all-time favorite – and always used when referencing his dog. He got his subversive jollies off using proper canine terms. He didn’t always talk dirty, but when he did, he used bitch and dam. He was the most interesting man in the world.
And speaking of proud promoter – he’d 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’d done it. And been published. Google him, if you didn’t believe him. He won the lifetime achievement award – twice. He was the most interesting man in the world.
Now, he was a good-looking man, my big-talking, bitch-dropping dad. His hair, once full and dark as coal, grew pale at the temples and sparse at the crown. His joints were arthritic, and his hands spotted, but his mineral blue eyes was still piercing and his long, lanky frame was still imposing. And so was his didactic style. He’s preach till the mules came home on science, politics, and God. For him, the world was black and white, just like the scripture on the page or the hair on his head. He sat tall in the saddle of his moral high horse and his seventeen-hand roan mule. His ten-gallon hat held twenty gallons of opinions… He was the most interesting man in the world.
I’m sure it baffled him beyond all belief that he raised such a liberal-minded daughter. Well, to give him credit, he 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 was a far-right conservative; I’m a far-left liberal. He was a man of science; I’m a woman of the humanities. He loved quantum physics; I love Quantum Leap. He quoted 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’s share his life story with the cashier at Walmart. He had inside jokes with perfect strangers. He was the most interesting man in the world.
And while, we were 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 didn’t always have the best relationship, my dad and I. Our philosophies were polar opposites, and our belief systems were equally rigid. But the older we grew the closer we grew. We met in the middle over family and food, mutual respect and love.
He was fond of acceleration spectral density, discount stores, and long walks on the beach with a metal detector. He was left-handed and right-handed. His conversations lost more people than the Bermuda triangle. He was indeed the most interesting man in the world. Happy Birthday in Heaven, Daddy.