My Daddy’s Blood
In ancient Egypt, according to the Dead Sea Scrolls, when one died, their heart was removed from their body and measured on a scale as a means to reveal the weight of their worth, for the afterlife, as judged by God.
A week before Thanksgiving 2020, for the second time in his life, my father's stomach was cut open and heart taken out of his body for at least eight consecutive hours and placed on ice while surgeons operated on seven blocked arteries until the arteries could deliver fresh blood to the heart.
I remember wondering what my father dreamed of while he lay on the surgical cot unconscious, while his heart was dissected. I’ll never admit it to anybody, but I’d place big money on it that he came to God and met him in the flesh.
His heart developed problems in his early twenties after he was diagnosed with cancer and treated successfully by a process I don’t really understand called radiation. It’s this radiation that saved him from dying of cancer and this radiation too that forever fucked his heart. If you ask him what he thinks of this, he’ll chuckle and say, “Well.” If he lives another twenty years, it’s more’n likely he’ll have to have open heart surgery again, for a third time, in his mid-eighties.
He's awful damn tough, it doesn't take knowing him too long before realizing it. My oldest brother--not technically his biological son but you'd never know it--always says Dad should have been born a sheriff in the Old West, because the outlaws would have ravaged every town except Dan's town, because even the sickest of criminals would have known, that nobody fucks with Dan.
He walked on at the University of Georgia to play running back, and day-in-and-day-out out ran scout team offense against the number one ranked defense in the country. This is back in 1977, back when slamming a ball carrier to the ground by grabbing his facemask or back of the shoulder-pads or close lining him, one defender high and one at the knees, was not only permitted but encouraged and considered the stuff of skill and talent and regulation.
Each play, after being shit-tackled by future NFL All-Pro defenders, my dad helped himself up, trotted back to the huddle while the defense ran their mouth and high-fived, then he walked up to his position at the line of scrimmage behind the QB who’d take the snap and give the ball off to my father, my father cutting and plowing through the no-god-given-hole against the defensive-line and threw a forearm out against them and the blitzing linebackers, bouncing and jabbing and breaking off tacklers into the secondary, until his forearm bled and fractured and he hollered out a Cherokee war-cry through his mouthpiece being taken down to the earth with brutal force while the whistle blew, going through this sweat and these steps upon the field for hours upon eternal hours every day of the week, and with the ball in his grip his heart beat like itself were a psalm of God.
He taught me how to be tough without having to give me a corny movie-type line on the essence of grit and salt and heart. Otherwise, you could consider him every character Clint Eastwood ever played in a movie. All one need do is watch how my father carries out his life to receive the finest education on how to be Good in this world. He does not complain, under any circumstance, he comes in heavy with the ball in his hands. If the world is tough, one must be even tougher. He showed me this. He never had to speak of his own heart, you can hear it pounding just from being in his presence.
When his heart was removed from his body and placed on ice, a week before Thanksgiving in 2020, for his second time, I wonder what God thought upon seeing such a thing, if it made him smile or weep sentimentally, or if it surprised even him that he had created such a good’n’tough son of a bitch.
It was winter. I know this because when I think back to that day, I see the sleeves of my shearling winter coat reaching up to brace myself against the front seat of my father’s Volkswagen Beetle. As a young teen discovering fashion, that coat was everything to me. It had been a Christmas gift and was exactly what I wanted. Each time I put it on I treated it with the respect due all garments sewn together from the skin of living creatures.
All my father’s Christmas gifts were not from him. They were from Santa. The to and from name tag pasted on the wrapping was proof. At least 100 Santa heads printed on the foil paper caressed the large coat box that looked too pretty to unwrap sitting underneath the tree.
“Go ahead.” He said. “Open it.” I obeyed and after I carefully unwrapped the foil paper covering the large coat box, I ripped off the box top, swiped over the tissue paper, and there it was. What else could I do but put it on, twirl around the room like a dancing queen and fall into Santa’s arms for a hug.
We were traveling slowly down Franklin Avenue, under the speed limit, because my father always drove under the speed limit. It seemed like he was never in a hurry, it seemed like he didn’t have anything to prove when he was behind the wheel of his car and it seemed like he would rather be doing anything else but driving but did so out of what he might have considered an evil necessity of living in the suburbs. Driving in front of the many motorists beeping their horns at him out of their own frustration, some of them made the bold move to pass around him even when a double yellow line was present, often saluting with their middle finger in the most unfriendly of ways. If he could have told them the truth about himself he would have, but passing motorists typically do not stop to discuss each other’s attributes. The truth was, just as those that dance well are born with a natural rhythm, the same could be said of good drivers. Fact was, my father would be the first to admit he was not the most proficient driver and instead of seeking additional driver education he dealt with his inability as he saw fit; by being extra cautious for his safety, for our safety and for the safety of others. For him that meant driving well under the speed and unfortunately was not his worst bad driving habit.
