Father’s Day has come again. Like Mother’s Day, it’s a bittersweet day for me since both my parents have been gone for decades now. A photo of them is on my desk as I write this. They were standing in the yard at the house where I grew up in front of Mama’s red rose bush, dressed up in church clothes as they prepared, ironically, to go to a funeral. It’s the last picture I took of them together, in May 1979, I believe, shortly before Daddy had his first heart attack. He died only a few months later, in August, the day after his 68th birthday. Is it possible that 40 years have passed since then? Forty years since our last Father’s Day together.
I was so blessed to have Doc and Helen Braden as my parents, but today, memories of Daddy fill my mind. I pretty much worshiped the ground he walked on when I was a little girl, tagging along after him and trying to do whatever he did. When I was a grown woman, I had no reason to change my mind. He was the best. That’s not just my opinion, either. I often meet or become reacquainted with people who knew Daddy. They always speak of him with such high regard.
I look back and try to pinpoint just what it was about Daddy that elicited such high opinions of him in his family and people with whom he came in contact. Was it that he treated everyone with respect, regardless of their skin color or station in life? Was it that he loved children and animals, and they loved him in return? That he was honest, a good steward of his material blessings? Or that if he saw a need and he had the means and opportunity to meet it, he did — anonymously, most of the time?
Daddy was born Aug. 18, 1911, here in Blount County. He wasn’t a highly educated man, in the formal sense; he attended the old Forest Hill Elementary School, but I do not recall him ever mentioning high school. I do know, however, that he was a skilled carpenter who could take a set of plans for a house and turn them upside down and sideways in his head, performing any mathematical calculations required to fit a home to the desires of a client, or to the lay of the land. The homes he built were meant to last, and he took great pride in doing the best job possible.
What else do I know about this man to whom I bear a striking resemblance, both physically and personality-wise?
He was funny. He liked nothing better than a good joke, and he loved to laugh. He disliked crooked politicians and lazy workers, and I can recall some very interesting and lively supper-table discussions between him and Mama on the moral character and pedigree of several of these folks.
He was stubborn. When his mind was set to something, it wasn’t going to change — we joked that “it’s Doc’s way or the wrong way.” But not in front of him ... I may have inherited that gene ...
He enjoyed working in the garden. I can still see him in my mind’s eye, coming home in his old green and white pickup truck after a long day at work, and immediately heading to the garden to lay off rows or till the soil or reap the harvest. Naturally, I dogged his heels and begged to help. How I loved to drop the seeds in the ground and cover them, to set out tomato plants, and then later, to harvest the crops and work with Mama breaking beans, cutting off corn, peeling and quartering tomatoes to can?
There is so much more I could say about this man that I am privileged to call my father. I wish all children could have a man just like him to learn from, to lean on, to emulate. My only regret is that he did not live long enough to know my children — but they know him. I made sure of that.
He was by no means perfect, but to me, he was the closest thing to it: He was my Daddy.