My hometown school district recently honored my dad, and I got to say a few words. Here they are.
Wow. How lucky I am to be his daughter, to get to stand up here and say a few words. Thanks, Kim, for giving me the opportunity to do this, and thanks to all of you for honoring my dad like this. I can hardly think of anyone who deserves an evening of being harassed and praised and just generally looked at as much as he does – I mean, look at him. He’s so handsome, right?! He’s like a cross between Atticus Finch and Davey Crockett – and he looks like Paul Newman!
I’m pretty sure he didn’t start off exactly perfect. I’ve heard some stories, and a few of them I’ve heard often enough to assume that there’s at least some truth to them – like the time he accidentally knocked his mother out. Thanks, Mema, for molding him into the kind, industrious, impatient, funny father he is. And, Mom. It would be difficult to overestimate your influence on this wild animal. Your love for and enjoyment of each other has been the foundation for every single day, every single interaction of my life. If it hadn’t been for this exceptional example, I never would have found Adam V_______, and for that alone, I owe you forever.
So, I was lucky enough to be raised by this man, this lawyer, who, even though he was in the business of giving out advice all day every day for a living, hardly ever gave me any that wasn’t specifically solicited. He just lived his life every day like he wanted me to live it, teaching my sister and me by example. I’m not saying he was or is perfect, but even when he lost his temper or made mistakes, he was never too vain to admit to them, to correct wrongs, to take a long walk, calm down and to offer a heartfelt apology. Thanks, Dad, for teaching me how to be wrong. It came in handy once. In 1986.
Dad never just sat back and told me that I should always be generous, he showed me. My entire life I’ve watched him quietly help people in so many ways. He’s generous with his time, and he’s generous with his heart. He’s very quick to tell a story, he’s not afraid to admit to his flaws, he is terrific about putting folks at ease no matter who they are or from whence they came. He doesn’t do this because it is the polite thing to do. He does this because he loves people. He loves people in an open and genuine way, and this is probably the greatest gift that he got from his father, Jack. Oh my God how big Jack would have loved to have been here tonight, listening to all the kind words and sharing a few of his own. And oh how his brother, Jackson, would have loved to be here skewering him as no one else could.
I’ve been fortunate enough to observe my dad’s generosity not only on the home front from my position as one of his daughters but also professionally when we practiced law together – both at the firm and at FedEx. At R___Law Firm, I watched so many folks walk in nervous and upset and confused and then walk out so much more relieved and confident. One couple came in particular came in one day, I could tell they were upset, and I showed them into his office which, as many of you know, is full of all sorts of taxidermied game animals – bobcats, a snarling bear rug, deer, elk, turkeys, ducks, countless fish and I’m sure I’m forgetting something. Anyway, the man looked open-mouthed at the carnage all around him and then whispered to his wife: “I think this guy can win our case.”
But the thing I admire the most about my dad professionally (even more than his intelligence, talent, hard, hard work, and seeming inability to procrastinate) is his modesty, if that’s even the right word. I’ve never met a successful person who was so quick to give credit to the people who help him. If he gets a compliment on something he’s accomplished, he very quickly tells you about all the help he had from June or Denise or Brad or Christy or Jim, and how proud he is of them and how smart they are and how lucky he is to get to work with them. And, let me be perfectly clear: This is not false modesty. It is fairness and love and he just really wants to acknowledge the good in people.
I don’t know very many people who would like to start their lives over, not to go back and do things differently, but just to experience it all again, good and bad, but I do. I wish I could relive every moment of my childhood . I’d like to go back and spend every night all over again in that little house on Choctaw that you and Mom built in the summer of 1973 while she was 9 months pregnant with me and you were taking the bar exam. Man, you were an optimist. You’d go to work before dawn so you could make it home for dinner nearly every single night. You’d do work at home and let us crawl all over you, drawing on those giant abstract tablets.
And I’d like to go back and spend every day all over again in the Tamarind Street house. Even days like my first date, on which you verrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrry reluctantly permitted me to go and made me wait at the top of the stairs while you answered the door, took one look at the boy, shook your head and then yelled up the stairs to me: Well, Jessica! He is NOT ugly!
And I even loved our days all crammed into the little yellow house on Cherry Street with naked grandchildren running around wondering when DooDad will be home to take them to the lake or the farm or bring them a snake or turtle or a luna moth to love and torment for a few hours. And I look forward to all the days to come on Robin Hill, because I’m the daughter of an optimist and I have every reason to believe that it is going to be charmed. Don’t get me wrong, I know that we have some hard times ahead of us, but I also know that they will be infused with love and hope and that we will laugh inappropriately and all the time. I know it is going to be good, Dad, because you are going to be there.