I can’t say why, but he also did not abide by the rule of turning on his blinker 100 feet before a turn, dangerously turning on his blinker as he was already in a turn as if the wheel and the blinker were meant to only move simultaneously. Perhaps his first car had broken blinkers or no blinkers at all? It is quite possible, since he began driving in the late 1940′s. I never bothered to ask him that question. Perhaps the first car he drove was made back in the days when signaling a turn was done by putting an arm out the window, straight out for a left, up for a right. Years before I learned to drive it was easy to recognize his bad driving habits and I consistently called him out to no avail. How could I not with all the people beeping at us from behind? After a while I gave up pointing out the obvious because if there was one thing I learned about my father, as with most people, change did not come easily.
On that day, apparently one guy behind us must have been in an extra hurry or perhaps he was just angry in general about his job or his wife or something else he could not put his finger on and this driver in front of him, my father, going so slow, neglecting to put his blinker on until he was at the entrance of the shopping center pushed this poor guy off a cliff. With our car windows closed, I could sense this guy’s rant as he held his hand down on his horn with no release as my father continued on like the cartoon character Mr. Magoo. I braced myself against the front seat with my shearling covered arms more out of embarrassment than anything else, not assuming I would need to stabilize myself from an imminent pending attack. This had happened before. At least this guy didn’t attempt to hit us with his car, but I did notice out of my peripheral vision, he parked in a space closeby to us, quickly jumping out of his car enraged. He was coming for us and my father was clueless, as clueless as he was about the blinker rule.
“Dad. Dad. The guy that was behind us beeping is really really mad and I think he’s gonna wanna fight you. Don’t get out of the car.” But by the time I had gotten the words out, Mr. Magoo had already stepped out of the car. Why oh why wasn’t he as slow getting out of the car as he was when pressing the gas pedal? My sister and I stayed in the car observantly sensing the danger in a way that my father apparently didn’t understand. It wasn’t as if he was a stupid man. Quite the contrary. He was a brilliant man, holding a Juris Doctorate degree and I wondered in that moment if my father knew how to mentally step out of the courtroom, or physically pick his nose up out of his law journals, since clearly he never took time out of his busy life to study Street Smarts 101.
The guy shoved my father up against our car, not exactly menacingly, more like a “Hey asshole” hard tap on the shoulder, “What the hell is wrong with you,” type shove, thank god. Scarier than the shove was the loud shouting he let loose on my father and if you ask me the punishment didn’t exactly fit the crime, or was I just being protective? Screaming at my father, the diatribe appeared as an antidote for this guy, as if the boulder he carried on his back came tumbling down into his arms, his hands, and into his mighty tongue. My father stood still, with his arms in a position of surrender repeating, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” with eyes half shut expecting a punch in the nose, portraying a voice of calm that sounded like a rhythmic lullaby, one intentionally meant to calm the beast, yet my father’s tone was also commanding like the voice of a good parent after reluctantly having to scold their child explaining “this hurts me as much as it hurts you.” I watched in amazement as the angry stranger became quiet with a look of surprise on his face when he realized my father was not going to fight back. He began to relax, to piggyback off my father’s energy and his expression went from a hardened scowl to the beginnings of a smile in what could have been 60 seconds.
My father continued speaking. “My daughter’s tell me all the time I should go back to driving school. I am really sorry. I’m just no good at driving, am I? I really didn’t mean to mess up your day. Can you forgive me? Please? Can I buy you a cup of coffee to make it up to you?”
A full blown smile was taking hold of this guy when he said. “You want to buy me a cup of coffee after I practically assaulted you? Who are you? I didn’t know people like you existed?”
And I wanted to say to this guy, “I did.” But I knew better. After the initial confrontation my father’s left hand moved down and back towards the car window signaling us to remain in the car and we continued to do so with the doors locked as he left us sitting there venturing off into the deli in the presence of witnesses to buy this angry guy a cup of coffee. In a short amount of time my sister and I watched as the two men came back out together looking like old friends and shook hands, not a quick shake, one that goes on with amicable words and two hands and then they embraced, that quick embrace that I have seen most men do where nothing in the front of the body touches, and only one arm reaches around the back with a pat, reminding themselves and any potential observers they are after all still men.
