Father’s Day is always bittersweet. My father died when I was nine months old, a victim of an industrial accident where he worked in Tampa, Florida.
My only memories of my father came from a box of photos and stories told by my mother. My father existed as an ideal created by a young widow for a small boy.
So, when my mother remarried, I rejected my stepfather because no one could live up to the ideal created during the first eight years of my life.
I thought about my early struggles with my stepfather last Sunday when one of my “no particular place to go” rides on my motorcycle took me through Fork Union on U.S. 15.
When I was 12, my stepfather wanted to send me to Fork Union Military Academy, a tough-Baptist affiliated school known to use discipline for problem kids.
The campus at Fork Union was empty as I turned into the main gate off U.S. 15. Summer classes were due to start soon and the school was undergoing annual maintenance. I parked the Harley and looked around the school that might have been my home had my stepfather not changed his mind. I was so unhappy at the time I actually looked forward to going. That might have been the reason for his change of heart.
My stepfather and I eventually reached an uneasy peace but the ghost of my father always lingered. As I got older, I talked with my grandmother in Florida to learn more about the man I knew only from photos and stories.
Dad was a tall, lanky man with coal black hair, a quick smile and an even quicker, hair-trigger temper. I inherited the dark hair and temper.
He and my mother met in Norfolk at the end of World War II. He served as an electrician’s mate in the Navy. She worked as a civilian employee at the Navy yard. They shared a love of motorcycles and rode together to meet my grandparents in Meadows of Dan when they decided to marry. My grandparents were shocked to find their girl riding Harley-Davidsons.
They rode the Harleys from Meadows of Dan to Tampa to meet his parents. They weren’t as shocked. Motorcycles were part of the lifestyle down there.
Eighteen months after they married and settled down in Gibsonton, Florida, I came along. Nine months later, my father was working on an electric motor at U.S. Phosphorous when a co-worker cut on the power without making sure he was clear.
My mother and I remained in Florida for four more years before moving to Floyd. I was a second grader at Floyd Elementary School when she remarried and we moved to Farmville for four years before our new extended family returned to Floyd County.
My mother outlived both of her husbands. My stepfather died in 1985.
I’m headed out to Buffalo Mountain Presbyterian Church’s cemetery today to visit my stepfather’s grave.
Good or bad, he was the father I knew.
Later this year, I’m planning a motorcycle ride to Tampa to visit the grave of the father I never knew.