I called him "Daddy" when he taught me to ride a bike, and baited my fishing hook because I heard the worm scream, and whisker-scratched me good night. I still called him Daddy when he talked about his college track days and set up the high jump in the yard. I have my mother's short legs instead of his long ones. He set the bar so I could execute a clean jump. "Good job, Punky. Now, a little higher."
At bedtime, we asked questions. "Daddy, how does an airplane stay up in the sky? Why can we see the moon in the day time?" Our mother knew our ploy, but he ignored her sighs and launched into explanations that became so detailed and complex it hurt my brain. I knew my Daddy was the world's smartest man.
He said he was independent, but the family mantra was, "When in doubt, vote Republican." During the Kennedy-Nixon race the talk at my uncle's house was so vile I was terrifed and angry when Kennedy won. The world was going to end, and my first ever birthday party was four days after the Inaugural. I asked God to let us live until the party was over. When I was still alive for my next birthday, I realized my family might be wrong about the damned democrats.
Against the advice of co-workers, my father moved his family into the only integrated section of town. Their warning was his reason. He wanted his children to know from experience everyone is human. Even so, he didn't like Dr. King and was unhappy with my adoration. "He's going too fast. Whites won’t change that quick."
I challenged him on that. "It's already been 100 YEARS!!! How long would you wait? How long would you want your children to wait?” He became quiet and turned back to his newspaper, but he wasn't reading it. He was a stubborn man, but he had a heart. That's why the term "Compassionate Conservative" never made me laugh.
In high school I began calling him "Dad". By then I had stopped asking questions before bedtime, and decided he wasn't as smart as I thought. But habits are hard to break and sometimes "Daddy" slipped out. I blushed, and he grinned.
After the grandchildren were born he became "Grandpa". I watched him play with my kids, and read to them, and delight in every thing they said and did. He saw me looking and said, “they remind me of you.” That was one of the surprise gifts from my children. I saw a glimpse of the father I had forgotten.
I pass his grave on my way to work. Most days I remember to turn down the radio and listen. He makes me remember, and see things I missed. When I need help, I call for him, and use all his names: Dad, Daddy, Grandpa, Great Grandpa.
My daddy has reclaimed "smartest man" status.