My father taught me on that day what to do and what not to do by his example. He taught me although he may have been uncircumspect when it came to the rules of the road, he was a very kind hearted, humble, honorable man; not as if I didn’t already know this to be true.
Glaringly, on that day he taught me it was possible to diffuse an angry potentially dangerous situation, perhaps even inspiring an angry person into enlightenment; who knows, but he also taught me to avoid being in that situation in the first place by relying on instinct and awareness, by keen observation.
On that day I would also establish my own personal decree to be executed at a later date:
“Don’t forget to pay extra close attention in a couple of years when entering into driver’s ed and don’t forget to put that education into practical application when behind the wheel of a car. Respect the rules of the road at all times, safety first, and if Daddy offers to help teach you how to drive, respectfully decline, tell him you appreciate the offer, but you prefer he meet you at the mall to shop for winter coats.”
Follow Them with “Knucklehead”
“Bathe and brush. Today you might meet ‘her’.”
“Stay low on a grounder. The ball hurts less than disappointing your teammates.”
“Read when there’s time. When you are too busy to read, make time.”
”You can tell a man by the cleanliness of his car, and a woman by her kitchen.”
”Smile if they call you an asshole, but never let’em call you a lazy asshole.”
”If he’s bigger than you, pick up a stick.”
“Be yourself. It’s better to be hated for who you are, than loved for who you’re not.”
”Stand up straight, look’em in the eye, and get a firm grip. First impressions last.”
”You are probably not smarter, so outwork the S.O.B.”
”Why make your bed? Because I’ll jerk a knot in your ass if you don’t.”
”Tell her she’s pretty. Tell her again if she doesn’t believe it.”
”The love you have for anything amounts to the labor you put into it.”
”Snap the buttons, fold the collar, tuck the tails. It’s what they are there for.”
”Believe it or not, it don’t cost nothin’ to say grace.”
Best fatherly lesson? A good dad is never gone.
My dad shook his head in amazement when I handed him his birthday card on his 50th, 60th birthday, or maybe both.
He could not believe how fast the years had passed.
"Time flies when you're having fun," I said.
"Time flies even whe you're not having fun," he replied.
That was the funniest, saddest, and truest thing that my father ever said to me.
d a d l e ss o n s
you taught me
life it easier when you wear doc martens and listen to obscure indie bands.
guess that was the most valuable lesson.
you used to read alice in wonderland to me
and i didn’t get it then. today i do, though.
i appreacite it now.
you spoke dr seuss’ words to me:
“you have brains in your head, you have feet in your shoes,
you can steer yourself any direction you choose. you’re on your own
and you know what you know.
and you are the girl
who’ll decide where you go”
and i wanted to go somewhere, i always do,
and yes you let me go
and yet you let me
come back home.
you’re pretty much perfect at your job,
i feel like you know everything and
you never yell (unlike her),
you read the books i read,
listen to the songs i listen to,
always trying to understand my messy mind.
it’s funny, ’cause you never had a dad yourself.
you told me to be kind
to the girl that i see in the mirror-
well i haven’t learned that
you taught me to un-learn stereotypes
those, that society teaches every kid.
and you taught me
to say no,
well, thank you, dad.
One Smile at a Time
When I was younger, my Dad used to tell me to make a positive difference before kissing me on the forehead and sending me off to school. I always thought it was stupid because how was a 7 year old child supposed to make a positive difference. As I grew up, I realized how naive that was. I watched the world around me crumble and turn into the place I saw in my nightmares. I saw people killed in the streets for no reason and people taking advantage of others in vulnerable states. I wake up each day trying my hardest to make one stranger smile, hoping it will change their day for the better. I don’t know if it will ever make the world a better place, but I do it anyway because of my Dad. I am grateful for him everyday for giving me and my siblings the motivation to change the world. Thank you, Dad.
lessons from my father
Always care for thoses who can't care for themselves.
Allow for up to 3 hours until you have to leave for something. (We always ran on Cautrell time didn't we dad.)
Be the bigger person. Always
Never give up.
Don't do your nails and then use powertools. (That one I learned the hard way.)
Don't push people who are trying to help away.
Be yourself always.
Love you Dad.