During my life, he was first Daddy, then Dad, and for the last few years, he was sometimes Pop. That’s just my siblings and me. To his grand children and great grand children, he was PaPa. To those who might not have known him well or who wished to show him respect, he was Mr. McMurdo. To most folks, he was simply Tom. I think “Dad” honors him best as his family is his greatest legacy.
I won’t bore you with the facts and figures. They won’t tell you who Dad was or the impact he had on so many lives any more than knowing his name will tell you about his gentle kindness. They can’t possibly show you how warm and comforting I felt when I held his hand or when he gave me a massive hug every time I came home to visit for a short weekend or a long holiday. They won’t tell you of the joy he felt to be with his family or how he lit up around his grand and great grand kids.
So, I will try to tell you who he was to me and to my family.
Dad was the friendliest person I knew. He never met anyone that he couldn’t walk up to and engage in conversation. I can’t count the number of people that have, over the years, told me how wonderful he was and how much they liked him. There wasn’t an old lady on earth that he didn’t flirt with, tease, and make laugh. He had an easy way with people that I can never hope to match. Dad was a people person.
Dad was also engaged, sitting on park boards, volunteering his time, and pitching in when needed.
Dad loved old buildings and anything rusty or made of wood. He could spend hours in the lumber store, picking out the perfect board. He’d feel the grain, check for knots and the board’s straightness.
Dad was a master wood worker. Each of his children and grand children own desks, hutches, possum bellied cabinets, clocks, tables, shaker boxes, caned chairs, benches, and more…all lovingly crafted with his own hands. Mom would see something in Southern Living and the next Christmas, all of the women in the family would be given that item as a gift…hand made by Dad. He could look at a photo and figure out how a piece of furniture was built. I don’t know how many times he would have me turn a bench over and take a photo of the underside so that he could see how it was put together.
Dad took a sketch that I made of a shaker desk and turned it into one of my most prized possessions. He crafted the desk from solid cherry, sourced from a tree that he cut down on Mom and Dad’s property in the mountains. Mom and Dad once came to visit for a long weekend. In just two days together, Dad and I built a pair of book cases to go in my den.
Dad was generous with his time, his money, and his affection. He would go out of his way to help you. Once, when I was depressed, Dad picked me up and took me up to their place in the north Georgia mountains. We spent the day making a dam in the creek that ran through the property. No Pressure, no deep talks. Just him showing me that he loved me. That was his way of being there for me and getting me out of my own head, if just for the day. When I was unemployed for fourteen months, Dad called me nearly every day.
When Dad knew I was on the road, driving the nine hours from my home to his, he would call me every couple of hours to check on me. When he was in the hospital a week before his death, Dad had my sister call for him. He needed to know that I was safe. After burying my dad, my sister called me during my long drive home, taking up where Dad left off.
Dad wasn’t afraid to tell you that he loved you or that he was proud of you.
My dad had a gift for making you feel special. Every one of his children and grandchildren know in their hearts that they were his favorite. They alone had that special connection. In some unfathomable way, they are right. Part of his magic was the ability to love each of us uniquely, without taking anything away from the others.
I have to say that Dad did have a favorite, one that he loved more than anyone else. Mom. He loved my mother like no other person on earth. They were partners in every sense of the word. Together for 57 years, they showed the rest of us how to love someone deeply and passionately. As an adult, it was not uncommon for me to walk into the kitchen and find them hugging and kissing. Or watch the two of them holding hands as we hiked through the woods. He would often say “Your mother is the best.” After she got onto him about something, he would turn to me and tell me “I love that woman.” There was never anything that she ever wanted that he wouldn’t get or do for her. OK. So, he never took the trash out exactly when he wanted her to take it out. He also snuck junk food behind her back. He was after all, a man. That’s how we are.
There is something about the death of my dad that makes me feel like I am just a small child again. I feel vulnerable and the world feels off kilter. The ground isn’t quite as solid as it used to be. I know these feelings are part of the loss that I struggle with. I am learning to live in a world without him. I can’t call him to hear his voice or to ask for advice. However, in my memories and thoughts of him, I have a fine example of a man to guide me through the rest of my life.
Dad gifted each of his children with an inner strength that we can draw upon when we need it most. He showed us how to laugh in the face of troubled times. Dad taught us to be a family that supports one another and one that circles the wagons when needed. We have circled the wagons. We are here for each other. He would be proud of us.
I have a favorite memory of my dad being a dad and the lessons that he handed down to the rest of us.
On one trip to Atlanta, my car broke down on the Kentucky – Tennessee border. Dad drove five hours to pick me up. I put us up in a hotel for the night and took him to dinner. We talked all evening in the hotel room. In the morning, we headed to Atlanta. On the way back to Mom and Dad’s house, we stopped and picked up my son, Josh. I told Josh about the car and how Papa had come to get me. I told him the lesson learned is that, no matter how old you are or how far from home you were, when you are in trouble, your dad will come get and you.
That was my dad. He would come and get me…and did.