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Archive for July, 2017

THE DAD I HAD

Dad flowers

Mom wrote on the back: “This is how he would like to be remembered.”

Robert King, my father, died last August at the age of 86.  His cancer, along with the treatment for the cancer, along with being old, left him more and more debilitated as time went by.  Still, he remained in good spirits all the way until the end, and he never complained about the indignity of it all.  He apparently didn’t actually experience much pain, even after a fall in his driveway that broke his nose and cracked a vertebra, and after the cancer spread to his bones, which they tell me is very unusual.

Dad was born in 1929, and he grew up on a farm in the Strong Hope community of Copiah County, Mississippi during the Depression. He attended a one-room school near his home for several years.  In stories he told and some things he wrote, he described young Bob as kind of a loser, scrawny for his age and always picked last for sports.  He was very intelligent, however, and the teachers liked him, and at some point he was chosen to attend a special high school at the local junior college. He had success there, and Dad made his way through life thereafter through higher education.  He eventually got a Ph.D in Math Education, from Florida State, and spent 30 years teaching at the University of Southern Mississippi. He was married to my mother for 57 years. He was an avid gardener, and loved flowers.

He was a decent man, a responsible father, and extremely good-natured. He was very curious, and always trying to learn new things about computers, finance, whatever was going on in the news. Near the end of his life, I recall him coming into the room where the rest of us were hanging out and saying, “Does anyone know anything about the carry trade?”

Here’s a bit of wisdom he passed long to me: The last time I saw him was last spring, when my family flew down to Mississippi for a visit. At some point, I asked Dad about a writing project that he’d been working on. He shook his head. He wasn’t going to be able to do any more. He wasn’t up to it, and he didn’t have much time left. “If there’s something you want to do, you should go ahead and do it,” he said.

I wrote a bit more about him here, but I’ll reprint it below:

At my father’s eightieth birthday party, we thought it would be a good idea for everyone to sit around for a few minutes after coffee and tell funny stories about the old man.  So we assembled  a bunch of the over-seventy crowd, all of whom have known Dad for over forty years.  “Somebody start,” said my mother, nervous as ever, even in front of a crowd of her closest friends.

“There was that time with the lawnmower,” said someone.  Everyone laughed, even without hearing any more.  Even I knew it — one fateful day  my father had lost patience with the lawnmower in the front yard.  He yelled at it and kicked it, and kicked it again.  I don’t know who was there to witness this, but everyone in the group knew about it.  When had this happened?  The 1960s? The 1970s?

“Somebody tell another one.”  There was silence.  It lasted a long time.  Finally, someone changed the subject.

My father is mild-mannered — which is a synonym for quiet, or shy, or introverted, or timid.  He taught mathematics at the local university for thirty years, and he is a regular churchgoer.  He reads, watches television, gardens.  He put the three of us kids through school at no cost to us.   So far as I know, he’s a decent, responsible man who keeps to himself.   Everyone who knows him likes him.

But there aren’t very many good stories about him.  Should Dad have kicked the lawnmower more often?

 

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